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Ukrainian cyclist rides 50 miles dodging Russian shells to reach safety

Arif Bagirov says his escape from Severodonetsk was “the craziest bike race of my life”

A ​cyclist in Ukraine has spoken of how he rode his bike for 50 miles, dodging Russian shelling on the way, to reach safety as he escaped his home city which is under siege from invading forces, calling it “the craziest bike race of my life.”

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It took 45-year-old Arif Bagirov seven hours to reach Bakmut, which is held by Ukrainian forces, from Severodonetsk, reports the Mirror. From there, he took a bus to Dnipro in central Ukraine.

Severodonetsk has become a key Russian target in the Lubansk region following the fall of Mariupol, and Mr Bagirov, whose wife and daughter had already escaped to safety, made the decision to leave the city when a Russian shell hit the flat below his but luckily failed to explode.

“I have been in the saddle for 11 years, so 50 miles is nothing for me – but this was the craziest bike ride of my life,” he said.

“Some roads were totally blown apart. I cycled right past exploded shells in the ground.

“The bike offers me far greater mobility – this would have been impossible in a car.”

He said that while he was in his home city, he had come to understand how Russian artillery worked in terms of targeting, so on his journey he would stop to see where shells hit – and then pedal towards that location.

“I learnt from my experience in Severodonetsk that they don’t hit the same objective twice,” he explained. “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.”

Besides artillery, he also had to deal with the threat from Russian aircraft.

“I could see explosions all around me, from shelling and from air strikes,” he said.

“I had to stop the bike and hide when enemy jets flew towards me. If I heard an outgoing shell I would get off and find cover until it had landed.”

Mr Bagirov, who works as a media manager, added: “The situation in Severodonetsk is desperate and gets worse with every day. There is only one bridge left. If they blow that bridge it will be completely besieged.

“It is already like Mariupol. They are shelling it almost every hour of the day, so it is impossible to get the bodies out.”

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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