Friday was Yevgeniy Sirokhin’s first day on a Spokane bus, but the Spokane Transit Authority hopes he becomes a regular rider.
The 82-year-old Ukrainian immigrant and World War II veteran joined nearly 40 senior citizens from Spokane’s Russian-speaking community in learning to navigate the city’s public transit system.
“I can’t drive because I have bad vision, but I can ride the bus,” said Sirokhin, 82, whose eyes were damaged by disease and captivity in German prison camps.
He is among an estimated 25,000 immigrants from the former Soviet republics who now call Spokane home. Many are Protestant Christians who fled persecution in their native land. Through an interpreter, Sirokhin said he spent nearly three years in a Ukrainian prison for his faith.
The elders gathered Friday in two groups – Heritage Heights Apartments in Hillyard and Lincoln Heights Garden-Terrace in south Spokane – before taking the bus to Manito Park where they had a potluck lunch.
They were brought together by a cooperative effort of the Spokane office of World Relief, the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, and STA’s mobility training program.
Catherine Hogan-Davies, program specialist for World Relief, said the agency, which brought the first Slavic immigrants to Spokane in 1989, is dedicated to helping the elders connect with services that allow them to become part of the community.
STA’s mobility training program helps seniors and people with disabilities learn how to use the transit system, said program manager Sean Powers.
Only a handful of the elders gathered Friday said they had ridden STA before. Powers told them that trainers will meet them at their homes and accompany them to their destination, showing them where their stop is and how to change routes.
“We’ll give you the opportunity to get out and be independent,” Powers told the group.