St. Nicholas day with the refugee children from eastern Ukraine

St. Nicholas Day is a holiday the whole world knows. Like children everywhere, children in Ukraine wait for it impatiently every year. The way the holiday is celebrated in Ukraine can differ from region to region and from family to family. It can include going to church for a prayer service. It can include kids painstakingly writing perfectly formulated letters that include a catalog of flawless behavior in the past year and requests for a desired toy, book, a computer mouse or an iPad. It can include gifts of candy and oranges placed neatly under a pillow promising a morning of surprise and joy and the assurance that the sweet kid will continue to believe that  St. Nicholas EXISTS. But there are consistent elements in any St. Nicholas Day celebration. Always there is an atmosphere of warmth; there are always preparations and there is always the possibility that a miracle will visit the children.

This winter not every Ukrainian child will be waking up in his own bed, in his own home, or in his own city on the morning of St. Nicholas. A war waged against the people in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts has caused the displacement of more than 500 thousand Ukrainians. Thousands of families have fled eastern Ukraine to save their lives. Government agencies are unprepared to handle such great numbers of internal refugees requiring social services that include housing aid, food aid, and psychological therapy plus incorporating those people into the job market. Volunteer and civic organizations as well as the organized initiatives of the refugees themselves are most effective in solving the above mentioned problems.
On December 17th – 19th volunteers from Kyiv with the support and assistance of concerned Europeans, members of the German Lutheran Church, arranged a St. Nicholas Day celebration for more than 100 children from Eastern Ukraine.
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For a few hours the children were immersed in an atmosphere of fun, celebration and good feelings. People (volunteers) dressed as story characters entertained the kids with games, poetry, and group art. Christmas trees, angels, and gifts came alive under the hands of the little craftspeople.
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Children’s’ joyous laughter was heard everywhere and eyes sparkled when St.Nicholas appeared to chat with them and to pass out the gifts.
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Despite the good cheer of all those who were there, the situation in Ukraine was at the back of everyone’s minds. The children’s pure and bright eyes could not hide the pain and terror they had gone through. Of all the different colored pencils the kids could use, the red and the black were used most often. The war in eastern Ukraine has left a mark in their hearts – at a young age they already know what it means to be displaced from one’s home.
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The volunteers who for over half a year now have been helping the displaced families, who have organized a summer school for the children and regularly organize excursions to art exhibits, shows and museums agree that working with the children on an individual basis is important since they spend so much time with teachers, psychologists, and social agencies that guide them through social adjustment.
Among the gifts the children received were drawing and writing tablets, pencils, paints, and office supplies. For a normal, middle class kid these things aren’t anything special, but for the children of refugee families they are the basic items that not every family can afford to buy.
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Maryna Chorna and Anna Puzankova from the organization “Atonement for Peace,“ Maksym Potapchuk from the Aid Committee for Displaced Refugees, and members of “Kyiv-East-Children” organized the celebration. The hall for the celebration was provided by the German Lutheran Church in Kyiv.
We are deeply grateful to our European sponsors who make it possible for us to arrange similar events for the children.
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EMPR will continue to keep the public and our readers informed about plans and future projects for the refugee children.

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