Ukrainian cyclist avoids Russian shelling and warplanes by cycling seven hours from besieged home city

Arif Bagirov successfully escaped the heavy conflict in Severodonetsk by completing a 43-mile bike ride unscathed

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A Ukrainian man successfully fled his besieged home city of Severodonestk, in the Luhansk region in the east of Ukraine, by cycling for 43 miles while dodging Russian shelling and warplanes. 

Arif Bagirov cycled for seven hours to reach Bakhmut, a city under Ukrainian control, before eventually travelling by bus to the capital city, Kyiv. An experienced cyclist, the 45-year-old managed to complete the ride unscathed, despite the heavy conflict surrounding him.

With the road from Severodonestk to Bakhmut bombed out, Bagirov told the BBC (opens in new tab) and the Daily Mail (opens in new tab) what riding in the warzone was like, and what tactics he adopted in order to avoid the shelling.

"There were holes on the road, everything there was smashed up, including cars," he said. "And there was a lot of debris all over the place. It's a frontline road, after all. Thank God, there were no corpses - but you could tell that people have died there.

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“I learnt from my experience in Severodonetsk that they don’t hit the same objective twice. I knew if they shelled a factory five minutes ago, they would not shell it again.

“I would watch where the shells would land and cycle there – it was the safest route.”

Bagirov also had to contend with Russian warplanes during his treacherous ride, though he managed to avoid them by simply hiding out of sight. 

“I had to stop the bike and hide when enemy jets flew towards me," he added. "I found a ditch to lie in, and that's where I laid until they had gone past."

Initially, Bagirov decided to stay in Severodonestk when Russian forces first invaded Ukraine. The 45-year-old helped others who had remained, such as delivering medicine to elderly people, while he also ensured valuable exhibits from museums stayed safe.

He decided the time to leave came when a Russian shell hit the apartment below his. While it luckily didn't explode, he had to spend three days in the basement with limited electricity and water. With his ability to help others drastically reduced, Bagirov opted to leave on his bike. 

However, fear didn't come into the equation for Bagirov during his ride. Instead, the situation made him even more determined to reach his destination, while his feelings towards Russia's invasion of his home country intensified. 

He told the BBC: "When I was riding my bike I didn't really feel fear so much, it was more a sense of anger: 'This is my land, this is my country! And I will complete this journey whether you like it or not!'

"It was definitely my craziest journey on a bike. I had covered such distances loads of times before - but not in such circumstances."

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Staff Writer

Ryan is a staff writer for Cycling Weekly, having joined the team in September 2021. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before making his way to cycling. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer.