For the fifth consecutive year, volunteers of Saint Nicholas’ Reindeer charity project are delivering presents for the upcoming winter holidays to the kids from the gray zone near the frontline in the east of Ukraine.
The project started in 2016 when for the first time they brought toys, clothes, books and sweets to the primary and secondary schools and orphanages in the small settlements in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
Saint Nicholas’ Reindeer’s team
According to Inna Achkasova, the project coordinator, there are about 10 people in the volunteers’ team including Yevheniia Levinshtein, an event organizer, Kateryna Shutalyova, a psychologist, Vadym Farion, a driver and a photographer. Maksym Dudnik, Iryna Almazova and Oleksiy Almazov join the Reindeer’s team and organize holiday parties for young kids. Oleksiy was Santa Claus at the parties last year. Maria Susla became a part of the project a year ago. She is currently participating in the volunteer project in Lithuania and going to join the event together with her friends from Lithuania. Inna Achkasova and her husband Serhii Melnyk manage the database. Maryna Lidis serves as a Post Reindeer picking up parcels. Daniel Yavorovych delivers presents with his van. Boris Redin, the co-founder of “All for the Victory” tent, took part in delivering presents last year and provided a van with a big trailer.
Inna notes that they usually travel by two or three vehicles: one van carries volunteers while presents are delivered by others.
Which settlements are the volunteers going to bring presents to this year?
They decided to deliver gifts to the places located close to the frontline and to the settlements that suffered from wildfires in the fall such as Muratovo and Syrotyno.
Netaylovo, a tiny village, which is situated near Pisky settlement, the Donetsk region, [Kh.O.: Pisky was one of the hotspots of the Second Battle of Donetsk Airport, from September 2014 to January 2015] was added to the volunteers’ list this year. About 50 children live in this village and they anticipate presents from a magician or a fairy.
Kids from Lastochkino, Orlivka, Tonenke, Bakhmutka Zaytsevo, Donetsk region and Teple, Rodyny and Stakhanovets, Luhansk region, have already written letters and are looking forward to the Reindeer team this year.
How do the volunteers collect letters this year?
Due to the quarantine restrictions, the Reindeer team did not collect letters in person this year. They called volunteers, headmasters of schools and kindergartens in those settlements and asked to gather letters and send them via Nova Poshta or scans by e-mail.
The volunteers’ mobile team went to Syrotyno purposely to get acquainted with kids as they have never been there before. This village is located near Severodonetsk, far behind the frontlines, but it was badly affected by the wildfires in the fall.
How many letters are there in the volunteers’ database?
Currently, 1,210 kids have written their dreams and wishes to St. Nicholas. This is where collecting wishes is stopped. Up to date, 510 kids will get their presents while 700 are still waiting for their magicians.
How can a person choose a child and become a magic man or a fairy to them?
All children’s wishes are added to the database. Anyone can become a magician and fulfill a kid’s dream. The lines highlighted in blue mean that a magic man or a fairy is going to buy a present for this child, green lines mean that the presents have already arrived at the volunteers’ center and are ready to be delivered to those who are waiting for a miracle. All white lines show the children that are still waiting for their presents.
What kind of presents do kids ask for this year?
In previous years, children asked for trips to various parts of the country, but this year it’s impossible due to the pandemic.
This year kids ask for lots of warm clothes such as kigurumi, sweaters, UGGI boots and other winter footwear. Many children wish to get artificial Christmas trees in order to not cut down a real fir-tree and harm the environment. They also hope to get scooters, DIY sets, schoolbags with school stationery, musical instruments from guitars and electric guitar to a flute and a drum set.
Inna mentions a few very touching wishes. One boy who lives near Avdiivka writes in the letter that his brother has serious heart disease and is often treated in hospitals. He asks for a present for his mum, not for himself. It’s a picture which is colored by numbers. His mother loves drawing and it will give her the opportunity to take her mind off problems.
Ivan Droniv tells in his letter: “I was given a small aquarium on my birthday. The next day my mother and I went to the pet store to buy some fish. I saw a lone hamster there. Nobody needed him, because from birth he had only three paws. Everyone bypassed him because he was not like other animals. And the hamster was dreaming so much to be taken home. I managed to persuade my mother to take him and give him a home. We found a cage for him, but it was too small. Therefore, St Nicholas, I do not need gifts this year. I ask you to give me a big cage for my new friend.”
Schoolchildren from Muratovo asked for a gift for a boy from their class. He lived in Kapitanovo village with his grandma, which suffered from wildfires. The boy is keen on football and regularly practices. That’s why the children asked for a football to make the boy happy.
Who helps fulfill kids’ dreams?
Various companies have been helping the project since it began operating. For example, Waverley, a multinational software engineering, and Better Me, apps developing company, assist to fulfill kids’ wishes. This year, Sushi Wok – Ukraine company joined the project. They have already purchased presents for kids from Novotoshkivka settlement who live at the frontline and are going to make more kids’ dreams come true.
The volunteers were extremely encouraged by donors as they had started asking if the Reindeer team is going to collect presents this year before they announced it on the net.
How are the volunteers going to hold holiday parties under quarantine?
Traditionally Reindeer team organizes performances with round dances, soap bubbles and even a fire show. They hope it will still be possible this year even with social distancing requirements.
“We will adapt to any conditions. If it is not possible to gather indoors – we will arrange a holiday outdoors. Such cases have already occurred. If only 10 people are allowed to gather, we will hold several events. If nothing is allowed at all, we will send gifts by mail, and we will perform a holiday party online,” Yevheniia Levinshtein notes.
Volunteers are planning the first trip to the frontline zone on St Nicolas Day, December 19. By that time, they will be able to collect presents for kids from a few settlements: Tryokhizbenka, Nyzhne, Svitlichne, Novotoshkivka. Anyway, it could vary depending on filling the database of a certain village with presents. Overall, the team is planning two or three trips in December.
Everyone can join the project and fulfill someone’s dream!
Text: Natalia Ivanova