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Parksville church becomes hub for Ukrainian refugees

St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church parish member organizes ‘ride ready’ bike program
Ivanna and Yevhen were excited to see their new bikes, donated by local residents, so they can get around town without the need of a driver’s licence. (Kevin Forsyth photo)

A Parksville church has become a welcoming hub for Ukrainian refugees who have arrived during the past year, fleeing the Russian invasion.

The parish of St. Mary the Protectress Ukrainian Orthodox Church is doing everything they can to assist new arrivals as they get used to life on Vancouver Island.

Michael Sokyrka realized the Ukrainians could use a way to get around town better, without the use of a driver’s licence. He originally planned to collect donated bicycles for the children, but it expanded to their parents as well.

“I was thinking about when I was a kid, what was the most free I ever felt? And that was when I was a child running around on a bike. So that freedom, I wanted the children to experience when they came to Canada,” Sokyrka said. “There’s been many really generous people that have donated, good quality bikes. Some sitting in the garage for a while that need a little bit of a tuneup, but that’s okay. My son and I we fix them up.”

Some people have even donated brand new bikes, he added, and Big Grin Bikes in Qualicum Beach donated 28 new bike helmets.

So far Sokyrka has been able to provide more than 30 bikes to Ukrainians. He said people interested in donating can contact him via email at, preferably with a photo of the bike they will like to donate. He added that they have limited space, so the bikes should be close to ride-ready.

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Learning how to shop and use currency in a new country can be difficult and confusing, so Donna Martin has been giving the Ukrainians a book, written in Ukrainian and English, that explains Canadian money and how much things cost here.

The book was written by Bill Romaniuk, who lives in Victoria. Romaniuk was inspired to write the book because his grandfather emigrated from Ukraine to Canada in 1930 with $5 in his pocket, but soon only had a dollar left because somebody ripped him off and charged him an outrageous sum.

“And I thought, that’s a great idea. And I could donate to the people in Victoria, but I know we have Ukrainians here, so why don’t I get a few books and do that in this area,” said Martin. “Because I know there’s Ukrainian newcomers here. So I started with four books and then I asked for five more and then I asked for more, and this is the 12th book.”

The book, titled Change for Hope, includes photographs of Canadian currency, starting with the nickel all the way up to a $100 bill. Each book also contains the corresponding currency in new bills and coins.

These are just a few of the ways the church and community are helping their new Ukrainian neighbours adjust to their new lives. It also provides a space where they can speak their first language and enjoy familiar Ukrainian food.

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