Ryman Healthcare residents in Australia and New Zealand have come together to knit over 14,000 teddy bears for children in Ukraine impacted by the ongoing war. The initiative, called the Yuri bear, was started by Debra Richardson, Ryman’s Victorian Sales Manager.
Ms Richardson fostered an 11-year-old boy named Yuri from Ukraine following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and three decades later having reconnected with him, came up with a bear in his honour to send to displaced Ukrainian children as a gesture of love and support.
Ukraine has been at war with Russia since February 2022 when Russian troops invaded the Eastern European country. Over eight million Ukrainians have been displaced by the war, while another eight million have been forced to flee the country.Residents of Ryman retirement villages quickly jumped on board with the initiative, and in just six months, they knitted approximately 14,000 bears. The bears will be packed and sent via sea to Ukraine, where they will be distributed by aid organisation Kiwi K.A.R.E.
Ms Richardson said getting the residents to knit the bears was the easy part, with everyone wanting to do what they could to support. However, transporting tens of thousands of bears across the globe is no easy feat.
“I have been completely overwhelmed by the response of Ryman residents, many of whom are avid knitters,” Ms Richardson explained.
“For months now, they’ve come together to hand knit these special bears in the hope of bringing some joy to a very dark situation.”
“For us, it’s now about making sure they reach the children they’re intended for. Fourteen thousand bears need their own shipping container!
“Thankfully, freight forwarding company Mondiale VGL generously donated one and will manage the transportation for us.”
The Yuri bears from New Zealand have already arrived on Australian shores, with the Australian Yuri bears to be added to the container, due to set sail within the next few days.
Ray Meade, Group Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Mondiale VGL expressed his pride in being involved in the charitable initiative.
“We are pleased to be able to provide the means of transport for the Yuri Bears to Ukraine and work with Ryman Healthcare on this fantastic initiative,” Mr Meade said
“We are also thankful for Kiwi K.A.R.E, who, as well as distributing aid, have embraced the challenge of getting these teddies into the hands of displaced children.”
The man who inspired the Yuri bear, now a member of Ukraine’s security forces, is humbled and overwhelmed by the gesture.
“So many miles between us, but I feel the love and support of my Australian mommy Debra because we are close in our minds,” he said.
The Yuri bear initiative is a heartwarming example of how people can come together to make a difference in the world. It shows that even small acts of kindness can have a big impact, and that a little love and support can go a long way in bringing joy to those who need it most.