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Yuri Bears Ukraine bound

Written by Michael Cummings
on March 23, 2023

14,000 hand-knitted teddy bears from Ryman Healthcare retirement village residents in Australia and New Zealand – fondly named the Yuri bear – will shortly be Ukraine-bound.

The Yuri-bear initiative was started by Debra Richardson, Ryman’s Victorian Sales Manager. Debra fostered an 11-year-old boy named Yuri from Ukraine following the Chernobyl disaster and three decades later having reconnected with him, came up with a bear in his honour to send to displaced Ukrainian children as a gesture of love and support.

With the residents of Ryman retirement villages jumping on the special cause, they knitted approximately 14,000 bears in six months. The bears will be packed and sent this week via sea, to be distributed on the ground by aid organisation Kiwi K.A.R.E.


Debra says getting the residents to knit the bears was the easy part, with everyone wanting to do what they could to support. However, transporting tens of thousands of bears across the globe is no easy feat. 

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Yuri Bear Project organiser and Ryman Healthcare Victorian Sales and Community Relations Manager Debra Richardson.


“I have been completely overwhelmed by the response of Ryman residents, many of whom are avid knitters. For months now they’ve come together to hand knit these special bears in the hope of bringing some joy to a very dark situation.

“For us it’s now about making sure they reach the children they’re intended for. Fourteen thousand bears need their own shipping container!

“Thankfully, freight forwarding company, Mondiale VGL, generously donated one and will manage the transportation for us.”

The Yuri bears from New Zealand arrived on Australian shores last weekend, with the Australian Yuri bears also added to the container due to set sail in the coming days.

“We are pleased to be able to provide the means of transport for the Yuri Bears to Ukraine and work with Ryman Healthcare on this fantastic initiative,” said Ray Meade, Group CEO for Mondiale VGL.

“We are also thankful for Kiwi K.A.R.E who, as well as distributing aid, have embraced the challenge of getting these teddies into the hands of displaced children,” says Debra.

The man who inspired the Yuri bear, now a member of Ukraine’s security forces, is humbled and overwhelmed by the gesture.  

“So many miles between us, but I feel the love and support of my Australian mommy Debra, because we are close in minds!” he said.

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