Five questions for... Yuliya Belinskaya of CargoCult Kyiv
6 OCT 2022
SNEAK PREVIEW OF THE ICBF MAGAZINE WINTER 2022|2023
INTERVIEW BY TOM PARR
3 MINUTE READ
One of the co-founders of Kyiv-based CargoCult, Yuliya Belinskaya, tells us about how they launched the first cargo bike business in the Ukrainian capital, the effects of the Russian invasion and their hopes for the future.
This article appears in the Winter 2022|2023 edition of the The ICBF Magazine. To explore all past editions going back to 2016, click here: https://cargobikefestival.com/magazine/
Partners & Supporters of the ICBF
1. Who is Yuliya Belinska?
I’m a journalist, entrepreneur, cyclist, volunteer, and one of three co-founders of CargoCult.
I’m 36 and am from Gorlivka, a city not far from Donetsk which has been occupied for more than eight years. After graduating as an engineer in 2007 I moved to Kyiv to become a business journalist for Forbes Ukraine. In 2014 I set up a media company covering Ukraine’s retail market and running industry events. When Covid hit and events and advertisers declined, I saw an opportunity for e-cargo bikes in the commercial delivery market during lockdown.
At the same time Oleksii Khvorostenko and Karina Agakhanova, the owners of LifeCycle – a bike shop and cafe – assembled their first e-cargo bike. It was a powerful insight for me and I suggested we develop an e-cargo bike service together. That’s how CargoCult was born.
2. What motivated you to start a cycle logistics company?
It was Oleksii’s vision as a bicycle enthusiast. He wanted to popularise the idea of utility cycling; the bicycle as transport, but there were no cargo bikes in Kyiv. When he saw a local classified advert for a cargo bike frame he bought it, then assembled and electrified it. He also made friends with the frame-builder; Serhii Romanov from Kramatorsk. This was just before the pandemic.
For the e-commerce market, e-cargo bikes solve so many problems: delivery predictability, dependence on fossil fuels, less cars on the street, less emissions. I’ve known Karina and Oleksii for many years and it seemed like an idea worth pursuing so we started CargoCult, short for Cargo Culture.
We began operating as a last mile delivery service in Kyiv; firstly with one, then two bikes. We quickly gained experience with lots of clients, including a berry farmer, microgreens producer, dairy product supplier, spice manufacturer, pharmacy chain, and an online supermarket. CargoCult transported food, medicines, alcoholic cocktails, and construction materials.
In December, we proved the cargo bike’s capabilities by delivering products from a so-called dark store. Working through that “golden month” for retail was challenging, juggling traffic jams, increased demand, ice, blizzards, and temperatures as low as -30°C. This trial was part of our negotiations with the store to integrate cargo bikes as a last mile delivery solution. Our negotiations were interrupted by the war.
3. How have things changed for CargoCult since the Russian invasion?
After the brutal full-scale war started, everything changed.
Firstly, the business suffered. Almost all of our clients ceased to exist. The dark store we were negotiating with went bankrupt.
Serhii Romanov – our frame-builder from Kramatorsk – was forced to evacuate. The city was under fire. He couldn’t move all his equipment and now it’s difficult to produce new frames.
But there’s no time to give up. You can’t choose the times you live in. Sometimes life itself forces you to make choices.
We decided to act; staying in Kyiv to assist people in need and helping the army defend our country. Many ordinary Ukrainians started supporting one another, evacuating people, providing supplies to the army, and helping refugees, children, pets or eldery people. I, too, joined the local volunteering community, and CargoCult is a non-commercial organisation now.
A friend of mine has a bar that has transformed into a community warehouse, bomb shelter and kitchen. I manage the warehouse and we use CargoCult’s e-cargo bikes for volunteer deliveries.
We started off delivering food daily from the kitchen to the children’s hospital. We also transport hot meals every day for another charity that feeds the people on the street – anyone who needs it. An appeal for volunteer-riders got a really positive response; everybody just wants to help in some way, even if it’s just riding cargo from A to B.
Volunteers make humanitarian home deliveries by cargo bike to elderly people and those displaced by the war. Since March our bicycles have ridden almost 4000km delivering humanitarian aid. That’s more than 5000kg of payload [as of early Sep 2022 – ed].
Interestingly, the fuel crisis has also provoked interest in alternatives to cars. E-cargo bikes are attracting more attention and starting to be taken more seriously.
4. How can people help?
We want to build more e-cargo bikes so we can do more humanitarian deliveries. You can help by donating to our PayPal account – you just need our email address: email@example.com.
In May we put out an appeal and we want to thank the ICBF team and their followers who responded by donating. You just can’t imagine how touching it is to feel support from strangers, who tell us we are doing the right thing.
Thanks to the ICBF’s May post we raised $2000. We used it to assemble a third e-cargo bike, which we’ve nicknamed Beetroot because of its colour. It’s really helped us do more; to help more people.
Another amazing story happened with a community of cyclists, businesses and activists from Kiel in Germany. First they saw our appeal, connected with us and donated some bicycle components. But then they transformed it into a real charity campaign, uniting to raise money to send us a Carla Cargo trailer. Incredible!
If you can’t donate, please help us spread the word on social media using the hashtag #cargocult_ua.
5. What are your hopes for the future?
Hope is the thing which helps me get up and work and to feel alive. Hope that one day the war will be over. And Ukraine will recover.
In this future e-cargo bikes will play a huge role; this better future will come true.
We can’t exploit the planet as if her resources were limitless. We believe e-cargo bikes are the right choice for civilization. We have already made a start. When you want to make really big changes, only actions make sense.
Interview conducted September 2022.
Want to help CargoCult build more e-cargo bikes and carry out more humanitarian deliveries?
You can donate directly to CargoCult via PayPal. Just type in their email address: firstname.lastname@example.org