Vermonters bring hope to young Ukrainian refugees through donations of teddy bears

Vermonters bring teddy bears to give hope to Ukrainian youth refugees on the border of Poland and Ukraine.
Published: Mar. 20, 2022 at 11:40 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermonters are working hard to bring light into dark times in the lives of many Ukrainian refugee youths.

For many Ukrainians, the war seemed to happen overnight, causing families to separate and forcing women and children to evacuate the country.

Christine Burych and Nina Meyerhof work with an international charity, One Humanity, to bring teddy bears to the Poland-Ukrainian border. Their mission has evolved into so much more than that.

“Imagine you go to bed, no idea about war, and then you hear a bomb go off. What do you take?” Meyerhof said.

That’s the reality many Ukrainian refugees have faced and continue to face every day.

“People have no more homes, no more jobs, no money with them-- just a knapsack on their back,” Meyerhof said.

And now, a teddy bear.

“The child holds the bear. Then the momma sees the child is happy, and it lightens her heart,” Meyerhof said.

Teddy bears may not end the war, but they give Ukrainian refugees hope to fight these everyday battles. Meyerhof says they want to make the refugees feel like they count as individuals, not just as a collective.

The first round of teddy bears came as a donation from the Vermont Teddy Bear Factory.

Meyerhof says they quickly passed their initial goal of collecting 600 bears. They surpassed that goal by collecting at least 1,000 bears. These bears came from others pitching in like Build A Bear and public monetary donations.

Christine Burych says it all came together quickly.

“Maybe a week, maybe a week and a bit. We don’t even know what day it is. We’ve been on the go,” she said.

They’ve also had donations of school supplies from Staples and duffle bags from Dick’s Sporting Goods to help them carry it all. Their original goal was to raise $20.000 for teddy bears. They’ve currently raised over $40,000.

Burych is a Vermont resident but is of Ukrainian heritage. So being able to help hit close to home for her.

“I’m going to tear up as I talk about this. We were giving out teddy bears at the train station. This one teenager came over, she’s about 16, and she wanted a teddy bear and a hug. She just started crying. What broke me was just seeing how traumatized the teenagers were,” Burych said.

She says making a kid happy for just a few minutes can make a real difference.

Burych says the work is not done. One Humanity is working to take trauma and turn it into hope. They’re doing that by turning Auschwitz, the Jewish internment camp from World War II into a safe haven shelter. This shelter is for Ukrainian refugees.

One Humanity has a GoFundMe page set up to support their efforts in Ukraine. They are looking to use these funds now to create transitional housing for refugees for up to six months.

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