Teddy bears and chess sets: How toys are being sent to Ukrainian children amid Russian war - ABC News

Yerika, 7, who dreamed about playing chess, received a set from a U.S. donor.

KYIV, Ukraine -- Ten-year-old Nastya from Mykolaiv received her Lego set from a donor from Piscataway, New Jersey. Stem Toys

Teddy bears and chess sets: How toys are being sent to Ukrainian children amid Russian war - ABC News

Six-year-old Lev, a first grader who likes to study English, got an interactive book from Misha, a donor in Boston, Massachusetts.

And 7-year-old Yerika, who dreamed about chess and learning how to play, received a nice game set from Theresa in Maryland Heights, Missouri, making her dream come true.

In early November 2023 a team of Ukrainian-British IT organization Project Ukraine launched an online initiative The Circle of Toys. In about three months, Circle of Toys has already connected more than a thousand children and their families with donors sending toys from around the world.

On its first day, the initiative received around 3,000 applications for toys. A day later there were already more than 4,000. About 400 donors also joined the project in its first days.

There are now more than 23,000 requests from those seeing toys across Ukraine and about 4,000 register donors, according to the organization.

There are already around a dozen Ukrainian children who received toys specifically from U.S. givers.

The Christmas holidays became a good push for the initiative, but a lot of toys are still on their way to new little owners.

"We hope to expand and to provide more and more toys to Ukrainian children," said Daryna Chepynoha, the organization's project coordinator. "But also we would like to spread this initiative around the world. Actually, we are planning to enter the US market just next week, looking for people who want a toy as well. We noticed that there are already requests for toys from the Americans."

The goal of the project is simple, but very meaningful with children who, unfortunately, can only dream about them now. The organization sends new or once-beloved toys to new little owners. Part of the pitch is that the children who donate develop empathy skills and learn to be environmentally responsible.

At the beginning of 2022, in response to the challenges arising from Russia's unprovoked aggression against Ukraine, the team had created Find Refuge, a platform that connects those in need of help with those who can provide assistance.

The original project was focused on Ukrainians affected by the war, providing them with support on various issues -- regarding health, employment, finding housing, starting a business etc. By getting more experience and diving deep into the problem, the team saw a new, specific angle -- toys for Ukrainian children.

According to Ukrainian authorities, there are currently about 4.8 million internally displaced persons officially registered in Ukraine, along with about 2 million who are unregistered as such. Many of those children don't have a home, and, very likely, lost all or majority of their belongings, including their toys.

"Mainly, first of all, people, who lost everything, ask about basics, like food, medicine, hygiene items," Chepynoha said. "And though most of them have children, usually, in such situations, no one thinks about toys. After all, when you count every cent, it doesn't even come to the toys."

According to psychologists, toys are extremely important for children.

"Thanks to toys, children learn about the surrounding world through touch, visually, by tasting or perceiving through sound," Oleh Solodkyy, a psychologist, said. "They learn to fantasize, build communication with others, they need less and less attention from their parents and spend more time with their new friends. Thus, children learn to be more independent and responsible."

His colleague, Oleksandr Chornoivan, added, "Playing with toys helps children to learn and develop a lot of necessary skills, including everyday ones, such as following directions, sharing, and taking turns. For example, a child who is playing with a group of other children is learning how to share and take turns."

The mechanism by which Circle of Toys operates is very simple. To become a part of the initiative, should visit the official website and register.

There, participants can select a request that aligns with the age and theme of their toy. The team places a strong emphasis on safety. Thus, each submission undergoes a thorough review to ascertain genuine intentions.

Once approved, participants will receive the family's mailing address to send their toy.

Teddy bears and chess sets: How toys are being sent to Ukrainian children amid Russian war - ABC News

Sensory Montessori Toys 24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events