At a refugee shelter in Warsaw, Ukrainian children crowd, scream and jump for joy around three very warm inflatable dinosaurs.
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“I don’t bite,” the orange T-Rex assures in Ukrainian while handing out “Tope there” and candy bars to young and old, well protected from the war ravaging their country.
Their mothers take pictures or just smile as they watch the boys and girls pounce on the big dinosaurs to tug their tails and squeeze their two-fingered paws.
“They are very happy. It’s a good time for them,” one of the Ukrainian refugees, Lili Kyryliouk, told AFP.
“Ukrainian children are now experiencing moments of need. These dinosaurs can help them,” said the mother of two from the central Ukrainian city of Vinnytsa.
The 40-year-old, who left home with her children after the local airport was destroyed by Russian missiles, is one of more than a million people who have found refuge in Poland since Russia invaded Ukraine.
In search of original formulas to help newcomers, Tomasz Grzywinski, TV producer in Warsaw, launched his Jurassic campaign – Make roahrrr, not war.
“I have children of my own, so I can imagine how difficult it must be for them to have to leave their home because of the bombs flying everywhere,” the 41-year-old told AFP.
“I thought it would be nice to give them at least a moment of quiet… Sort of like a trip to Disneyland or Jurassic Park,” adds the father-of-three.
He chose a dinosaur costume because of the “Wow!” it provoked, and first tried it at the main train station in Warsaw, which has seen a constant stream of refugees since the conflict began.
“I was afraid it wouldn’t go well…because these people are fleeing the war while I want to play the clown,” he says.
“But after three minutes I could tell from the children’s reaction that everything was fine. The parents also came to thank me and smiled at me.
The experience was moving.
“A two and a half year old girl came up to me, grabbed my leg and just wanted to stand there and hug the dinosaur. She didn’t even want candy, nothing at all,” he said.
To his surprise, the idea caught on on social media when strangers showed up to buy treats and coloring books or don their own costumes to cheer.
“I received a lot of feedback from psychologists specializing in the treatment of trauma who told me that this initiative resembles mini-therapy,” says Mr. Grzywinski.
He’s since recruited friends to form “an army of dinosaurs” and plans to invest in less accessible places like orphanages as well.
“Everyone should help in some way,” says his friend Marcin Truskawa after changing off his green T-Rex costume at the same refugee center.
“These are people like us, children like ours,” emphasizes the 42-year-old bank employee.
“It’s great that we can make someone’s day with so little,” he adds with a beaming smile, happy with the experience.