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A custom LEGO company raised more than $145,000 for Ukraine Relief

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The past few weeks have been particularly busy for one Chicago-based toy maker.

JOE TRUPIA: My name is Joe Trupia. I'm the owner of Citizen Brick, which is a custom toy company just outside of Chicago.

CHANG: Trupia founded his company 12 years ago. He specializes in custom Lego-based figurines.

KELSEY SNELL, HOST:

Though his are not quite official. There's a "Breaking Bad" inspired meth lab set, a Girl Scout toy called Cookie Pusher and a strip club set called the Center for the Performing Arts. And recently...

TRUPIA: Well, we did make a Volodymyr Zelenskyy action figure, I guess, for lack of a better term, as well as an accessory of a molotov cocktail.

CHANG: Now, he admits that a flaming glass bottle toy is sort of an absurd idea, but he did it to raise money for humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

SNELL: To his surprise, the president Zelenskyy Lego sold out within hours, meaning he donated $145,000 to the nonprofit Direct Relief to bring medical supplies to those affected by war.

TRUPIA: I'm not really sure why that was a thing that caught people's eye. Maybe we did a pretty good job of making Zelenskyy in action figure form. He's got a pretty distinctive look (laughter).

SNELL: Trupia says he saw an uncommon heroism in how Zelenskyy has led during wartime.

TRUPIA: If you'd asked me a month ago who the president of Ukraine was, I probably couldn't have told you.

CHANG: But the invasion of Ukraine stuck with him. There's a large Ukrainian population in Chicago, and he is a big World War II buff.

TRUPIA: Like most middle-aged guys my age. And something about the images of tanks rolling across Europe and people running and hiding in subways - I watched it on the History Channel all the time. You kind of thought we were past that age. But, you know, I have a lot of customers who are from that part of the world. They were just collecting toys. And next thing you know, they're hiding in subway tunnels. And that was really startling.

SNELL: Trupia doesn't think he made anything out of the ordinary. He only did his part.

TRUPIA: I don't think there's anything particularly unique about what we did except that it's just a - you know, it's our usual thing. We just make toys.

SNELL: That's Joe Trupia. He owns the toy company Citizen Brick. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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