Russia's Night Wolves biker gang plan to visit Ukraine

The Night Wolves, a controversial Russian nationalist biker gang who are currently traveling across Europe to mark the anniversary of the Red Army's conquest of Berlin 70 years ago, have announced plans to soon organise a similar trip to western Ukraine, Russian press reports.

The biker club allegedly have ties to pro-Russian fighters in Ukraine and make no secret of their bombastic brand of Russian nationalism. They have even ridden with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

They initially announced their plans to retrace the path of the Soviet army at the end of World War Two, reaching Berlin this week on the 9th of May. Since then a large portion of the bikers has been turned away at Belarus's border with the EU, although German media reported that around 10 members have made it to Southern Germany.

According to the group's leader Alexander "the Surgeon" Zaldostanov, the Night Wolves are now planning a trip to Ukraine's western regions, despite one of their members having been arrested for allegedly supporting separatist rebels in the country after fighting broke out there a year ago.

Zaldostanov told Russia's state news agency Itar-Tass that the group intends to travel to Ukraine in a bid to repair Soviet-era monuments. Many of the statues of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin were torn down last year during Ukraine's pro-Europe Maidan movement.

"We will visit all towns and refurbish every desecrated monument of the Great Victory," Zaldostanov said. He also branded anti-Soviet sympathisers in Ukraine "banderites," a controversial term used by the Russian establishment to equate the pro-European movements to fascism and neo-Nazism.

"The final stop of the trip would be the city of Lviv," Zaldostanov added, not elaborating on when exactly such a trip would take place or indeed which monuments the Night Wolves intended to mend.

Ukrainian authorities were not immediately available to comment on whether the Night Wolves have made them aware of the planned visit. Prior to their current trip to Germany, Berlin authorities told Newsweek Europe that the group had not officially notified them of their plans.

Lviv and the majority of Western Ukraine has a drastically smaller Russian-speaking population than Ukraine's southeastern regions. However, Zaldostanov insisted that the tour of Ukraine would "definitely be realised" and that doing so would be "a matter of honour".

Last week both Poland and Lithuania refused scores of Night Wolves entry when they attempted to cross over from Belarus, while Berlin's airport turned away three bikers, who had decided to reach the German capital by plane instead, the Guardian reported.

This week German broadcaster DW reported that only around 10 of the group's members have crossed into the country from Austria and some were travelling by rental car as opposed to by motorcycle in a bid to avoid detection.

While an online protest group of thousands of Poles, Czechs and other nationals has gathered to petition European governments not to let the Night Wolves across Europe, the biker gang has also come under fire in their homeland. Russia's drivers federation criticised the motorcycle group, taking issue not with the bikers' aggressive nationalistic agenda but rather for setting a bad example on the road by not wearing helmets.