An English grandmother has been spreading a “bit of Christmas cheer” among children in Ukraine, leading a group of volunteers into the war-torn country to hand out presents and entertain civilians. As Russian forces continue their long range missile strikes against Ukrainian cities hundreds of miles behind the front lines, Wanda Warrington, 56, from Bury, Greater Manchester, known as Wendy, has been handing out crayons, soft toys and clothes to children affected by the war. The nurse and humanitarian aid worker, who has five grandchildren, described seeing the children’s eyes “light up” when they received the gifts.
Wendy arrived in Ukraine on December 11 to hand out presents to children across the country.
She was part of a group of independent volunteers that visited cities including Bucha, which became the site of mass graves when it was occupied by Russian forces in March this year, and Saltivka, on the edge of Kharkiv, which suffered heavy Russian missile attacks.
Their visit was planned to coincide with Saint Nicholas Day, on December 19, which is celebrated in eastern Christian countries.
Children were given presents including chocolate, winter jackets, colouring books and sweets, and even got a surprise visit from a dragon.
Wendy said: “My friend Jakub (Sochujko), who is a Polish volunteer from Cornwall but is based in Kharkiv, dressed up in a dragon outfit and was entertaining the kids.
“The children absolutely loved it. We want to be able to spread a little Christmas cheer – it is not going to change the world, but for an hour or two it is going to give the kids a bit of reprieve and a sense of normality.”
She also told Manchester Evening News her friend “dressed up as Peppa Pig” for a visit to children in a bunker underneath a school close to Kyiv.
She described how “sirens went off outside” alerting the civilians of Russian missiles in their vicinity as her friend was entertaining the children.
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She said that seeing the children’s eyes “light up” when they received their gifts made the whole trip “worthwhile”.
She added: “Christmas is the most important time for most children and seeing children not have to worry about what is going on in Ukraine for a little while and just being allowed to be children for that short period of time and play and engage with other children makes everything feel so worthwhile.
“For those children, playing in an underground bunker becomes a norm, but it’s not normal.
“The reason why I volunteered was because of my grandchildren – I would want someone out there to help them if they were in that situation.”
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