Russian President Vladimir Putin’s biker gang, the Night Wolves, is causing a ruckus in east Ukraine as it lends a hand to the pro-Russian rebels and Russian soldiers.
“My love for my homeland, for my territory, is my life,” announced Vitali, the leader of the east Ukraine branch.
The Night Wolves originated in Russia in 1983 and is very close to Putin, who even rode with them during a bike festival in August 2011.
“I’m a Night Wolf, not a rebel,” claimed Vitali. “I’m just defending my homeland.”
Vitali, who also goes by “Prosecutor,” is based in Lugansk. The headquarters includes “two charred Ukrainian tank turrets” as decoration items at the entrance. He said his men destroyed the tanks “during a battle with government troops” and calls them their “trophies.” The majority of the members in Lugansk are from Ukraine, but some members from Russia leaked in.
“Wherever there are difficulties, we are the first to appear,” said Oleg, who came to Ukraine from Belarus. “This was the case in the Crimea. Everything could have exploded just as quickly and just as tragically as in the Donbass. We were the first defenders of the Crimea; even President Putin recognised that.”
The Night Wolves traveled to Crimea on March 17 and 18 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the peninsula’s annexation.
“Look how happy people are,” exclaimed Zaldostanov, also known as “The Surgeon,” at the celebration. “By the will of God and through the hands of President Putin, the years of humiliation under Ukrainian rule are over.”
In 2013, Putin awarded Zaldostanov with the “Order of Honour.” His relationship with Putin is so close that the latest rounds of Canadian sanctions against Russia in February included Zaldostanov. The United States placed him under sanctions in December.
The members told AFP they lost three fighters since the war broke out last year. They are honored with portraits in the common room at the headquarters.
“We were fighting here when there were no rebel forces,” said Roman, who is known as “Volk,” adding, “From Khryashchuvate to Novosvitlivka to Lugansk Airport. We were fighting practically with sticks!”
The building includes “20 motorcycles and classic cars surrounded by Russian flags.” They saved the cars from the Lugansk car museum. While they love their bikes and cars, the gang is determined to bring Russia back to the region with “patriotic education of society and youth” projects “to unite the Russian world.”
“The Soviet Union collapsed and the Soviet identity disappeared, but the people remained united by the Russian identity,” described Oleg. “Being Russian is not a nationality; it is a state of mind.”