FOUNTAIN HILLS – After Russia invaded Ukraine, Iryna Filkina, a mother in Ukraine, spent roughly a week at the Epicenter shopping center in Bucha, close to the capital city of Kyiv, serving people sheltering there and cooking meals for the Ukrainian military.
After she missed out on a seat in a car that was evacuating people from the shopping center, Filkina attempted to make the trip home on her bicycle and was gunned down by Russian military forces, CNN reported.
Filkina, 53, died from her wounds just as she was beginning to care for herself more after years spent raising her two daughters.
Filkina’s story, and many others like hers, touched people around the world, including the Dinu sisters from Scottsdale, Ariana, 10, and Carina, 7.
Wanting to help out any way they could, the sisters wrote a poem for the children of Ukraine.
“We were just incredibly touched, especially coming from a seven-year-old, to have this kind of reaction to someone that they don’t know,” said the sisters’ mother, Nan Dinu. “If that’s what you want, go for it.”
But the sisters didn’t stop there. They wanted to make a difference while doing what they love: cycling.
Ariana and Carina each rode 26.5 miles in Sunday’s Ignite Women’s Bike Event in Filkina’s memory. It was the second race the sisters took part in to honor Filkina and other Ukrainian mothers who’ve lost their lives in the war. On April 2, they joined their father, Valentin Dinu, in the 45-mile El Tour de Mesa.
For the race in Mesa, which was weeks in the planning, the family started a GoFundMe campaign in early March to raise money. In the four weeks that the GoFundMe was available, the fundraiser attracted nearly 80 donations and over $7,000.
The money the sisters have raised is directly helping Ukrainian refugees through their grandmother Elena who lives in Galati, Romania, a city that has more than 10,000 Ukrainian refugees. Their grandmother is using the money for food and medicine for the refugees.
The passion for biking in the Dinu family is not limited to the two races honoring those who have been affected by the war in Ukraine. In November, Ariana and Valentin rode over 100 miles in El Tour de Tucson and completed the race in under nine hours.
Training for all of their events has included plenty of early morning bike rides from Scottsdale to Tempe and back that cover up to 20 miles or more, depending on the route.
In the summer, when some kids may be savoring the chance to catch a few more hours of sleep, the sisters are on their bikes even earlier.
“On cooler days, like in early spring, we go a bit later in the morning after breakfast, but on summer mornings, we wake up much earlier to beat the heat,” Ariana said. “So, around 5:00 on summer mornings and around 7:00 or 8:00 on the winter [and] early spring mornings.”
At the start of Carina and Arinana’s biking journey, their mother did not think it was possible for them to reach the milestones they have achieved. She is proud of their performances on the bikes and prouder of their initiative in providing aid for strangers who are suffering.
“We feel we just lucked out with two little girls who have big hearts and we’ve kind of always taught them to think beyond themselves and try to help others in need whenever they can,” Nan said. “We just didn’t realize that they were capable of taking it this far, so we’re just proud of them.”
The sisters’ motivation for competing in Sunday’s bike race was exactly the type of story that Liz Caracciolo, founder of the Ignite Women’s Bike Event, imagined would be part of her event when she started planning it several years ago.
“These women that are here are not only inspired, they’re here to inspire each other,” Caracciolo said. “They will inspire each other and they will inspire others to see what’s possible.”
Going forward, Ariana doesn’t want to limit her aspirations to taking part in bike races. She also wants to branch out to other forms of physical exercise with a very specific, very lofty, goal in mind.
“I’m practicing also swimming and running so that I can see if I can make it into an Ironman before I turn 18,” said Ariana, referring to the competition that consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run.
Like most people, the two sisters are keeping a close eye on the war in Ukraine.
“They’ve been asking us pretty much every day since then, ‘What’s the news?’” Nan said. “I’m hoping that one day we’ll tell them it’s over.”