Nonprofit brings more bikes for Ukrainian kids, moms -- and elders
‘If kids are happy, moms are happy,’ says Fairbanks-based College Rotary organizer of bicycle giveaway outreach
College Rotary Club in Fairbanks delivered 31 more bicycles Monday to give to Ukrainian families that have come to Delta Junction to get away from the war back home. Kids got most of the bikes, and so did some parents -- and a couple of grandparents.
The bicycle giveaway was supposed to begin at 4, but by then a couple dozen kids were already pedaling around Delta Community Park, test-driving bikes to find the right one to bring home.
Middle-schooler Alina Haidai had picked out a green mountain bike, and her mom, Tatiyana, chose a sweet white cruiser with handlebar basket. Alina helped out with translating for her mom, and she could hardly contain her enthusiasm. Tatiyana smiled a lot, but was a bit subdued.
A reporter asked Alina “How do you feel about these bikes, guys?”
She turned to her mom and translated the question into Ukrainian for Tatiyana, who nodded and replied “Good.”
The reporter then said “How about you Alina? Is this a good thing?”
The young girl’s face lit up again and exclaimed “Yeah!”
Before the reporter could finish the next question -- “Are you going to go riding tonight?”, she practically shrieked her answer: “Yes!” Then laughed.
Pamela Flory, a College Rotary board member and organizer of the bike giveaway said that exchange summed-up one of the event’s main goals: “If kids are happy, moms are happy.”
And, she added, “This is mostly moms without dads and husbands and partners.”
Most of the husbands and dads are still back in Ukraine, fighting the Russian invasion of their country. A little over a hundred Ukrainians came to Delta early last year, soon after the invasion began, and a couple hundred others landed elsewhere in the state.
Flory says the bikes are intended to give the children a break -- and allow them to just be kids.
“It’s just to give the kids freedom,” she said. “To give them normalcy, let ’em do what other kids are doing.”
Most of the Ukrainians who came to Delta, and a couple hundred others who landed elsewhere in the state, came to live with family who’d already settled here. Like Olga Barladyan, whose family came to Delta about 25 years ago.
“I still have relatives in Ukraine -- my sister and my brother,” she said. “He cannot leave Ukraine, because of his age. It’s so, so sad.”
Ukraine requires most of its men who are able to stay and fight the Russians. That’s why Barladyan’s sister stayed behind, to be with her husband. But her mother, another brother and cousin were allowed to leave.
Her mom, Lyubov, came along for the bike giveaway, and it didn’t take long before she hopped onto a kids bike and took it for a spin. She came back with a wide smile, but said she wanted to look for a bike with a bigger, more comfortable saddle.
Olga said having a bike would help get more exercise.
“She has a heart problem, from birth,” she said, “and it’s good for her to have a bike.”
It’s also good because a bicycle will get her out of the house and around her neighborhood, says Svetlana Kravetz, who helps Ukrainians in Delta on behalf of Catholic Social Services. The Anchorage-based organization manages refugee and related issues for the U.S. State Department.
“When you get this old, you can’t learn a new language,” she said. “Everything is different. They don’t drive, because back in Ukraine, it’s all public transportation or walking. And so they’re cooped-up in a house. Not get out. Not speak English. Y’know?”
Flory says that’s one of the reasons College Rotary was glad to expand its bike-giveaway program to include parents and grandparents in Monday’s bike giveaway. She said the organization and its partners were able to collect and repair enough bikes to give away 41 of them earlier this month, and another 31 on Monday.
“The fact that we can give bikes to adults is really amazing,” she said.
Flory says it wouldn’t have been possible without lots of help from partners like the Fairbanks Cycle Club, which collected donated bicycles during its annual bike swap. Also, Fairbanks Police, UAF Green Bikes, Goldstream Bikes and Off the Chain, an Anchorage-based bicycle collective. She said Emerald Isle Pull Tabs, of Fairbanks, contributed about $2,500 to help buy new and used bikes.