Health and Lifestyle

Older bikers in Ukraine are defying the cycle of violence – Health and Lifestyle News – Report by AFR

They look out of place, but they’re everywhere in Ukraine’s embattled eastern Donbass region – elderly cyclists, rolling back and forth on battered wheels, undeterred by the chaos around them.

Barbaric artillery may pelt the horizon and armored trucks tear through the streets, but the older bikers refuse to flee, projecting an odd sense of normalcy into the ravaged warscape.

In the Kyiv suburbs abandoned by Russian occupying forces in the spring, AFP found scores of corpses of cyclists who appeared to have been gunned down as they insisted on maintaining a normal pace of life in dangerous circumstances.

“Nothing has hit me so far,” grins 77-year-old cyclist Otari Iunashvili in the city of Toretsk, his mouth glistening with gold and silver teeth beneath a bulbous gray mustache.

Eight people were killed in a Russian airstrike at a bus station in Toretsk on Thursday, according to the regional governor. During the night, a number of businesses were devastated by another explosion, according to locals at the scene.

In the morning, a mechanical excavator pushes rubble and broken walls under a layer of dust from the wall. A cleaning crew sweeps sidewalks while incoming and outgoing artillery duels in the distance.

Leaning on their handlebars, the cyclists casually watch the action even as cars speed out of town with bundles of belongings strapped to their roofs.

“I don’t have a vehicle to ride, but I still need to get around,” 60-year-old retired miner Oleksandr shrugs, clutching the maroon, paint-chipped handlebars of a women’s brakeless bike.

– ‘If I get shot, who cares?’ –

“Of course I sense the danger,” he admits. “But if I get shot, who cares?”

Since Moscow halted its attack on Kyiv in late March, the war has refocused on eastern and southeastern Ukraine, where the Russian military has been active since 2014, supporting pro-Kremlin insurgents.

In the eastern Donbass region — Ukraine’s industrial heartland, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts — the battle has turned into an artillery melee, with territorial gains and losses being fought out in grueling slow motion.

Cities, towns, and villages are now riddled with the aging, unhealed scars of artillery strikes. Buildings are boarded up and fastened with leaky sandbags that seem long abandoned from the battlefield.

Last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy ordered the mandatory evacuation of the Donetsk region, saying “the sooner this happens, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill them.”

But Ukraine estimates that there are still hundreds of thousands of civilians in the eastern territories not yet occupied by Russia.

Among them are many elderly people, often without family ties or finances, looking to find new homes elsewhere indefinitely as the war is in its sixth month and with no end in sight.

Some are just too stubborn to leave.

– “Cycling is healthy” –

“Cycling is healthy and driving is stressful,” says 74-year-old Volodymyr, who collects heaps of grass on the side of a freeway to feed his ducks and chickens at home.

He has parked his pistachio-green city bike further down the lane in the town of Kramatorsk, under a propaganda poster depicting a Ukrainian soldier brandishing an anti-tank weapon.

“I’m fine,” he declares with edgy defiance when asked about his casual choice of mode of transportation through the biggest war on European soil since World War II.

“I would prefer, if something happens, that I die immediately so that I am not disabled afterwards.”

Cyclists-pensioners of Donbass hardened to stoicism after eight years of conflict.

Viktor Alekseevich rolls his handsome 40-year-old bicycle – made in Soviet Russia – down the sidewalk, his pants tucked into his socks to prevent them from getting agitated in the aisle.

“Yes, I feel safe. Our troops are here,” says the 62-year-old.

What if a rocket lands? “I’ll hide in the bushes,” he says.

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