Near the city center of Makarov, a small town outside Kyiv, sits an old playground with shrapnel holes punched through its slides and swings, evidence of the artillery rockets Russia used to hit the playground and surrounding buildings during their advance towards Ukraine’s capital.

A few meters from the damaged playground is a beautiful, new playground that was opened on July 9, 2023.

The playground was installed by a project called Klaptyk, which was formed to provide children in liberated areas with modern playgrounds. Klaptyk, in turn, receives substantial support from the non-profit organization New Dream of Ukraine.

When Klaptyk’s Project Manager and New Dream of Ukraine Volunteer Andrew Matiashchuk drove by the damaged playground in February of 2023 and saw children playing on the broken remains, he said he was shocked.

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He immediately decided he wanted to build a new playground for Makarov and went home to design the project, he said.

He brought in his friend, a successful restaurateur and founder of New Dream of Ukraine, Oleksandr Prokhorenko, to help with fundraising 

New Dream of Ukraine, like many volunteer organizations in Ukraine, focuses first on providing non-lethal tactical and medical military aid to the military. This aid accounts for much of the organization's daily efforts and operations.

“First of all, we should help our army because our army protects us,” Matiashchuk said.

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However, after seeing the interest American donors, in particular, showed towards humanitarian work, Prokhorenko and New Dream of Ukraine began searching for an overlooked issue where the organization could make a difference. They settled on the plight of children in de-occupied territory.

“It's kids. It’s our future. It’s our seeds,” Prokhorenko said. “The main thing for every Ukrainian is to win the war, but also, for us, it is to invest in our future by making children happy.”

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The focus on playgrounds was also an attempt to help parents and kids who had stayed in Ukraine during the war, Matiashchuk said.

“The idea was first of all to help parents.” Matiashchuk said. “Because happy parents equal happy kids, equals happy families, equals happy society.”

Prokhorenko said to raise money, he reached out to famous Ukrainian artists like the Feldman sisters and Evgan Klimenko and asked if they would donate art that New Dream of Ukraine could sell in exhibitions in New York.

By sharing Ukrainian culture with the world, the exhibition resisted Russia’s attempt at cultural genocide while raising money to support Ukraine’s children and future. The artists showed up in force. 

Klimenko, whose father currently serves in Ukraine’s armed forces, sells many of his paintings to raise money and buy supplies the soldiers need. In early October he helped purchase and deliver a van to defenders to help them evacuate their wounded from the battlefield.

When Prokhorenko called Klimenko and told him about New Dream of Ukraine’s project, Klimeno sent some of his work along immediately. He said that he was overjoyed to receive the good news that the event had sold all of his work.

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Although the first exhibition only sold two pieces of art, with a few adjustments, the second exhibition for the Klaptyk playground sold out of almost all the donated work. The event raised nearly $18,500, Matiashchuk said.

As a producer of Bernard-Henri Lévy's documentary films on Ukraine, and a cultural activist herself, American Emily Hamilton said the exhibition was a joyful celebration of Ukrainian culture. She purchased a large piece of work by Klimenko which she said deeply moved her.

“I have an eight-year-old who's very passionate about Ukraine. So, the idea of the money going to a playground – I just thought was really beautiful. They’re [New Dream of Ukraine] bringing joy to children whose childhood and innocence has been ripped away by these invaders,” Hamilton said. “These children are resilient, are bright, are brave, and they deserve to have as much joy in their life as any other kid around the world. I think it’s so commendable – and deeply important work that New Dream does.”

On a rainy day in early October, Matiashchuk pointed to the two Makarov playgrounds side by side and explained that in his mind, the old damaged playground was Ukraine’s past, tied to Russia, and the new, bright playground was Ukraine’s future without Russia.

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“I dedicate this playground for [sic] my kids.” Matiashchuk said.

As he became slightly emotional, he explained that it was his dream for his two children to return to Ukraine after the country’s victory and play on one of the playgrounds Matiashchuk helped build. Matiashchuk’s twin seven-year-old boys moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado with his wife to avoid the war.

Prokhorenko said the organization decided to leave the old playground intact rather than destroy it for the symbolism it represented. He said it is a reminder that the country is still at war and that at one point, that war reached this small town, only 28 kilometers from Kyiv.

New Dream of Ukraine is currently fundraising for its next playground, which has been approved by local government officials to be built in the town of Yahidne in the Chernihiv region.

Yahidne was the focus of a February 2023 article in Time magazine that detailed how Russian soldiers forced 360 residents, including children and the elderly, into the basement of a local school where they were kept captive for nearly a month with no toilets, limited food, and no ventilation.

Matiashchuk said the organization needs USD 15,000 to build the next playground. To raise these funds Prokhorenko has organized an event called “Ukrainian Art Week.” To be held in 17 Frost Gallery in Brooklyn, New York from Nov. 13 to 20.

Prokhorenko and Matiashchuk said that as long as they can continue to raise money, they will continue building playgrounds. They hope to expand the project, to allow them to build larger sporting facilities for children in the liberated territories in the future.

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