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Building blocks of joy

Sydney Page

THE WASHINGTON POST – When 11-year-old Andrii Sidorov fled Kyiv in late February, he packed a small suitcase of essential items. He had no choice but to leave his prized Lego collection behind.

“He was so sad,” said his father, Igor Sidorov, who drove with two of his four sons to Vienna on February 23, just before Russia launched its assault on Ukraine. His two older sons – ages 19 and 16 – stayed to fight in the war. Their mother remained in Kyiv, too.

“The situation was not good,” said Sidorov, whose youngest son is eight. “It was not safe.”
On March 15, the father and sons flew from Vienna to Galway, Ireland, after the country waived its visa requirement for Ukrainians, and offered access to healthcare and other benefits. Since the war began in late February, more than 5,500 Ukrainian refugees have entered Ireland.

While they were physically safe, Sidorov said, Andrii felt lost without his Legos to soothe and occupy him. Since he was a toddler, playing with Legos has been his favourite pastime. “My son starting building with Lego at three years old,” Sidorov said, explaining that Andrii spent many hours a day making complex creations. “All the time, he is making different toys,” Sidorov said.

Without instruction manuals and using his imagination, he would craft intricate trucks, ships and robots. Over the years, he acquired thousands of pieces, and cherished his vast collection.

ABOVE & BELOW: Andrii Sidorov with one of his Lego creations; and the creations Andrii built with Lego pieces donated from strangers around the world. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST

In Ireland, Sidorov tried to make the transition of settling into a new country as easy as he could. For Andrii, he knew that meant finding him some Lego bricks to play with.

Sidorov, who worked as a regional sales manager in Ukraine, decided to post a plea on Facebook in several groups, including ‘Ukrainians in Ireland’ on March 28. He explained that his son is “engaged in the creation and construction of various Lego toys on a semi-professional level without instruction”, adding that his child is a “very clever boy”.

“We left all our Lego in Ukraine,” Sidorov wrote. “Help me please! We need any Lego, any size and colour in any quantity.”

His son is so passionate about Legos, in fact, that just over a year ago, he started a YouTube channel and Instagram account, where he chronicles his creations. Andrii likes to post pictures and videos, engaging with others who share his enthusiasm.

Sidorov knew that having Lego to play with would ease his son’s anxiety, and provide him with a much-needed distraction.

To Sidorov’s delight, his online appeal worked. Within 24 hours, dozens of packages filled with new and lightly used Lego sets started pouring into the Galmont Hotel & Spa, where Irish social welfare services placed the family.

“There is Lego all around me. In the reception, in the room, everywhere,” said Sidorov, who said he is both stunned and touched by the overwhelming show of support.

Strangers from around the world – including in the United States (US), Britain, Australia and around Europe – have shipped all manner of Lego sets, with about 45 packages arriving so far. “Now, my kid has more Lego than before,” he said.

With the packages arriving one after another, he is “always smiling”, Sidorov said.

“Every day when he comes back from school, he chooses the next box and builds,” Sidorov said, adding that his sons are beginning to adjust to life in Ireland, thanks to the kindness of others. “I think they are happy to be here.”

Sidorov is not yet sure whether his family will remain permanently in Ireland, or if they will go back to Kyiv someday or perhaps relocate elsewhere.

“The first thing for me is to save my kids and give them a happy life,” he said. “I must not think about me, but about my kids.”

Andrii, for his part, is starting to feel more at home now that he is once again surrounded by Legos.

“Glory to Ireland!” he wrote in an Instagram post, featuring a Lego creation of an Irish flag. “Thanks to all these wonderful and very kind people with very big hearts!”