Two Wheels in Wartime: Ukraine Motorcycle Journal

It all started with a phone call from award-winning photographer Kiran Ridley who was working in Lviv at the start of the war in Ukraine. Covering the refugee crisis from the saddle of an old Chinese motorbike, he just needed to talk. It was cold, dangerous, and the whole town was on the edge of uncertainty as they prepared for the possibility of a Russian attack.

Thousands of miles away, in my sweet and comfortable life, images of destroyed buildings, dead and wounded civilians, and outnumbered soldiers fighting for their country filled internet news feeds and television screens. . It did not seem possible that in full view of the world, Russia was targeting women and children with its bombs and missiles, seemingly determined to destroy every facet of Ukrainian life with this unprovoked attack.

Two wheels in Ukraine Kids Riding

I called Kiran a few days later and asked him how I could help. How could I come to Ukraine to tell stories and raise funds?

He asked if it was possible to find some motorcycles and thanks to more than twenty years of work with BMW Motorradit only took one phone call and we had two BMW F850GS Adventures with full luggage and navigation to Munich for pick up. Next, Arai Helmets jumped in and REV’IT offered to provide us with outfits before things started to go wrong.

Two wheels in Ukraine BMW

Paperwork came in for my international press credentials and the wait was long. Kiran, who is based in France, had to renew his motorcycle license in the UK, and my press jacket and body armor were ordered without a delivery date due to excessive demand. We held our collective breath, as each day seemed to bring a new challenge.

I decided to get shot in my dodgy knee before the trip, only to find the doctor and his PA who were both motorcyclists and military veterans who knew my work on a motorcycle.

Two weeks later, I became the first civilian to complete a week of Combat Life Saver training in Macon, Georgia with Charlie Company 148e Brigade Support Battalion. The idea being that if shit hits the fan, I will hopefully have the skills and equipment to deal with the kinds of injuries we might encounter. It started to feel real.

Two-Wheel Training in Ukraine

Once back home the struggle continued for me with a nasty respiratory infection. Kiran caught COVID in Ukraine and, along with other personal issues, threatened to overwhelm him. He recovered, I recovered, and he had to return to Ukraine suddenly for a new mission. Our departure has been postponed again.

It was a crazy time of sketchy phone calls as Kiran made the mad rush to get home to Paris to drop off my papers with the Ukrainian army and apologize to BMW for delaying our treatment. He also had to make a trip to England to collect my vest and helmet so that the stress meter was high.

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You can help by donating to Neale’s nonprofit for this trip, Wellspring International Outreach which helps bring help and care to abandoned and at-risk children around the world. Donation link:

Finally after booking a one way ticket Kiran got his schedule cleared and I caught COVID. It really seemed like we weren’t destined to ride to Ukraine. A long, slow week of illness passed, I changed my ticket, got my negative test and finally landed in Paris.

Details of our trip through Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland and Ukraine will come later, but luckily it was as smooth as any motorcycle trip, and we arrived in Lviv in the western Ukraine without any problems after some complications at the border.

As of this writing, we’ve been in Ukraine for five days and on a number of assignments, working with the brightest repairmen. From 1,500 feet below the surface of the earth in a former 1970s Soviet-era coal mine, to spending the day with young amputees who were on the front lines, it was intense.

Two wheels visiting Ukraine

We visited a famous Speedway stadium to visit with we have runners, a 16e Century Monastery which is home to around 50 refugees from Kharkiv and is hammering on social media asking for donations that we will give to the project that needs our support the most.

Two wheels in the monastery of Ukraine

Mostly people are messaging to say stay safe, some are donating, and for the most part here in the western part of Ukraine it’s all good. There are times though, like when world renowned photographer Brent Stirton, a former South African special forces, messages from Sri Lanka to say “it’s no joke, I’ve lost two friends and two other wounded”, let the gnawing in my stomach begin. It’s the same feeling that occurs when air raid sirens sound or when we approach a field military checkpoint.

Two wheels in Ukraine BombSite

Life here is tumultuous. One moment I am devastated in a rehabilitation center seeing so many young men with missing limbs or spending time with refugees listening to their horrific stories. Then we get busy, it passes, and I find myself riding a motorbike through a beautiful countryside landscape, marveling at the stunning architecture of the villages and onion-domed churches that accentuate the quiet rural life of the city. ‘Ukraine.

Two wheels in Ukraine Refugee

It would be an idyllic country to take a motorcycle trip, an adventure ride or a vacation. As peaceful and beautiful as it may seem, reality rushes in knowing that these beautiful people, their stunning architecture and peaceful way of life can vanish in an instant from Russian bombs or missiles. Then the gnawing in my belly returns.

Two wheels in Ukraine BoyOnBike

Tomorrow we head east. The stories will get harder and the fight in my head will return, as the search for words and images to communicate the need for all of us to help continues.

Ukrainian stampsUkrainian stamps 2022

NealeBayly mini organic

Born in England and raised in South Devon, England, Neale Bayly has been a motorcycle photographer and journalist for over twenty years now. During this time, he has contributed to over 100 publications worldwide. neal based Wellspring International Outreach, a non-profit organization, to focus on helping orphans around the world. In order to help raise awareness Sourcework, neal also created a television series on Youtube called Neale Bayly rides.

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