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70 Kilometers by Bike. Local Historian and Media Partisan Arif Bagirov Fled from Severodonetsk in the Midst of the War – Here Is His Story

70 Kilometers by Bike. Local Historian and Media Partisan Arif Bagirov Fled from Severodonetsk in the Midst of the War – Here Is His Story

Katerina Sergatskova
Ариф Багиров: штурм Сєвєродонецька та евакуація на велосипеді

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Media partisan, local historian, and volunteer Arif Bagirov remained in his native Severodonetsk until the last minute, documenting the battles for the city on his Twitter page. When evacuation became impossible and the city was almost destroyed, Arif took his bicycle and drove 70 kilometers to Bakhmut. Zaborona learned how he traveled this path under the shelling and how he continues to fight against Russian propaganda.

“From the very beginning, I decided to ride all this way on a bike. I thought I would have fun listening to music… but there was no chance for that, ”says Arif Bagirov. For all three months of the war, he lived in Severodonetsk and witnessed how the Russian army is destroying his hometown day by day. At the end of May, he took a bicycle and pedaled all the way to Bakhmut: “Unfortunately, Severodonetsk is in ruins, and it’s impossible to leave it,” he wrote on his Twitter page.

For a month and a half, Zaborona published Bagirov’s online diary, favorites from his tweets: reflections on the war, everyday episodes, and chronicles of the offensive of the invaders (here is the first part, and here is the last). Before Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine, he was a native of Severodonetsk, developing the Luhansk region and studying the region’s Belgian architectural heritage. Russian troops have turned his hometown into ruins, and recently enemy artillery fired on the Belgian-built Lysychansk Gymnasium. The building survived the German occupation during World War II, but not the Russian offensive.

Bagirov calls himself a media partisan. Since 2014, he has been debunking fake news and on the contrary, was engaged in disinformation of the enemy. Arif became a sort of duty officer in Severodonetsk: his Twitter followers asked to find out if their relatives were alive, what was the situation in the town, how fast the occupiers were advancing, and how to deliver humanitarian aid. In May and June 2022, Russian troops intensified shelling in Severodonetsk. Arif was already hiding in the basement by that time: “All the [military] guys said it would be hot there soon, and then I realized that the time has come. I decided to go [from Severodonetsk] to a quieter area – to Bakhmut.”

The evacuation was no longer possible. So the man rode his bicycle for more than 70 kilometers along the so-called “route of life”, watching artillery duels between the Armed Forces and the occupiers. At the entrance to Bakhmut, Arif was picked up by an SES armored vehicle.

Today Arif Bagirov is in Kyiv. In addition to a small bundle of things, he took out a considerable amount of evidence from Severodonetsk: about unprompted cemeteries, about the townspeople who died just on the street, about life between mortar reloads. He still writes his online diary. In it, news from the front is interspersed with footage of life in the capital. On June 14, Arif again posted a photo from Severodonetsk. It shows a burned-out apartment building in which the man lived before the evacuation.

“My apartment on the 4th floor burned down to zero,” he wrote. “I have one joy: non-humans did not rummage through my things. It’s better to let them burn down, and I’ll buy some new.”

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