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At a holiday celebration in southern Ukraine: “Children still need miracles”.

At a holiday celebration in southern Ukraine: “Children still need miracles”.

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MYKOLAIV, Ukraine — Some of the children sitting on Saint Nicholas’ lap asked for iPhones. Others asked for peace.

Others, said Yevhen Vorobyov, dressed as Saint Nicholas, asked for air defense. Some just wanted clean water “so they can finally shower normally.”

It’s a far cry from a normal holiday season in Mykolaiv, a city besieged by war and decimated by Russian missiles. But on Monday, when children at a boarding school in the southern Ukrainian city gathered to celebrate St. Nicholas Day, there was still time to celebrate.

Nearly a hundred children visited the school, which serves special needs students, to play games, visit Saint Nicholas and receive gifts including handmade dolls from Canadian police officers and tangerines from local territorial defenders.

“No matter what war there is, the children still need miracles,” said Mr Vorobyov, who wore a long white fake beard to play the role of Saint Nicholas at the school where his wife Svitlana is the principal.

Since the Russian invasion began in February, the couple have evacuated some of their students to safer areas in western Ukraine and opened their doors to provide psychological help to the children, who, like their own 8-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter, stayed in Mykolayiv.

These children are often withdrawn, don’t want to play with other children and are afraid to leave home, said Mr Vorobyov, who runs another school in Mykolaiv that works with disabled children.

“One kid asked, ‘Mom, please put chairs around me so bullets and grenades don’t hit me,'” he said. Others, he added, have suicidal thoughts.

Mr Vorobyov, a trained rehabilitation specialist, said he and his wife use arts, sports and what he called “laughter therapy” to reach children who are struggling with their mental health. “We not only want to save lives,” he said, “but also their mental health.”

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