It started with a new bicycle that a Red Deer man bought to cheer up a newly arrived Ukrainian girl with cancer.
Five-year-old Kira had been diagnosed with leukemia just over a year ago. The child was undergoing cancer treatments in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv when aggressive bombing by Russian invaders meant her treatments had to be discontinued.
Like millions of others, Kira and her mom fled Ukraine. Because of Kira’s illness, her father was also allowed to leave the country, although most men his age were detained to help fight the Russians.
Red Deer resident Konstantin Neykurs said he heard through his local Ukrainian connections that this family of three had arrived in Red Deer last week.
A father himself, Kira’s story touched his heart.
While the child hasn’t started school yet, she has already dealt with more hardship than most of us go through in a lifetime, said Neykurs. He learned Kira’s family first fled to Poland and then Italy before arriving in Canada under a new federal program to help Ukrainian war refugees.
As a welcome gift for the little girl, Neykurs brought a new bike for Kira to the family’s rental apartment.
A video shows Kira hugging her pink bicycle helmet before excitedly ringing the bell on the bike’s handlebars.
Nykurs noticed the family’s bare rooms and wondered where was their furniture?
He was told that under Canada’s expedited Special Pathway program to help Ukrainian refugees, those fleeing the war can stay in Canada for up to three years and are eligible for free open work and study permits, But they do not get resettlement funds to buy furnishings and household items, as do other refugees.
Neykurs first suggested rounding-up some second-hand furnishings and other donations, but Kira’s parents said the little girl’s illness has compromised her immune system so they must be careful about accepting any used items that could transfer bacteria or viruses.
Instead, Neykurs started a GoFundMe fundraiser to help the family buy new furniture and other necessities to start over in Red Deer. Kira’s parents, who do not speak English, have work permits but haven’t landed any jobs yet.
“The timeline is tight as they are already here and need things now,” said Neykurs. He got in touch with some local furniture stores to see if they could provide some discounts to help the dollars go further. “In case you have the opportunity to donate new household items or offer discounts through your business, please reach out to me directly” through GoFundMe, said Neykurs.
He’s encouraged by the outpouring of local generosity: more than $2,000 was donated in the first 16 hours towards a goal of $10,000.
The best news is that Kira is already booked in for leukemia treatments at Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary.
Neykurs noted this was arranged after consultations between a Ukrainian support group and the provincial government.