Ukrainian Refugees Find New Home in Brooklyn Park
Nastya Holiuk is a fun-loving, bike-riding, 11-year-old girl. Her twin sister, Alisa, can be described in much the same way, although the whole bike riding concept hasn’t caught on just yet.
But the fact that these girls were riding bikes down a Brooklyn Park street on a recent afternoon is a minor miracle in and of itself.
“When we saw what was happening in Ukraine, we really wanted to do something to help in some way,” said Mark Norlander of Brooklyn Park.
Mark and his wife, Sharon, worked with the local nonprofit Alight to bring the entire Holiuk family to Minnesota after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We’re vetted, and they’re vetted, and then there’s a process where you’re matched with a family,” Mark said, describing the sponsorship process. “This was the first family that we connected with and we thought it was a great match.”
The family of five came here in September of 2022 and the Norlanders have helped them transition to life in Minnesota every step of the way.
“We had to worry about clothing and food and shelter, so we took care of a lot of the immediate needs,” said Sharon Norlander. “The fact that they live so close to us and that we’re retired makes it really easy for us to change our schedules around to be available to help where needed. And certainly our lives are enriched.”
The Holiuks are slowly but surely adjusting to life in this new country.
“Minnesota is a great place,” said Liubov Holiuk, the matriarch of the family. “Has many parks, playgrounds.”
Help from Brooklyn Park Police
Yet despite many of the family-friendly amenities here, Sharon Norlander still wanted something more for the girls to help them settle in.
She then discovered an organization that refurbishes bicycles and gives them to kids in need.
“I was hoping that the Holiuks would be a recipient of a bike from this organization,” Sharon said. “But I needed someone to be our sponsor to ask for the bikes from this organization. So I contacted the Brooklyn Park police.”
But instead of helping the girls get refurbished bikes, the department did something better.
In mid-April, Brooklyn Park police gave the Holiuk twins brand new bicycles. Several cadets even spent some time teaching the girls how to ride.
“The children have fun time with bikes,” said Liubov Holiuk, the girls’ mother. “It’s cool.”
Now with summer almost here, the girls will have plenty of reasons to get outside. And maybe, just maybe, Alisa Holiuk will get the proper bike riding technique down pat.
“They’re getting there,” Mark Norlander said. “They’re making progress.”
The Holiuk family is currently in Minnesota on a two-year visa. No word yet on what will happen at the end of that two-year period.
For more information on sponsoring Ukrainian refugees, you can go to the Alight website.
Related: Nonprofit Opens Brooklyn Park Marketplace to Help Afghan Refugees Resettle in Minnesota