By: Mike Crooks
Their country is a war zone, but some children in Ukraine have a reason to smile today.
Around 14,000 hand-knitted teddy bears have been sent to displaced Ukrainian children.
And the colourful bears have been hand-knitted by residents in retirement villages in Australia and New Zealand.
Called the “Yuri Bear”, the knitted teddies are the brainchild of Debra Richardson, the Victorian sales manger of Ryman Healthcare, which operates Australian and New Zealand retirement villages.
“The children are so happy to receive a Yuri Bear,” Ms Richardson said from Ukraine.
“I feel like in that moment it has given them a plane ticket to safety. I literally have an overwhelming sensation of joy that moves me to tears.”
From Disaster to Hope
The story of the Yuri Bear goes all the way back to Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. Following the tragedy at the nuclear power plant, Ms Richardson fostered a displaced 11-year-old-boy named Yuri from Ukraine.
The story of the Yuri Bear goes all the way back to Russia’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.
After she reconnected with him three decades later, the idea of the teddy bear was born.
Named in Yuri’s honour, the teddies are now being given to a new generation of displaced kids in the now war-ravaged Ukraine.
“The project emerged from my discussions with Yuri about how we could provide support from Australia and New Zealand,” Ms Richardson said.
From mid last year, the residents of Ryman retirement villages rallied to the cause, following simple instructions to knit thousands of bears in six months.
“I have been completely overwhelmed by the response of Ryman residents, many of whom are avid knitters,” Ms Richardson said.
“For months now they’ve come together to hand-knit these special bears in the hope of bringing some joy to a very dark situation.”
“For months now they’ve come together to hand-knit these special bears in the hope of bringing some joy to a very dark situation,” – Debra Richardson
The freight company, Mondiale VGL, donated a shipping container to transport the bears. And the bears are distributed in Ukraine by aid organisation Kiwi K.A.R.E.
“We are also thankful for Kiwi K.A.R.E who have embraced the challenge of getting these teddies into the hands of displaced children,” Ms Richardson said.
“I Feel the Love”
As for Ms Richardson’s former foster child who inspired the bear, Yuri is now in his 40s and works for Ukraine’s security forces.
According to a Ryman statement he is “humbled” by the gesture.
“So many miles between us, but I feel the love and support of Debra, because we are close in minds,” Yuri said.
As the teddy bears continue to be given out to children across Ukraine, Ms Richardson is overwhelmed her idea is finally coming to fruition.
“I could not have imagined the power of these little packages that have been made with so much love from many thousands of people from across the other side of the world,” she said.
“This tiny little bear means more to them than anything in the world. They love going through the case and choosing their own special one.
“My nights are filled with images of these children laying down to sleep cuddling a Yuri Bear and I hope it gives them the comfort they all deserve to rest in peace and safety.”
For information visit rymanhealthcare.com.au.
Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.
Feature image: Debra Richardson with Yuri Bears headed for Ukraine. Image supplied.