Bike giveaway helps Ukrainian newcomers navigate the city

Julia Karapira and her boyfriend Andrew Hordiienko, who fled Mariupol in Ukraine together, pose with their new bicycles. (Avanthika Anand/CBC)

Julia Karapira was learning to ride a bicycle for the very first time on Sunday.

For her, it’s another first — like when she came to Canada to stay with a host family after leaving her lifelong home in Ukraine amidst the war.

And she isn’t alone. 

Karapira is one of more than 100 Ukrainians learning to navigate their new home on two wheels, thanks to a volunteer-led effort sourcing donated bikes from Ottawa residents and servicing them for newcomers to use. 

Despite falling and scraping her chin, Karapira called her shiny new bicycle a blessing. 

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I feel very privileged … to learn the city and to be able to travel around and not get lost on my own.”

“Everyone deserves a bike,” said Britannia Bay resident Maureen Adamache, who came up with the idea to provide newcomers with bicycles.

Adamache noted that many people coming from Ukraine don’t have drivers’ licences or access to vehicles and need a way to run errands and access services. 

So after the war began, Adamache rounded up some of her friends and put out a call on social media for donations of old and unused bicycles, helmets, locks and other accessories.

With the help of other volunteers from a Facebook group, a “safe bike guide” was created in Ukrainian and Russian for arrivals who don’t speak English. 

Now, every Sunday for nearly three months, Adamache’s backyard has been bustling with volunteers servicing bicycles and Ukrainians starting their lives in Ottawa.

Recipient turned volunteer wants to share ‘free’ feeling

Adamache said the group has collected more than 150 donated bikes. Of those, 112 had been given away as of Sunday.

Adamache’s backyard in Britannia Bay has been bustling with volunteers servicing bicycles and Ukrainians looking to ease their start in Ottawa. (Avanthika Anand/CBC)

The biggest demand has come from Ukrainian seniors and young mothers, she said, adding that most of them are staying in the homes of volunteer hosts.

“[The bicycle] gives them some independence from the host family. They don’t have to ask for a ride to go to a doctor’s appointment or go get groceries or to go visit a Ukrainian church,” said Adamache.

Maureen Adamache came up with the idea to provide newcomers with bicycles, and has been hosting giveaways in her backyard every Sunday for nearly three months. (Felix Desroches/CBC)

For newcomer Igor Zosymenko, being able to ride a bicycle has meant that and more.

“I could focus on job searching, accommodation searching, and just forget about the transport,” he said. But when he took his bicycle out for a spin, Zosymenko said something unexpected happened. 

He felt a sudden flood of “good emotions and memories,” remembering summers biking with his friends and family in his hometown of Dnipro.

One week later, Zosymenko has returned to help Adamache as a volunteer. 

After fleeing the traumatic war, Zosymenko said he wants other Ukrainians to feel like he does now — with the help of a bicycle. 

“I feel free,” Zosymenko said.

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