Volunteer cyclists deliver food baskets to hundreds in Kharkiv

Millions of people have fled their homes since the start of the conflict in Ukraine, but leaving is not an option for many older people and those with disabilities. They now find themselves isolated, unable to access food and basic necessities. 

In Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city, DEC funds are supporting an innovative project that delivers regular food baskets to people's homes, thanks to a network of volunteer cyclists. 

The idea was born after fuel shortages threatened to impact aid deliveries. One volunteer, desperate to find a way to send food to her friend, put out a message on social media that spread among friends who remained in Kharkiv with their bicycles.

The cycling team's efforts are now a lifeline for 700 housebound people.

“I say that love is inventive, until infinity”

The project is coordinated by Father Vitaliy from the charity Depaul Ukraine, working in partnership with DEC charity CAFOD.

Father Vitaliy trained as a welder in his youth but soon realised his vocation was not fusing materials together but uniting communities to help society’s most vulnerable people.

Before the current conflict, his humanitarian work focused on supporting the homeless and people with addictions. Today, Father Vitaliy's church in Kharkiv is a shelter for displaced people and a hub for delivering aid to the local community, regardless of their faith.

“I quickly realised that we would have to deal with refugees, starving people, people with disabilities, and those who could not take care of themselves even during peacetime. So, I set to work.

“I say that love is inventive, until infinity,” says Father Vitaliy. “This distribution will never stop because it is energy, human energy.”

Father Vitaliy in Kharkiv

Father Vitaliy's church in Kharkiv is now a shelter for displaced people and a hub for humanitarian work. Photo: Dmytro Minyailo/DEC

"An opportunity to feel useful"

35-year-old Viktoria is one of the cyclist volunteers in Kharkiv. Before the conflict, she would regularly attend cycling races around Europe. 

“I work in IT and could easily get a job abroad, but I have many relatives here in Kharkiv who need attention and care,” she says.

“Doing this kind of work in a team is a great relief for me. I spent the first two weeks of the war sitting in my bathroom while the city was bombed. Being alone during that time with my two cats was almost unbearable. Over time, I started to gain the courage to leave my home by bicycle to go to the grocery store or pharmacy.

“One day, I saw an Instagram post with a call for bicycle volunteers and was very happy, because it opened up an opportunity to finally feel useful and needed. This is my city and my country. I just want to be here, that is all.”

Cyclist Viktoria is one of the volunteers who delivers aid to housebound people in Kharkiv

Viktoria, a cycle volunteer, delivers food to Larysa, an older resident of Kharkiv.

"We are alive, and that is enough to be happy"

Another volunteer, Aleksander, is an engineer-designer of radio equipment. He thought his family would remain in Kharkiv but within days of the conflict starting he insisted on evacuating his wife and two daughters.

“Saying goodbye to them at the train station felt unreal. Afterwards, I returned home and just lay on my bed, emotionless. My family have thankfully found safety in the Czech Republic. It was the hardest decision of my life," he says.

“After I started to volunteer with the bicycle delivery team, I relocated to the warehouse. It is safer there and there are more people to talk to.

"As bicycle delivery volunteers, we are united by a common goal - to help. We live without making plans for the future. We simply wake up, make our deliveries, spend a couple of hours of free time, and repeat. We are alive, and that is enough to be happy.”

Aleksander with his bike

Aleksander is one of the team of cyclist couriers delivering food to housebound people in Kharkiv, despite the ongoing conflict. Photo: Dmytro Minyailo/DEC