Vladimir Ivankovskyi poses with his bikes

In Kyiv, defiant cyclists ride for a semblance of normality

At night the bombs fall and in the morning these cyclists see the latest destruction to their cities

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Every couple of days, Andrew Privalov puts his kit on, fills up his water bottle, and heads out for a bike ride.

This is a fairly normal routine, as it was for Andrew, until the bombs started dropping. A fighter jet was shot down and crashed into a nine-storey apartment building, paratroopers dropped down into satellite towns in the suburbs. And then the Russian tanks appeared on the outskirts of his city.

Yet still, throughout all of this, Privalov still puts his kit on, fills up his water bottle, and heads out for a bike ride through his hometown of Kyiv.

There are countless Ukrainians who do the same and continue to post their daily exercise routines on Strava. Older people still go on their daily runs to show they’re not afraid of the invading enemy, others post their three-kilometre walks simply to go pick up water. 

But for Kyiv’s cyclists, who cover more distance on two wheels, they bear witness to the city changing before their eyes.

“In this difficult time for Ukrainians, when people sit in shelters for weeks and hide in the subway, every two days I go out and ride my bike in the city of Kyiv,” Privalov tells CyclingTips.

His usual training route is now lined with the destruction of war, the military vehicles passing through have destroyed the road surface, and at the newly formed checkpoints he “pays tribute” to the soldiers defending his home. “Even air sirens do not stop me,” he says of the rides that help take his mind off of the terrible situation where bad news can occur “at any minute”.

“A lot of people pay attention to me when I ride by,” Privalov continues. “I believe that in this way I inspire people with a sense of security and safety. After all, we are under the protection of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the whole world.”

Privalov trains closer to the outskirts of the city, near the ring road, but in a safe area. 15km further out is where he says the real hostilities are taking place. In a video, he films himself riding on a deserted highway, telling the people who follow him on social media not to be afraid.

Despite countless kilometers, he has not yet seen another cyclist in the three weeks since war broke out, but knows a lot of his friends who live in quieter towns elsewhere in the country are still riding.

Privalov wears the kit of the Kyiv Capital Team, the same strip as another amateur who was spotted riding the streets of Kyiv by CNN the first week after war broke out. The UCI Continental team tells CyclingTips they still haven’t found out who the rider is.

Vladimir Ivankovskyi lives in Nikolaev in the south, between Odessa and Kherson, which was captured by the Russians. The borders of the city are closed for people aged 18-60 years old and it is now very dangerous to leave.

He has four bikes and used to ride 120km from Nikolaev to Odessa. He sends a Strava link showing him hopping across estuaries heading further south and then back home in a seven-hour ride.

“I used to ride for pleasure, now it’s a necessity,” Ivankovskyi says. And anyway, all of his friends he used to ride with have either left or now stay at home. “Now it is convenient to move around the city by bicycle, buses run badly or there are days that there are none at all.

“The crossroads now have checkpoints, soldiers stand there checking documents. Roads are blocked by tires and anti-tank hedgehogs. The bridges are raised up, it would be long and problematic to drive to another area by car.”

In the early days, he says, it was scary to hear explosions every night. From Kherson, around 40km away, Russia fires shells into his city. Ivankovskyi tells says that one fell, unexploded, just outside the supermarket he works at. He sends across a photo of it with his store in the background.

As he messages me past midnight in Ukraine, a hurried message comes through. “Just heard two explosions”, followed by a pitch black video soundtracked by the deep booms of multiple explosions in the distance. The morning after he’s out riding and sends a video of a nearby hotel with all its windows blown out.

“Because of Putin, my family is now scattered across Europe,” Privalov tells me. “But I am calm for them. I believe that for many Ukrainians, and me in particular, life is divided into ‘before’ and ‘after’. Many priorities have been revised, many values. Everyone was able to determine what is really important to him in his life. Everyone will make their own right choice.

“I worked as a TV operator but my skills and knowledge are not in demand now. But if necessary, I will pick up a machine gun and will defend my Ukraine!”

Somewhere else in Kyiv lives Kirill Volkovskiy. Without a need to get around, he hasn’t ridden outside since the war started, yet he’s turned to Zwift and and posts his rides on Strava too. “I hope to return to fully-fledged training in peacetime,” he says, already planning his next ride.