The symbol of Ukrainian-Russian friendship becomes a sign of hope for possible peace

Soviet-era rocket toy unites children of both countries with a shared love of technology

A Soviet-era trinket has become a symbol of friendship between Ukrainians and Russians, even in the midst of a terrible war.

It all started, according to Save Ukraine co-founder Svetlana Shevchenko, when a six-year-old girl from the Donbass town of Sloviansk discovered a crater created by a Russian Iskander missile in early April. “Olga asked her parents what caused the huge hole in the ground. They explained what a missile was and tried, without much success, to explain why Russia would want to fire such a destructive thing at their city. [Russia has launched more than 1,300 such rockets at Ukraine since the invasion started on February 24].

Olga then asked, according to the story, if the “missiles” her parents were talking about were the same as the ceramic figures in their dresser which clearly looked like rockets. She was referring to a series of commemorative sculptures created in 1960 at the Ghzel pottery factory near Moscow, which celebrated the flight of Sputnik 5. It was the first space mission to include mammals (two dogs named Belka and Strelka) who made it back to shore safely. Collecting such items is popular in Russia and Ukraine, perhaps because they commemorate happier times when both countries were part of the Soviet Union and worked together on inspiring missions like the space program. Some of the figurines are used as vodka pitchers in both countries.

So, with the help of her parents, Olga started a project that encourages Russian and Ukrainian children to trade their Sputnik trinkets. These can still be purchased on the Russian equivalent of ebay (and ebay itself) and still inspire kids to get interested in technology. Heated discussions are emerging on Russian and Ukrainian social media platforms about the toys and what they might symbolize in light of the invasion.

And there are plenty of daily reminders of what the “real thing” is, according to Save Ukraine’s Oleg Kravchuk. “In an attempt to ‘soften’ Ukrainian defenses before a full-scale infantry assault on Ukrainian-held parts of Donbass, Russian forces are continuously striking the region with Iskander missiles.” They have destroyed large parts of Makkivka, Horlivka and Kramatorsk, and are now raining down hundreds of rockets on Lysychansk, Alchevsk, Sloviansk and Sieveirodonetsk.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian and Russian children are forming friendships through the shared love of rocket-shaped toys. And Olga still uses the Sloviansk bomb crater near her home as a playground.

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