MYKOLAIV, Ukraine — Some of the children who sat on Saint Nicholas’s lap asked for iPhones. Others requested peace.
Yevhen Preobyov, a Saint Nicholas costumed man, requested air defense for others. Some just wanted clean water, he said, “so that they can finally have a normal shower.”
It is not a holiday season that you would expect in Mykolaiv. This city has been ravaged by war and sacked by Russian missiles. On Monday, children gathered at a boarding school in the city of southern Ukraine to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day.
Nearly 100 children visited Saint Nicholas School, which is a school for students with special disabilities. They were able to play games, visit Saint Nicholas, and get presents from Canadian police officers.
“Whatever war is going on, the kids still need miracles,” said Mr. Vorobyov, who donned a long white artificial beard to play the part of Saint Nicholas at the school where his wife, Svitlana, is the headmaster.
Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion in February, the couple 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 Mykolaiv.
Those children often become withdrawn, don’t want to play with other children and are scared to leave the house, said Mr. Vorobyov, who leads another school in Mykolaiv that works with disabled children.
“One kid asked, ‘Mom, please put chairs around me so that bullets and shells don’t hit me,” he said. Others, he said, had suicidal thoughts.
Mr. Vorobyov, a trained rehabilitation specialist, said he and his wife use art, sports and what he called “laughter therapy” to reach children who are struggling with their mental health. “We want not only to save people’s lives,” he said, “but also their sanity.”