She's got it 11:40 27 Feb 2024

Grandma's Hares: craftswomen create toys to comfort children in stress or danger

Life can be hard for children who are victims of crimes, do not receive adequate care from their parents, or are forced to leave their homes due to hostilities. Sometimes, a special approach is necessary to support these children – and something as simple as a small, soft, plush toy can become the key to a child's heart.

What is the problem?

Every child who has witnessed or experienced violence or disasters, or who feels scared and hesitant to speak to adults, requires first a sense of safety. When a child is removed from a crime scene, a dysfunctional family, or the frontline – even the smallest act, word, or gesture can have a significant impact. It's crucial for the child to know that there is someone nearby who will provide support and help them feel calm and reassured.

What is the solution?

In cooperation with the juvenile police, the Ukrainian charity fund Our Victory launched the initiative Grandma's Hares, by which people of respectable age handcraft soft bunnies for young ones. Police officers, rescuers, and soldiers then deliver them to children who have found themselves in stressful situations, witnessed a traumatic event, or have suffered from war or violence. Toys can help establish contact with a child and ease the initial stress.

Iryna Lutai, the director of the Our Victory fund, and Iryna Raspopina, the project coordinator, helped Rubryka learn more about the Grandma's Hares project.

How does it work?

"You are safe. I will take care of you"

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The Grandma's Hares social project has been operating in Kyiv, Ukraine, since 2021. Photo from the archive of the initiative

Grandma's Hares is the Ukrainian version of the Trauma Bear international volunteer initiative. Since the early 1990s, doctors and police officers in Great Britain, the USA, Norway, Australia, the Netherlands, Germany, and Estonia have been giving trauma bears to children affected by violence or natural disasters. During the 30 years of the initiative, supported by the Red Cross, more than 1 million children worldwide have been comforted by handmade bears.

Iryna Raspopina, the Our Victory project coordinator, saw a photo of a Manchester police officer with a whole bundle of teddy bears in the news and was inspired to introduce similar helper toys to children in Ukraine.

Trauma bear

A policeman from Manchester holding trauma bears. Photo from open sources

"We wanted such toys to be available to policemen and firemen, representatives of all services that go to calls involving children nationwide, so that children who are unlucky enough to find themselves in a dangerous and traumatic situation not only to hear words of reassurance, but to hold a new soft friend for comfort," Raspopina recalls.

After consulting, the fund's team decided to combine their activities and involve elderly women in making the toys, giving them a sense of purpose and a chance to stay busy while helping young Ukrainians.

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In Ukraine, bunnies have become toys that help establish contact with a child under stress. Photo from the archive of the initiative

The Our Victory fund was created to care for older people and people with special needs, and aims to create a dignified and joyful life for them by offering the opportunity to feel active and needed.

The team also promotes the idea of reestablishing intergenerational connection, considering it the key to a healthy and happy society. 

The foundation's experience has shown that it is vital for older people to live according to their values of caring for others, maintaining contact with young people, and being involved in doing good deeds. In addition, such a project allows them to realize their creative abilities and learn new skills.

One of the main features of Grandma's Hares is not just buying or creating toys but involving those who need to share warmth with others in the process. This is what makes the project unique and different from those in other countries.

Hugs from grandmother to child

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Project participants with their bunnies. Photo from the archive of the initiative

The Grandma's Hares project was launched in March 2021 in the Kyiv region, when a lost little girl received the first toy from a juvenile police officer. As a safe transitional object, the bunny has become one of the resources for surviving a stressful experience for a child.

Ювенальна поліція України

A policewoman gives a toy rabbit to a boy. Photo from open sources

According to the initiative organizers, they often hear stories of children for whom such a bunny becomes the only toy and friend and support in an acutely stressful situation. Some of the children who went through a traumatic event or come from dysfunctional families do not know what a hug is, have little experience in safe communication with adults, and do not know how to talk about their feelings and fears.

The juvenile police of Ukraine share stories about how these bunnies work, allowing the police not only to establish contact with the child but also get them to open up and talk about their situation. Usually, when police work with dysfunctional families, parents cover up troubles, do not talk about problems, or even claim that everything is fine with them. At the same time, the child may remain silent because of their fear.

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A collection of bright bunnies for the White Angel unit. Photo from the archive of the initiative

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Grandma's Hares in Zaporizhzhia hospital. Photo from the archive of the initiative

Rabbits created by the hands of older adults found their way from the Kyiv region to other regions, but they were not enough. In May 2022, Our Victory began cooperation with the Department of Juvenile Prevention of the National Police of Ukraine, allowing the project to scale to other communities, cities, and regions of Ukraine.

Most often, tailoring centers appear at "universities of the third age," whose students are elderly active people who like to spend the "golden time" of their lives interestingly and usefully. Four such centers across Ukraine participate in the project today. 

