Each day, Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion arrive in the western city of Lviv, around 40 miles from the Polish border. Some keep going and are only there temporarily. But by some estimates, Lviv now has an extra 200,000 residents—and the city is trying to figure out logistical challenges like where everyone can live, and how they can move around as city streets and buses and trains get more crowded.
One answer to the transportation challenge is bikes: In a new campaign, a group in Denmark will be sending donated bicycles to Lviv from Copenhagen, a city with more bikes than people. Lviv will also be building new pop-up bike lanes to help make it easier to get around.
“Our city has become the main hub for people who are escaping the war, especially women and children, and elderly people who are not able to fight,” says Orest Oleskiv, head of the Transport Office in Lviv. As the war drags on, many are now making more permanent plans to stay in Lviv, and getting jobs so they have enough money to survive. But just getting to work is difficult. Some arrived with cars, but as fuel prices keep rising, and gas stations often run out of fuel, fewer people in Lviv are able to drive. That’s making public transportation more crowded and harder to use. Other displaced people can’t afford to ride the bus, especially as the city has had to increase fares because of the rising cost of diesel.
Last month, Oleskiv and others in Lviv reached out to Copenhagen-based cycling infrastructure guru Mikael Colville-Andersen, founder of the urban bike consultancy Copenhagenize, for help. “They said, ‘Hey, can we just get bikes from somewhere? Everybody’s sending humanitarian aid,'” Colville-Andersen says. He knew that Denmark had a surplus of bicycles; even in the courtyard of his own apartment building, he and other residents get rid of dozens of unwanted bikes each year. “Twice a year, we clean up all the bikes that nobody wants,” he says.
Colville-Andersen quickly formed a nonprofit that is now raising funds for the effort and will begin delivering truckloads of donated bikes this summer, with an initial goal of collecting 2,000 bikes in good condition and ready to ride. (He says he’d like to see that grow to 100,000 bikes, or even a million.) They’re also in discussions with a company that may donate the use of a delivery truck. The logistics of crossing the border should be straightforward, Colville-Andersen says, because cities like Lviv have been receiving a constant flow of humanitarian aid. The city will help coordinate as deliveries are made.
As part of the project, Lviv also plans to install more than 12 miles of new bike lanes with protective barriers. The city has been working on a better bike network for years, but bigger projects have been temporarily put on hold. “This year, we planned to do a lot in building bicycle infrastructure,” says Oleskiv. “Now, we are not able to because of the war.” A new sustainable-mobility plan, designed to help reduce pollution and cut congestion, was supposed to be put in place in late February. Instead, the war started, and the person who had written the plan joined the army.
As the new campaign begins, Colville-Andersen says he’s starting to hear from people in other parts of Ukraine. “They need bikes for other reasons—the public transport sucks, there’s no gas, or the roads are bombed, like in Bucha,” he says. “I just got a message from a woman who said, ‘Thank you for crowdfunding for Lviv. But I live in a suburb of Kyiv with my five-month-old daughter, and my husband’s fighting, and I have to get into the city once a week to the pediatrician. A cargo bike would be life changing for me.” After beginning bike deliveries in Lviv, he wants to expand the project to help the whole war-torn country.
Other efforts are gathering bikes for donation to Ukrainian refugees in other countries, as well—from Denmark and Ireland to Canada. But Colville-Andersen believes that this is the first to send large-scale shipments of bikes to Ukraine itself, where more than 8 million people are internally displaced.
This story has been updated to clarify details about a company partnership to deliver the bicycles.