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Photographer uses toys to tell stories of children living in war zones

War Toys

(NEW YORK) — Processing Russia’s war on Ukraine has been a challenge for all children, especially those who were forced to flee their homes, say goodbye to family members and watch their entire lives change overnight.

To help these children traumatized by living in war zones and bring attention to their plight, artist Brian McCarty is capturing war through their eyes. His project, War Toys, asks children living within violence to draw the destruction they’ve witnessed.

“We want to do everything we can while the fighting is going on, recognizing it’s not until the fighting stops that real recovery happens,” McCarty said in an interview with ABC News Live Friday. “So, for now we’re just getting in any way we can, giving support any way we can.”

McCarty partners with organizations working in the war zone to recreate the children’s drawings in real life, using toys found in the local area, and staging them to represent the artwork drawn by young people.

“It’s the idea to find the local toys that are available to them as a layer of cultural commentary and artifact, and really unify the types of toys you can find anywhere and connect children and adults the same,” said McCarty.

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To start these efforts in Ukraine, McCarty partnered with First Aid of the Soul, a newly formed, grassroots effort being built by Ukrainian art therapist Nathalie Robelot. Once it’s safe, the therapists will gather stories from affected children.

War Toys also works with U.N. agencies to amplify the voices of the children under their care, and produce artwork in hopes to inspire change through campaigns and presentations.

Founded in 2019, it’s helped provide art therapy and services to children living in the Middle East. Rubber ducks, dolls and other kids toys have helped bring drawings from Syria and Iraq come to life.

McCarty said it’s meaningful for children to see this pain from another point of view, and that the toys help make them feel safe. The photographs of toys in war zones are also helping children from afar. In the United States, children have come across graphic images and videos of the war in Ukraine, forcing parents and teachers to find ways to address the crisis in an age-appropriate way.

At Holy Innocents Episcopal School in Atlanta, McCarty has displayed the photographs of war toys, giving American children a way to also find comfort in the chaos that’s happening overseas.

“It just worked perfectly to bring him in, to help us really try to teach our children about the difficulties of war,” said the Rev. Bill Murray, the eighth rector of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church. “But especially that it is not just the soldiers that are on the field, that there are families that are hurting, that there are so many that are lost and need help.”

The reverend said the artwork has helped better explain the war to his students, making them feel more connected to what people their age are going through in Ukraine.

“Taking these pictures and showing the world these photos brings that into the realness, encouraging others to want to help these kids who are in these countries and suffering so much with all that they have seen and all that they have gone through,” Gracie Cavallo, a ninth grader at Holy Innocents Episcopal School, told ABC News Live. “It helps bring us together as a community and a world.”

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