The true meaning of Christmas comes to life in Ukraine.
Kind-hearted Americans are rushing to deliver gifts — toys, candy, clothes and even generators — to make the first holiday season of the ongoing Russian attack a little more joyful for the country’s ailing children.
“It’s very good that we have support, that people from other countries think of us, worry about us and give gifts to Ukrainian children,” said Katya Herbert, 14, a refugee in Vinnytsia who spoke to The Post through an interpreter on Saturday.
“I’m grateful for everything, especially the socks,” said the teenager, who fled the hard-hit eastern region of Kharkiv. “The greatest gift was the makeup palette. It was surprising and I was very happy.
Boyd Byelich, a 58-year-old white-bearded agricultural adviser from rural Rogers City, Michigan, distributed gift boxes and bags at a refugee center in Vinnytsia on Friday — part of his One Box initiative for Ukraine, entirely voluntary. collecting Christmas gifts, funds and clothing from her neighbors in small town Michigan for months.
“The majority of these kids overnight learned to say thank you in English,” Byelich said. “You see them light up, their eyes widen as they look into the bag.”
“The little ones thought he was a real Santa,” laughed Katya.
“Lego kits or a Barbie doll, coloring books, crayons, always some kind of flashlight” – to help children cope with the constant breakdowns caused by war – went into each gift package, said Boyd. “And a pair of socks. And then we add sweets, sweets.
“The moms were almost as excited as the kids,” he marveled.
Yulia Ablez, 34, a refugee from shattered Mariupol, met Boyd at the center with her sons Maxim and Roman, aged 6 and 8.
“They even sleep with their toys,” she said with a smile. “We were very surprised that someone from such a remote place wanted to bring gifts and surprises to Ukrainian children.”
“We don’t have enough for thousands, but we’ll be able to get a few hundred children to have a little happier Christmas,” said Byelich, who aims to accommodate 600 children from Ukraine during his visit from two weeks. “We’re talking about 44 million people in this country, but everyone counts.”
Two hundred kilometers away, American donors brought a more basic – but equally appreciated – gift to refugee children: a generator.
“Now we’re going on vacation!” Marichka, 8, said through a translator at the City of Goodness orphanage in Chernivtsi, home to 200 children whose parents were separated from them in the chaos of war or killed in attacks. Russians.
“The kids had no heat, no heat, no way to heat food, no electricity for anything,” said Anna Kobylarz, whose Polish American Foundation in Connecticut helped deliver the $20,000 generator. Thursday.
“I was so scared that we would be dark and scary and cold, but now we have a generator and we’re not scared at all!” exclaims Olya, 10 years old. “We can have lights, and cartoons, and hot soup and festive garlands!”
“Now we can eat. We are warm. We have everything,” orphanage founder Marta Levchenko said in a thank you video sent to Kobylarz.
Russia has been striking Ukrainian energy facilities since October — deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure that human rights groups say constitute war crimes. The ensuing blackouts left much of the country without heat, power or water amid Ukraine’s harsh winter.
The Kobylarz Foundation partnered with the Sabin Family Foundation to make the lifesaving donation.
“We’re going to try to give them a really nice semblance of Christmas,” said the Long Island philanthropist Andy Sabine, who also sent the orphanage 200 boxes of Christmas presents. “I hope that at Christmas they can spend time playing with their stuffed animals and toys and not in the bomb shelters.”
Benefactors are also planning a surprise visit from Santa on a decorated fire truck. “Kids will be able to play and feel like kids,” Kobylarz said. “I hope this holiday will be peaceful. They deserve it.
Former New York Governor George Pataki, who has made helping Ukraine his personal mission this year, told The Post that human contact is a “tremendous boost to their spirit.”
“I think Ukrainians, especially children, appreciate that so many Americans, not just the government, are doing everything they can to help bring them some warmth and joy this season. Christmas,” Pataki said.
Pataki, who visited Zakarpattya Children’s Hospital in Mukachevo in early December with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, said his group sent Christmas toys and candies this week.
“These little things, compared to the billions in aid that are needed, may not seem like much. But for the children who receive them, it means the world,” he said.
“Government can give them things, but only people can give affection and love. And that means a lot.