WARSAW (AFP) – Shrieking and jumping up and down in glee, Ukrainian children of all ages crowd around three Poles in inflatable dinosaur costumes at a refugee shelter in Warsaw.
“I don’t bite,” said the orange T-rex in Ukrainian while handing out high fives and candy bars to the giggling little ones, safe from the war ravaging their homeland.
Their mothers take photos or just smile and watch as the boys and girls swarm the dinosaurs to tug on their tails and shake their two-fingered hands.
“They’re very happy. It’s a good time for them,” Ukrainian refugee Lili Kyryliuk told AFP, giving the initiative a thumbs up.
“Kids from Ukraine are now in distress, but these dinosaurs can help,” said the mother-of-two from the central city of Vinnytsia.
The 40-year-old, who left with her children after Russian missiles destroyed the local airport, is among hundreds of thousands who have sought shelter in Poland since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Looking for ways to help the new arrivals, Warsaw television producer Tomasz Grzywinski started the ‘Make Roar! Not War’ dinosaur campaign.
“I have children myself, so I can imagine how tough it must be for them to have to abandon their homes because of bombs flying everywhere,” the 41-year-old told AFP.
“I thought it’d be good to offer them at least a moment of reprieve… A kind of trip to Disneyland or Jurassic Park,” the father-of-three said.
Opting for a dinosaur costume because of the “wow factor”, he first tried it out at Warsaw’s main train station, which has seen a constant flow of refugees since the conflict started.
“I was afraid it wouldn’t go over well… because these people are fleeing war, and there I was planning to clown around so to speak,” he said.
“But already three minutes in, from the kids’ reactions I could tell it was all good. Also the parents were coming up and saying thank you and smiling.”
He found the experience moving. “This one girl, a toddler, came up and grabbed me by the leg and wanted to just stand there hugging the dinosaur. No candy, no nothing,” he said.
To his surprise, the idea took off on social media, with strangers reaching out to chip in for sweets and colouring books or donning costumes of their own to spread the merriment.
“I also got a lot of messages from psychologists who treat trauma saying the initiative was like mini therapy,” he said.
Grzywinski has since recruited friends to form “an army of dinosaurs” and has plans to branch out to less accessible places like orphanages.
“Everyone should help somehow,” said his friend Marcin Truskawa, after removing his green T-rex costume at the refugee shelter.
“Because these are people just like us and children just like ours,” the 42-year-old bank employee told AFP.
“It’s awesome that we could brighten someone’s day with such a little thing,” he added, all smiles from the experience.