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A toymaker raised $145,000 for Ukraine by creating a Lego-based Zelenskyy figurine

Citizen Brick sold out of its LEGO-based figurine inspired by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy within hours.
Citizen Brick
Citizen Brick sold out of its LEGO-based figurine inspired by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy within hours.

It didn't take long for Citizen Brick to sell out of its custom LEGO-based figurine of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Their tiny Molotov cocktails featuring the Ukrainian flag went just as fast.

"We just wanted to do a small fundraising effort," says owner Joe Trupia. "But this one seemed to hit the bull's eye with some people."

Like many others, Trupia wanted to help as he watched events unfold in Ukraine. His store decided to create and sell the tiny toys to bring attention and money for Ukraine.

They sold out within hours, raising more than $145,000 of proceeds benefiting the non-profit aid group, Direct Relief.

The demand has been extraordinary, says Trupia. The Chicago-area toy shop typically serves a tiny - but loyal - community of toy collectors, earning a reputation for making "far-out versions of the iconic LEGO mini figurines" for enthusiasts of the brand over the last 12 years.

Some of those "far-out versions" include a Girl Scout figurine named "Cookie Pusher" and a Breaking Bad inspired methlab. They've even made a strip club called the Center for the Performing Arts.

"And then we did something that kind of got outside of that sphere a little bit and got some notice," said Trupia.

Citizen Brick was fielding calls and emails from all over the world inquiring about the coveted Ukraine-inspired toys. But he kept thinking about his loyal customer base.

"I have a lot of customers who are from that part of the world," he said, "and three weeks ago, they were just making TikTok videos and collecting toys. And next thing you know, they're hiding in subway tunnels. And that was really startling."

President Zelenskyy's leadership caught his eye at the same time.

"If you'd asked me a month ago who the President of Ukraine was, I probably couldn't have told you," Trupia said. "And it really is an uncommon kind of heroic act, I think. It really impressed me that he was kind of staying there for his people and really kind of leading the way that they needed him to at the minute."

The Zelenskyy figurine sold for $100 each. The Molotov cocktails were $20.

"On its face, making a toy Molotov cocktail is an absurd idea," says Trupia. "And I kind of enjoyed the twist of turning that into medical supplies for refugees. That seemed like a good deed. But...I'm not really sure why that was the thing that caught people's eye."

Citizen Brick doesn't have any plans to make more, despite lingering demand because LEGO does not sell the necessary parts directly. The Zelenskyy and Molotov cocktail figurines were made with materials the store had on hand: toy parts with skin tone similar to the Ukrainian president's, tiny green bottles and the little flames.

"We could not make any more unless we had a giant donation from LEGO directly," said Trupia. "These are pretty scarce materials that we just had around the shop. We don't make them ourselves, so we wouldn't be able to make more."

At the end of the day, Trupia says it feels good to be able to help. "Even if it's been kind of a clumsy execution where we couldn't meet all the demand, it's really kind of opened our eyes to the possibility of doing this kind of stuff more often."

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Linah Mohammad
Ayen Deng Bior is a producer at NPR's flagship evening news program, All Things Considered. She helps shape the sound of the daily shows by contributing story ideas, writing scripts and cutting tape. Her work at NPR has taken her to Warsaw, Poland, where she heard from refugees displaced by the war in Ukraine. She has spoken to people in Saint-Louis, Senegal, who are grappling with rising seas. Before NPR, Bior wore many hats at the Voice of America's English to Africa service where she worked in radio, television and digital. Bior began her career reporting on the revolution in Sudan, the developing state of affairs in South Sudan and the experiences of women behind the headlines in both countries. In her spare time, Bior loves to kayak, read and bird watch.