As dawn broke across Ukraine on February 24th this year, the Russian Federation launched an all-out invasion of Ukraine. In my day job, I’ve been working with software development teams in Ukraine for nearly 15 years, mainly in Kharkiv, barely 30 miles (less than 50 km) from the Russian border. In the first hours of the invasion, I messaged an old group-chat from my previous job saying, “Stay safe, my friends.” My former colleagues began waking up to air raid sirens, rocket attacks, and fighter jets roaring over their heads, and I watched their online status turn from yellow to green as they began sending brief replies saying they were safe so far.
(This article originally appeared on The Brothers Brick.)
Through colleagues like these in Kharkiv, Odesa, and the capital Kyiv, as well as ex-pats here in the US, I’ve grown to love the Ukrainian people and their independent spirit. Ukrainians have been fighting for freedom and democracy ever since declaring independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. That fight became much more visceral in 2014, when a democratic “Revolution of Dignity” overthrew a corrupt, oligarchic and pro-Russian government. Russia’s Vladimir Putin immediately responded by annexing Ukraine’s Crimea region and began a proxy war to take over the industrial Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. This led not just to atrocities like the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 that year, but an ongoing Russia-backed insurgency against the democratic government in Kiev — for many in Ukraine, the Russian invasion began in 2014, not on February 24, 2022. But since February, through the Russian army’s mass killings of civilians in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, and elsewhere; ethnic cleansing of over 2 million Ukrainians to Russia; and ongoing indiscriminate rocket attacks and air raids against civilian targets like schools and shopping centers throughout Ukraine today, the full-scale invasion this year has proven that Russia intends to commit terrorism and ultimately genocide against the nation of Ukraine and its people. In the 5 months since the Russian invasion, most of my old team relocated to western Ukraine, though nobody in the country is safe from Russian rocket attacks and bombing. Some staff from my old company chose to stay behind in Kharkiv, and at least one has even laid down his life defending his city and his nation.
For my friends in Ukraine, the Russian war is an existential threat, which makes this war particularly personal for me. Many others in the LEGO hobbyist community have stepped up over the past months to help Ukraine, including our friends at Citizen Brick, who we highlighted in March with their $145,000 raised for Ukrainian charities from the sale of custom minifigs like this one of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
I’ve been especially impressed with Dan Siskind and his team at Brickmania, who’ve continued to produce a special line of custom LEGO kits for which 100% of the profits serve needs in Ukraine. Like Citizen Brick, Brickmania has also raised $140,000 through Ukraine benefit custom LEGO kits ranging from individual minifigs to armored personnel carriers and captured Russian tanks.
More Brickmania custom kits benefiting Ukraine: T-64BV tank, captured T-80BVM tank, etc.
Thinking I might create a display at a LEGO convention like BrickCon later in the year, I’ve been quietly building the full range of Brickmania kits, along with custom minifigs to accompany them. I never cease to be amazed by the level of detail and design in Brickmania kits, like this version of the captured Russian T-80BVM tank nicknamed “Bunny” serving with the Ukrainian army, commanded by a former software engineer like my Ukrainian colleagues.
Early in the 2022 invasion, I began following numerous soldiers online, including women serving as combat medics. Last week I shared a few photos of custom minifigs inspired by several real-life women serving in a variety of combat and support roles — Kateryna Halushka, Anna Arkhipova, and Alina Mykhailova in particular.
My little group of minifigs seems to have struck a chord with the people of Ukraine, and over the past week, the press in Ukraine has picked up the story, with articles in Vogue Ukraine, Euromaidan Press, and even the official page of the nation of Ukraine on LinkedIn! Many commenters asked to see minifig versions of the soldiers who held out in the Azovstal steel plant so the rest of the Ukrainian military could defend major cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv. I’ve just shared a new group of minifigures depicting these heroes of Ukraine.
I’ve also gotten numerous requests for copies of the minifigs, but unfortunately they use out-of-production parts and custom pieces only available in very limited quantities. Instead, I plan to send smaller batches of these figures to Ukraine to be auctioned for humanitarian aid and equipment. In the meantime, if you’re reading this and would like to build your own Ukrainian combat medics, marines, or other defenders, here’s a short list of the places where I purchased the LEGO pieces and custom parts:
- Custom-printed military uniforms and headgear from Brickmania and Citizen Brick
- Custom weapons and helmets by BrickArms, available from Brickmania, Citizen Brick, and elsewhere
- Standard LEGO faces, hair, animals, and so on from Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jurassic World, LEGO City, and other themes, available individually from sellers on Bricklink