Ukrainian kids get Christmas cheer from US donors

The true meaning of Christmas is coming 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 continuing Russian onslaught a bit merrier for the nation’s suffering children.

“It’s very nice that we have support, that people from other countries think about us, worry about us and are giving presents to Ukrainian children,” said Katya Herhel, 14, a refugee in Vinnytsia who spoke to The Post through a translator Saturday.

“I’m thankful for everything, especially the socks,” said the teenager, who fled the hard-hit eastern region of Kharkiv. “The best gift was the palette for make-up. It was surprising and I was very happy.”

Boyd Byelich, a white-bearded 58-year-old agricultural advisor from rural Rogers City, Mich., distributed boxes and bags of presents at a Vinnytsia refugee center Friday — part of his all-volunteer One Box for Ukraine initiative, which has been collecting Christmas gifts, funds, and clothing from his small-town Michigan neighbors for months.

Kind-hearted Americans are rushing to deliver gifts to make the first holiday season of the continuing Russian onslaught a bit merrier.

“The majority of those kids just overnight were taught how to say thank you in English,” Byelich said. “You see them light up, their eyes get big as they look in the bag.”

“Little ones believed he was a real Santa Claus,” Katya laughed.

“Lego kits or a Barbie doll, coloring books, crayons, always some kind of a flashlight” — to help kids cope with the constant war-caused blackouts — went into each gift package, Boyd said. “And a pair of socks. And then we throw in some sweets, some candy.”

A young Ukrainian girl holds up a
Ukrainian children were gifted Barbie dolls or Lego sets among other treats.

“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, ages 6 and 8.

“They are even sleeping with their toys,” she said with a smile. “We were very surprised that a person from such a far-away place would want to bring presents and surprises for Ukraine children.”

“We don’t have enough for thousands, but we’re going to be able to make a few hundred kids have a little bit happier Christmas,” said Byelich, who aims to greet 600 Ukrainian children during his two-week visit. “We’re talking 44 million people in this country, but every single one counts.”

Boyd Byelich poses with two Ukrainian children.
Some Ukrainian children thought Byelich was a real-life Santa.

Two hundred miles away, American donors brought a more basic — but equally appreciated — present to refugee kids: a generator.

“Now we will have a holiday!” 8-year-old Marichka said via a translator at the City of Goodness orphanage in Chernivtsi, home to 200 children whose parents were either separated from them in the war’s chaos or killed in the Russian attacks.

A Ukrainian family blows kisses to a camera.
Ukrainian children were gifted a $20,000 generator.

“The kids had no warmth, no heat, no way to heat food, no power for anything,” said Anna Kobylarz, whose Polish American Foundation of Connecticut helped deliver the $20,000 generator Thursday.

“I was so afraid that we would be dark and scary and cold, but now we have a generator and we are not afraid at all!” exclaimed Olya, 10. “We can have light, and cartoons, and warm soup and festive garlands!”

“Now we can eat. We have warm. We have everything,” orphanage founder Marta Levchenko said in a thank-you video sent to Kobylarz.

Russia has been battering Ukrainian energy facilities since October — deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure that human rights groups say amount to war crimes. The ensuing blackouts have left much of the country without heat, electricity or water amid Ukraine’s harsh winter.

Kobylarz’s foundation partnered with the Sabin Family Foundation to make the life-saving donation.

“We’re going to try to give them a semblance of a really nice Christmas,” said the Long Island philanthropist Andy Sabin, who sent the orphanage 200 boxes of Christmas gifts as well. “Hopefully on Christmas they can spend time playing with their stuffed animals and toys and not in the bomb shelters.”

The benefactors also plan a surprise visit from Santa on a decorated fire truck. “The kids will be able to play and will feel like kids,” Kobylarz said. “I hope this holiday will be peaceful. They deserve that.”

Boyd Byelich hands a gift bag to a Ukrainian woman.
Boyd Byelich traveled to Ukraine to give gifts and meet Ukrainians.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who has made aid to Ukraine his personal mission this year, told The Post the human touch is a “tremendous boost to their spirit.”

“I think the Ukrainians, particularly the children, appreciate the fact that so many Americans, not just the government, are doing everything we can to help bring them some warmth and joy this Christmas season,” Pataki said.

Pataki, who visited the Zakarpattya Children’s Hospital in Mukachevo in early December with the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, said his group sent Christmas toys and candy this week.

“These small things, compared to the billions in aid that are required, may not seem like that much. But to the children who get them, it means the world,” he said.

“Government can give them things, but only people can give affection and love. And it means a lot.”


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