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How an ex-tank gunner became a reborn doll maker

War veteran Serhiy Bondar with his reborn doll. Photo : Serhiy
How an ex-tank gunner became a reborn doll maker
Article by: Valeriya Radziyevska
Translated by: Christine Chraibi
Serhiy Bondar’s life story is no fairy tale, but it is certainly the stuff of a compelling film or book.

Serhiy served in the 1st Separate Armoured Brigade. During one of the battles, his tank hit a landmine and was blown apart. Serhiy suffered a severe concussion, head injury, acoustic blast trauma, back pains and heart problems. He underwent a very long and complicated course of treatment, rehabilitation and finally got back on his two feet.

After many trials and tribulations, he finally discovered a new passion – doll making – reborn dolls that can occasionally be mistaken for real babies.


Serhiy was born on January 13, 1984 in the town of Oster, Chernihiv Oblast. His mother worked in a kindergarten, and his father was a turner in a factory. Serhiy dreamed of becoming a soldier.

“After graduating, I enrolled in a veterinary school. Then, I joined the army, where I served in the 5th Tank Regiment on the Desna River.”

After military service, Serhiy worked as a patrol officer, but soon left the police force due to the captain’s coarse attitude towards his subordinates.

As he enjoyed sewing and knitting, he went to work as a shoemaker. Serhiy says his mother had taught him these skills.

“I repaired everything my clients brought me. I did this for twelve years as I had to provide for my family.”

During the Revolution of Dignity, Serhiy organized a local self-defense unit and patrolled the streets in his district.

When war broke out in 2014, Serhiy was one of the first to be mobilized and sent to fight the Russian invaders in eastern Ukraine.

Serhiy fought in Luhansk Oblast, starting at Shchastia and all the way to Luhansk Airport. He drove a 2008 BM Bulat tank.

A month before he was demobilized, Serhiy’s tank hit a land mine near the town of metalist. Serhiy miraculously survived the explosion.

“I had a severe concussion and head injury. I spent a year in rehab. It was very difficult to get back on my feet and adapt to a peaceful normal life.”


After two years of treatment and rehab, the 34-year-old began looking for a job, because he had to provide for his family – two young boys.

“I couldn’t go back to stitching and fixing shoes. My hands shook all the time. I’d sit down at the table, but realized that I couldn’t sew a straight line. Nor could I fix a broken heel.”

Serhiy tried working as a security guard and a driver, but was not able to deal with the strain and stress.

One day, his wife, who worked in a store called “Vyshyvanka” met a client who manufactured dolls. This woman, Varvara Liutik, was shopping for accessories, small items that no one else ever bought: tiny buttons, pins, beads, expensive ribbons made of natural silk, etc.

Serhiy’s wife was curious and asked her what she did with these items.

It turned out that Varvara made reborn dolls, toys that can be confused with infant children. They look so realistic that it seems they are about to cry or smile. Varvara offered Serhiy a job – to sew hair on her reborn dolls.

“I finished one doll, then another… I was surprised to see that my hands didn’t shake when I was rooting the hair. And everything turned out really well!”

Reborn artist Varvara liked his work and asked Serhiy to attend a workshop. At first, Serhiy hesitated because for him doll making was a woman’s hobby. But then, he remembered how he and other patients at rehabilitation centres were encouraged to paint, draw and create sculptures in order to overcome negative thoughts and refocus their minds on something else.

“You know what? I loved it! It was something totally new and very interesting!”

Serhiy says that the most difficult thing in the process of creating a reborn doll is to make it resemble a real child. Not only is it a difficult process, but also an expensive one.

In order to create a reborn doll, Serhiy orders special vinyl moulds from the USA. At first, he bought mould kits from China, but they turned out to be very low quality. He then moulds the trunk, head, arms and legs, and joins them together to create a child of a specific age.

One such mould costs between US$40-60. Eyes are also from the States, and come in a variety of brands and sizes.

To achieve the skin tone of a baby, dozens of layers of flesh-coloured paint and light varnish are added to the different parts. The paints are also imported from Germany. Fine mohair made from the hair of the Angora goat is usually used, although Serhiy says that some clients order dolls with natural human hair. The hair is also imported – from Türkiye. The accessories and clothes are purchased in Ukraine.

“I use a very fine needle to add the hairs, and then I paint them.”

A doll usually weighs as much as a baby 3-4 kg. Synthetic weighting pellets or polyester padding are used to attain the required weight.

Serhiy can create a doll in one or two weeks, or in a few days. It all depends on his inspiration and mood.

Serhiy’s clients are mostly Ukrainian, although he also has orders from Singapore, Italy, the USA and Poland.

“People buy them mostly for their children. But, there are individuals that want a doll for themselves. One family ordered a sleeping baby. They don’t have children, so they bought this doll for themselves. The doll even had diapers. I guess they just want to take care of something…”

The first dolls that Serhiy sold just covered the costs for the materials. He admits that he undervalued himself and his unique creations.

“If I see that a person really wants to buy a doll, but the price is a bit too high, we discuss the matter and come to an agreement. Therefore, I can’t say that I make a lot of money. I get more satisfaction from knowing that my dolls will find a good home, where they’re loved and appreciated.”

Serhiy does not tell us much about the price of different dolls. Each doll has its own price, he says, and it all depends on how much time was spent and how many materials were used. A current price list can be seen on Serhiy’s Facebook page.

Serhiy proudly announces that he has the full support of other war veterans, and that they are happy for his success.

“I want to leave a message for all my mates who are in rehab… Don’t be afraid of psychologists. They’re doing a great job; they’re helping us to see ourselves as we really are.

I was born under the soviets. Psychologists were not part of our daily life. Today, I’m convinced that we can reach certain positive results by talking and interacting with such specialists. I’m a happy family man, and now even a satisfied doll maker!”

Translated by: Christine Chraibi
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