Donated doll links UK and Ukraine families together

A children’s doll has become a shared symbol of hope and strength between a Twyford woman and a displaced family in Ukraine.

During a routine sort-through of food, clothing and medical items dropped at her home for a ‘Help for Ukraine’ collection, volunteer Debbie Martin found a little doll with a note attached to her and it gave her an idea.

The note said: “Hello friend. My name is Polly and love cuddles.”

Debbie said: “I decided to put my email address on the back of the luggage tag asking if the receiver was able to let me know that Polly had arrived safely.”

Polly found her way into a box which was eventually loaded on to a lorry destined for Ukraine.

When the boxes were unpacked Polly found herself in the arms of little Mariia, who is currently sheltering with three families in Western Ukraine after escaping war-torn Kyiv with her sister Darynka.

Some 30-days later Debbie received an email back: “Hi Debbie!

“My name is Mariia. I am six years old. I am from Ukraine.

“Thank you for Polly! I really like it. I named it Polina [Ukrainian version of the name ‘Polly’].

“When the war is over, I will be glad if you come to visit me.”

According to Unicef 4.3million children were without homes in the first month of the war in Ukraine – 1.8 million children had crossed borders into neighbouring countries and the rest, like Mariia, are displaced inside Ukraine.

“Being a parent myself, no child should have to face the trauma of war,” shared Debbie.

“So many of these innocent children and adults will have invisible scars that we must not ignore. Can you imagine leaving your homeland, leaving loved ones behind, and fleeing with nothing?”

That email contact with Mariia has led to a developing friendship between two families – Debbie and her two children and Mariia and her sister Darynka and aunt Nataly.

Nataly wrote: “Debbie, all Ukrainian people and I personally really appreciate your support and support from people all over the world. We are still alive and hopefully we will survive in this cruel and senseless war where too many innocent people are dying every day. I really hope that this madness will be over soon.”

Learning more about Mariia and seeing the photos that Nataly shared has driven Debbie’s mission forward.

“Many of us are lucky to have a secure roof over our heads and enough food on our plate and have luxuries that so many no longer have,” she said.

“I am a firm believer that we should all treat people like we would wish to be treated. If I was the one in need of help, I hope that someone would see this and reach out their hand to me.”

Since the beginning of the war Debbie has worked with schools, youth clubs, a van hire company and other volunteers to collect boxes of supplies plus 900 ‘shoeboxes of smiles’. In total, 13 HGVs containing an estimated £1million of donations have made it across so far.

Debbie’s next project is ‘Bags of Love’. The aim is to collect 1,000 backpacks full of fun and essential items to send to displaced children aged three to 15 in Ukraine.

People are being asked to load a child’s backpack with new items that will assist day-to-day living for children on the move but also help to entertain them, and include a £1 donation inside.

To drop off a backpack, email:

The deadline is June 1.

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