Bunny-making workshops were held for students at the university of the third age Lutsk, Khmelnytskyi, Mykolaiv, and Ternopil regions. In May 2023, the masters of the project made a special batch of bright yellow and orange bunnies by request from the White Angel unit of the National Police of Ukraine, which is engaged in the evacuation of children from the war zone.

Евакуація, Херсонщина

Evacuation from the Kherson region. Photo from the archive of the initiative

Today, the bunnies help police officers work with children who suffered from war, lost their parents, or survived Russian occupation. They comfort children who were evacuated from cities under shelling, ended up in a shelter with only a small backpack of personal things, or were in the hospital due to injuries. Bunnies in reflective vests also help explain the road rules to young children, and during the winter blackouts of 2023, they were used at "points of invincibility", where people would gather for heat, water, electricity, and mobile communication.

Bunnies help not only the children but also the craftswomen themselves

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Artisans from the Kyiv region. Photo from the archive of the initiative

Hares are sewn from new socks according to a particular pattern. Toys are made so that, firstly, they are safe for children and have a minimum of details, but at the same time, they remain portable and easy to care for. It takes up to 1.5 hours for experienced artisans to sew one hare.

Бабусині зайціA bunny was created in a home for the elderly. Photo from the archive of the initiative

Geriatric institutions can also potentially participate. 

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Master class on sewing hares in Khmelnytskyi. Photo from the archive of the initiative

"Not everyone stays in the project," adds Lutai. This is normal, as in any volunteering: for some, it becomes uninteresting, and for others, it might be difficult; some switch to sports, poetry, or other projects. "We are immensely proud of their activities and involvement in the country's life, and we are grateful to them for their contributions."

Those who liked making the bunnies continued this work with pleasure, and some of them later became mentors. For example, Svitlana Kiyanitsa stayed in the project because she felt the bunnies are "soft, fluffy, warm, full of kindness." She also made such toys for her grandchildren, and they liked them.

Майстриня проєкту

Svitlana Kiyanitsa is the master of the Grandma's Hares project. Photo from the archive of the initiative

Does it really work?

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Artisans from the Mykolaiv region. Photo from the archive of the initiative

The Grandma's Hares project has now been active for three years. During this time, older women have already sewn more than 600 toys, and the bunnies have traveled to 19 regions of Ukraine.

The primary goals of the project, its social and psychological assistance, remain unchanged:

  • To allow older adults, especially lonely ones, to be involved in useful social activities.
  • To be part of the first psychological aid for children who have experienced a stressful situation because they have witnessed a traumatic situation: to ensure safety, reduce stress reactions, and help the child develop skills to cope with stress.
  • To help the Juvenile Police of Ukraine establish initial contact and communication with the child, distracting the child from what is happening around them during the incident.

Today, its main priority is to provide toys to the White Angels unit, which evacuates the population from the frontline areas. For this to become possible, the project team sets itself the following tasks:

  1. Develop a network of partnerships with centers of institutes of the third age and organizations in different regions of Ukraine, which create opportunities for the development of older people.
  2. Conduct a series of educational workshops for older adults on making soft bunnies.
  3. Produce another batch of 1,000 soft toys for the White Angels and the police.
  4. Conduct an information campaign to popularize the project and attract a wider audience of organizations and services that work with children in crises.

"Together with the police, we keep records of hares whenever possible. Occasionally, they tell us that on repeat visits, the children bring out their toys and share how they play with them," Raspopina shares with Rubryka. 

The team hopes to hold joint meetings of the craftswomen, police officers, and children. They are also actively working on the idea of adding postcards to each bunny with a small message from the creator to the child. This is how children will know the names of their "grandmothers."

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The child received a yellow bunny from the White Angels. Photo from open sources

The initiative organizers are happy they implemented the project despite the full-scale war. In their opinion, it showed that many Ukrainians are selflessly and inspiredly ready to change this world for the better, and they are not just ready but do it every day.

Ірина Лутай, Ірина Распопіна, Інна Остапович

Artisans from Lutsk together with Iryna Lutai, Iryna Raspopina, and Inna Ostapovych. Photo of the Juvenile Police of Volyn

"Our amazing craftswomen constantly motivate and inspire us; they have so much light and warmth," says Iryna Raspopina. "As a psychologist, I am glad our toys are another small contribution to the nation's mental health."

Juvenile police officers, who readily accepted the toy hares into their arsenal, are constantly coming up with new ideas and new opportunities for their use to improve work with children. They are open to new things, making this a very reliable partnership.

Even more useful solutions!

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 Master class held online via ZOOM. Photo from the archive of the initiative

The Grandma's Hares project plans to open new centers for sewing bunnies. Anyone can support the project, even from abroad. 

  • You can donate on the Our Victory website in the Grandma's Hares project or on the Spilnokosht platform. Currently, only charitable contributions for materials and volunteer work of artisans allow the project to continue.
  • You can also join in by filling out a small questionnaire on the main page of the foundation.

Take part in the "Pend a Yellow Sock" campaign, implemented by the Grandma's Hares project and a sock store from Zhytomyr zt_socks.


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