It didn’t take long for Citizen Brick to sell out its custom LEGO-based figure of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Their tiny Molotov cocktails with the Ukrainian flag went just as quickly.
“We just wanted to do a little fundraiser,” says owner Joe Trupia. “But this one seemed to have hit the mark with some people.”
Like many others, Trupia wanted to help while watching events in Ukraine. His business decided to make and sell the tiny toys to bring attention and money to Ukraine.
They sold out in hours and raised more than $145,000, which benefited nonprofit relief group Direct Relief.
Demand has been extraordinary, says Trupia. The Chicago-area toy store typically caters to a small – but loyal – community of toy collectors who, over the past 12 years, have earned a reputation for making “crazy versions of iconic LEGO minifigures” for the brand’s enthusiasts.
Some of these “freaky versions” include a Girl Scout character called “Cookie Pusher” and a breaking Bad inspired methlab. They even started a strip club called the Center for the Performing Arts.
“And then we did something that got out of that sphere a little bit and got some attention,” Trupia said.
Citizen Brick took calls and emails from around the world inquiring about the coveted Ukraine-inspired toys. But he kept thinking about his loyal customer base.
“I have a lot of clients from that part of the world,” he said, “and three weeks ago they were just making TikTok videos and collecting toys. And next, they hide in subway tunnels. And that was really amazing.”
At the same time, the leadership of President Zelenskyi caught his eye.
“If you had asked me a month ago who the President of Ukraine was, I probably could not have told you,” Trupia said. “And it’s really an unusual kind of heroism, I think. I was really impressed that he was kind of there for his people and really leading the way that they needed right now.”
The Zelenskyy figure sold for $100 each. The Molotov cocktails were $20.
“At first glance, making a toy Molotov cocktail is an absurd idea,” says Trupia. “And I kind of enjoyed making medical supplies out of that for refugees. That seemed like a good deed. But… I’m not sure why that caught people’s attention.”
Despite continued demand, Citizen Brick has no plans to manufacture more as LEGO does not sell the required parts directly. The Zelenskyy and Molotov cocktail figures were made from materials the store had at its disposal: toy parts with skin color similar to that of the President of Ukraine, small green bottles and the small flames.
“We couldn’t do more if we didn’t have a huge direct donation from LEGO,” Trupia said. “These are pretty scarce materials we just had in store. We don’t make them ourselves, so we couldn’t make any more.”
At the end of the day, Trupia says it feels good to be able to help. “Even though it was a bit of a clumsy execution that we couldn’t keep up with all the demand, it really opened our eyes to the possibility of doing things like this more often.”
The audio for this story was produced by Linah Mohammad and edited by Patrick Jarenwattananon. Ayen Deng Bior adapted it for the web.