Her cuddly creations provide help for Ukrainian causes

Alina Natynski holds one of the hand-crafted stuffed animals sold to help Ukrainians. 

By Don Ireland Senior Reporter
Weekly Register call

Watching the horrific news stories about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was emotionally devastating for Alina Natynski, who lived in the eastern European country for many years. Her father, brother and younger sister still live there, along with friends.

The first reactions were shock and dismay for Alina, who moved to the United States several years ago. However, her emotions about the recent situation led to her decision to try to help the people in war-torn Ukraine.

The Gilpin County resident initially didn’t know what she could do – or how she could do something to help. Slowly but surely, Alina’s desire is fueling an effort to involve residents who want to show their support.

It would have been easy for Alina to simply remain a bystander in the Ukrainian situation because her life was already filled. The University of Colorado alum, who graduated with a degree in international relations, is married to Chris Natynski, who works for CU in Boulder. The couple, who met while she was studying for an advanced degree from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, has a two-year-old daughter who keeps them busy at their home in Dory Lakes.

Some of the Frank and Bubby stuffed toys have been sent to orphans in Ukraine. Proceeds from the local product sales locally are donated to help Ukrainian dairy farmers. Photos by Don Ireland

“I knew I wanted to help right away,” said Alina, who took her daughter on vacation to Kyiv, Ukraine, to see her father, sister, and others in October. A few months after she returned, Russian troops began the invasion, which is continuing.

Alina lived in the U.S.S.R. for many years before her parents divorced. She and her mother, Angelica Bahl, moved to America in 1999. Bahl is a professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver who helped Alina enhance her marketing skills. “She gave me great tips on how I can spread the word and was so helpful with my fundraising,” said Alina.

After the U.S.S.R. fell in the early 1990s, Alexander Slipchuk (Alina’s father) and his partners purchased three dairy plants in Ukraine, west of the capital city of Kyiv and formed Ukrproduct Group. Those dairy plants rely on farmers who raise cows in the area to produce butter, dry non-fat milk and other products. Some of those products are food sources for residents and soldiers. So far, dairy farmers and their workers have not been part of the conflict, which is barely 125 miles (200 kilometers) away. However, farmers may be forced to flee if war moves toward them, and their livestock could be killed. Should that happen, it would take years to reestablish the industry, Alina said.

Alina said her father has chosen to stay in Starokonstantinov to oversee the continuous operation of the dairy plants. Currently, two fully operational plants in Zhytomyr and Starokonstantinov produce butter and dry milk powder for the Ukrainian army and people. Despite many roadblocks and destroyed bridges, the in-house distribution network is working hard to deliver the products through all available routes. During war, people require nutritionally dense food with a long shelf life. Milk powder is high in protein, has a long shelf-life, and can be used in various preparations. Butter is a vital source of animal fats and, in the current temperatures, can keep for one to two months without refrigeration.

Nova Ukraine, a non-profit agency, recently donated $50,000 to help purchase dairy products from the plants and distribute them to Ukrainian organizations and citizens.

“My dad is on the ground, and I can trust him to help (others) when we send money to him,” commented Alina.

Last year, Alina stepped away from her teaching job to be at home with her daughter. When she saw how her baby girl enjoyed playing with her stuffed animals, Alina got an idea. She decided she wanted to create a line of hand-crafted plush animals, made at a quality level typically not available in a big-box chain store.

She and artisan friends began making their own line of small stuffed animals that are modeled after old European toys. The toys have movable limbs and are considered heirloom quality. Some are created with hand-made scarves and other items which Alina personally creates. “I put my heart into making them. They’re made with love,” commented Alina.

Her daughter’s two favorite stuffed animals were a fox named Frank, and a bunny named Bubby. They became the namesakes for Alina’s company, Frank and Bubby. The lineup includes several varieties and colors of bears, foxes and cats. Some are playful, including a fox wearing a picture of a chicken on its sweater. Another features a bear dressed in a duck outfit.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, Alina decided to redirect her business model to help the Ukrainian dairy farmers. She is donating 50 percent of all sales to the cause. Stores that carry the Frank and Bubby line are using signs on their displays, telling customers that their purchases will be donated to charities in Ukraine. The hashtag #StandWithUkraine and the nation’s flag are part of the signage.

As a mother, Alina knows that many Ukrainians have been killed and slaughtered, which has led to a growing number of orphans. She has been sending some of the Frank and Bubby stuffed animals to orphanages and refugee camps, hoping to provide some comfort to children. She has also sent some of the funds raised to help provide thermal wear, socks, and other items the Ukrainian freedom fighters need.

“I feel a great deal about this cause,” said Alina. “Before, I felt helpless. Now, I am acting, and I can tell people how they can also make a difference.”