A Ukrainian’s story of a war and a bike
Artur Edamov is a Ukrainian cyclist living in Kharkiv, just over the border from Russia. Through his camera and his words, this is his story.
I want to tell you my story about the war and my bike.
There is a war in my country against Russia since 2014 (but really, it has lasted for 300 years). For the last eight years, it was only in the east of Ukraine, in Donbas.
Then, in late February, everything changed.
I live in Kharkiv. It’s 30 km from the Russian border, in the north-east of Ukraine. I wasn’t afraid of war coming to my city until February 24, because I didn’t have a way of imagining what war is.
And now I know. It is terrible, very terrible. Panic, fear and hatred — only these feelings – since Russia started bombing my city.
All Ukrainians feel guilt. Some feel guilt because they are in a safe place; others because they have food and water, or because their city was not bombed, or because they are in ‘safety’ and not at the front. I have the same feelings. I volunteered in the regional council building until it was destroyed by a rocket. I was very lucky to be in another place at that time.
After the invasion, a lot of people left Kharkiv in their cars or by train. Public transport stopped working. Everything stopped working. It was almost impossible to buy gasoline. It was a huge problem for people without cars to get anywhere. Taxi drivers raised prices up to $200 for 5 km. But also, there were a lot of drivers who helped without any fee.
After the first two weeks, my pregnant wife was forced to move to a safer place also. Now she is in Poland, and we are waiting for a baby – our first child – in two months. It’s much easier for me now I know that my wife is safe from harm, but I know she is very worried about me so I try to be online as much as possible. But it is a big change.
Just a year ago, we traveled through Ukraine on bicycles through the territory now occupied by Russian troops. We made plans for the future. And now we don’t even know when we’ll see each other again.
Almost all my friends also left the city. I decided to stay and try to help in any way, even if I didn’t really know how. I wanted to do everything and as much as possible.
After my Schwinn Rocket MTB was stolen a year ago, I worked hard and bought a Cube Nuroad. I’d never cycled on gravel before but the worldwide hype affected me too. Now I understand that for me, the bike category doesn’t matter – MTB, fat bike, gravel, or city bike. I can be happy with anything. Just a bike. No super speed, no perfect look. I just need a reliable bike to ride with my wife and my friends. I’m totally satisfied with my current bike-friend.
Kharkiv is Ukraine’s second biggest city after Kyiv, but it’s not great for cycling. We have one bike path along the forest and nothing more, and cycling infrastructure has been overlooked in the development of car infrastructure. But we often rode outside the city on weekends, with or without overnight stays.
Once or twice a year I arranged a week-long bike trip outside the Kharkiv region, with my wife or friends. Ukraine is very beautiful, and you can put up your tent anywhere you like – and in recent years, several interesting routes have been created. Sadly, they will not be able to be used in the coming years, as many roads and forests have been mined by Russian soldiers.
After the invasion, when the city started having problems with transport, my bicycle helped a lot. The owners of e-bikes would be even happier (as long as electricity still works at their homes).
One day my brother fell ill, and I got on my bike without hesitation and took medicine to him.
The other day, my friends asked me to take food to their relatives in an area where there was no open store left within walking distance.
I realised that in this way I can be of assistance to others. My wife’s bikepacking bags became the best fit for this activity. I found out later that in some other more dangerous areas, cyclists had come together and were helping out by delivering food and medicine. I stopped feeling lonely.
A problem with my bike now is that the brakes are not working; I don’t understand the technical aspects of bicycles, and the bike shops are closed. But I am saved by the fact that there are few cars left in the city, and the snow has almost melted. Another problem is the lack of carrier; sometimes I have to carry water, but I put it in my backpack.
But, let this be my biggest problem.
Now I work from home in the morning and in the evening, launch DDOS attacks on Russian sites, and if I have any requests during the day I get on my bike and try to help those who need it. The bicycle also helps me to decompress mentally, and not think about the war for a moment.
Russian troops can’t break through the city’s defenses, so they use heavy artillery. At any time in any part of the city, we can be fired on by missiles, and up to 50 shellings take place in Kharkiv every day.
More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed. The historic city centre is also very damaged. 75% of hospitals, every third school, and every fourth kindergarten has already been destroyed. Russian soldiers are trying to destroy all civilian infrastructure, and are shelling crowded places and humanitarian aid centres.
I stopped being afraid after the first week. My house is undamaged and I haven’t come under fire, but there have been several heavy shellings within a kilometre. Explosions and air raid sirens are becoming commonplace. You can’t always be afraid, and you get used to it, but I still can’t sleep in my bed near the window. The floor in the hallway is a safer place, but this will not save me from a direct hit by a missile.
I’m not a hero. A lot of people do a thousand times more than me – evacuate people, provide medical care in basements, put out fires under shelling. Everyone does what he or she can. And I’m sure we will win.
Слава Україні! 🇺🇦
A shorter version of this post originally appeared on Reddit. CyclingTips worked with Artur to edit and expand it into this article.
For ways to help Ukraine and Ukrainians affected by Russia’s invasion, see here: https://supportukrainenow.org
To donate to Artur personally – he plans to spend any funds raised on humanitarian needs like food, water and medicine – his Paypal details are edamov(at)gmail.com