Sanctuary Wheels stories

Sanctuary Wheels stories

By Kathryn McNicoll

Kathryn is a trustee of Cyclox

Sanctuary Wheels, a project coordinated by Cyclox in partnership with Asylum Welcome and Active Oxfordshire, has been helping refugees throughout the county to gain independence and freedom. The project provides free bikes for all refugees. However, in the past few months the biggest influx, not surprisingly, has been Ukrainians. Here are two of their stories, told by the families supporting them.

Cycling in the city

Andrey and Eleonora fled the war in Ukraine in the spring with their two children. They drove across Europe and arrived in the UK at the end of April, bringing only the possessions they could fit into a small car. The family is now living in west Oxford, house-sharing with another Ukrainian family, under the Homes for Ukraine scheme.

Their bicycles had to be left at home in Ukraine, along with so much else.

When he saw how many people cycled in Oxford, Andrey applied to Sanctuary Wheels. He was able to go with the older children and select refurbished bikes the right size for them. Andrey and his 7-year old daughter Karolina, plus her housemate Vlad who is 8, now have very smart wheels.

‘I hardly use the car,’ Andrey says. ‘I cycle everywhere in the city. I can jump on the bike and go quickly to the supermarket when we need something. In the evening Karolina and I go for cycle rides together.’ Vlad has been cycling to school through the park, his mother jogging alongside to get her daily workout.

Getting about the county

Teenage boy wearing bike helmet posing in garden on bicycle

Getting to Britain from Ukraine wasn’t easy but getting around Oxfordshire is a different kind of challenge for Ukrainian refugees staying with sponsors in rural villages. Bus services are limited or non-existent in some villages, fares are high and the process is daunting for those who don’t yet have much English.

One such family, a mother (V) and her 15-year-old son (Y) arrived in May and are now living in a small village outside Oxford. Like so many others, the family had to get out in a hurry, leaving everything behind: there is no prospect of a swift return.

When possible, Y has continued his studies, with online lessons from teachers in Ukraine, often interrupted by sirens. His mum is looking for work and meanwhile making huge efforts to improve her English with a range of classes in several community centres in and around Oxford. She is determined not to miss any lessons but there is no longer a daily bus service to the village so, like all residents and visitors, she has a long walk to the nearest bus stop.

Local people have been generous with their offers of lifts but several Ukrainian visitors have now embraced the flexibility and independence of riding a bicycle. 

The younger ones were the first to try – even some who had never been on a bike before.

Villagers scrambled to find and rehabilitate suitable bikes, but inevitably supplies were limited and not always the right sizes. 

This is where Cyclox has been a fantastic support and resource. First, they were able to provide a bicycle and helmet the right size for Y. He started by pedalling enthusiastically up and down the narrow lane outside the house – now he cycles to meet his friends. Riding a bicycle gets Y out of the house and it is great – and enjoyable – exercise. It gives him choices about what to do, where to go and when. V is now keen to have a go at riding a bike herself. Once again Cyclox has been able to help.


One Response

  1. […] Estrada Harris, from Asylum Welcome, reflects on the impact Sanctuary Wheels has on individuals and the importance of having a […]

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