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Rebels with a nationalist cause: the Russian bikers fighting for a new motherland

‘This is a religious and spiritual war. God is on our side, that’s for sure.’

The Russian motorcycle club the Night Wolves first made international headlines in 2014, fighting as a paramilitary group alongside pro-Russian forces during the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Although the Night Wolves formed as an anti-Soviet countercultural group during perestroika, today they’re sometimes called ‘Putin’s Angels’, having embraced the potent mix of Orthodox Christianity, nationalism, hypermasculinity and Soviet nostalgia that drives the Russian president’s base.

Produced in 2015, this short film follows several Night Wolves living in rebel-held Luhansk in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. There in support of the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), a breakaway, pro-Russian proto-state, the roughly 50 group members train with weapons, ride flag-draped Harley-Davidsons through the streets, romanticise the Soviet past, and dream of future glory. Skilfully observed, the documentary by the UK directors Jack Losh and Sebastien Rabas is at once a singular glimpse into the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine and a powerful study of the forces that drive ultranationalism.

29 January 2019

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