Guide from Danger: Locally generated coloring, activity book to benefit Ukrainian children in identifying war dangers

Published 7:00 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

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When Michael Varhola began work on a special coloring and activity book for Ukrainian children, the team took it on and relished the idea of helping those in the war-affected country.

But while it has its fun aspects of coloring, games and more, “Warning: Danger!” also has a utility to it that can literally be about life and death, because the book helps children identify land mines.

“We just approached this from a very matter of fact point of view and haven’t really dwelled on that it’s something that’s in response to a very bad situation,” Varhola said.

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Varhola and a friend, already in that part of the country, will arrive in on Easter and begin the task of handing out 500 of the books to children personally as well as handing out pre-loaded flash drives with the files on them to Ukrainian printers in various areas of the country as well as school and activity center administrators.

The goal is to continue to make the books available even after the run of 500 have been handed out.

“I’m going to try and set up relationships with two or three printers in Ukraine so we can have a sustainable printing,” Varhola said. “I will keep money going over there, keep printing these out.”

Varhola’s journey will start with focuses on villages and towns north and east of Kharkiv before heading down to Donbas to hand out more of the books and then finally he will circle back to south of Odessa.

“Any time I meet a school administrator or community center administrator or get to a printing plant, I’ll just hand out pre-loaded flash drives that have the files for this book,” Varhola said. “They can print out their own book.”

This isn’t the first time Varhola has embarked on humanitarian aid work to the country, which is now into its second year following the 2022 invasion of the country by Russia.

Work prior to this included delivering coats throughout regions directly affected by the war and it’s because of that earlier work that this coloring book was able to come to life.

Varhola said he was contacted by Ukraine SOS, an emergency services, agency about creating the book, something he began work on and that included veterans, artists and game developers.

Brought to life through Varhola’s company Skirmisher Publishing and Varhola’s nonprofit The Gnosis Project, the book is a guide to landmines scattered throughout the country with the very simple goal of keeping children safe.

“Kids don’t need to know how they work. We’re not trying to teach them how to disarm them,” Varhola said. “The only thing we’re trying to do is get them to realize that certain things are dangerous and they just need to stay away from them.”

Both the Ukrainian military and Russia military have scattered thousands of mines throughout the country, the former using them as a defensive measure, particularly in the early days of the war and defense of Kyiv.

The coloring and activity book “Warning: Danger!” lays next to dual identity blood type patches, both of which will be distributed in Ukraine by MIchael Varhola. Eric Johnson/

The book includes 24 images of landmines of various kinds, some of which that can be hard to realize are even dangerous, including mines called butterfly mines and are often colorful.

“Some explosives don’t look hazardous,” he said, adding that whenever possible, they used true-to-life sized renditions of the mines for better detail. “We’re trying to identify sizes, general appearances.”

But the book is more than a coloring book. There is also a game modeled off of Snakes and Ladders called Get Home Safely. And it’s not the only thing Varhola will be handing out while in the country. He will also be distributing dual system blood type patches that show blood types in both the standard here in America, as well as what it translates to in Ukraine.

Also on the flash drives will be Skirmishers’ Travel Sized Role Playing Games.

While the idea of creating a coloring book to help children identify weapons of war may seem bleak and dark, Varhola stresses that the utility of the book is the important part because he hopes it keeps more children alive.

It’s humanitarian, but it’s also a similar situation to what he saw while serving as a civil affairs soldier during the Gulf War. People being wounded or worse by these same types of situations.

“I’m seeing the same things,” he said. “To me, it’s sort of the same mission in a lot of ways.”

He also added that this type of work is an extension of the mission set out by NATO and that Varhola himself served while a soldier in the United States Army.

“For me, as an American, it’s important for me to say, this still matters,” Varhola said.

Still, his work and the work of others have shown two different sides. While the Ukrainian military and people continue to stand against the invasion, Varhola said that he has seen the weariness start to grow and regardless of the outcome, this will have lasting effects.

“Ukrainians are tough people,” he said. “We would be tough too under those circumstances, but I think they are getting tired. They are getting worn out. No matter what happens now, Ukraine will not be the same. The people of Ukraine will not be the same.”

While the Kickstarter, which to date has raised just over $3,000 and well over its goal of $500 which paid for the initial printing, ends on March 30, there will be future opportunities for people to help.

For now, however, if you wish to contribute to the campaign, visit Kickstarter and search “warning” or “UXO.”