Full-scale Russian aggression toward Ukraine has already affected and shed much blood of people and animals. The problem is aggravating as the total amount of injured, cruelly tortured, and eventually killed animals is rising consistently. “They want to kill all the living beings. Defenseless people and animals.” – claims Oleksandr Todorchuk, the founder of the nationwide humanitarian movement advocation for animals protection UAnimals.
According to the experts from the WWF-Ukraine, the war has severely affected up to one-third of the whole Ukrainian nature reserve fund. Approximately 200 territories that protect such endangered species as brown bears, black storks, and lynx are under the threat of extermination. A significant threat is posed to rare animal species – the destruction or alteration of their migration corridors. What’s more, warfare took place at one of the most vital periods of the year when animals usually pair and breed.
From the very beginning of the invasion, Russian soldiers started to shoot the civilians, likewise, they did not spare the animals. On the first day of the invasion (24th February) 5 shells hit Feldman Ecopark, one of the core objects of the Ukrainian nature reserve in the Kharkiv region. The Ecopark’s staff endeavored to rescue animals at the cost of their own lives – the volunteers weren’t allowed to enter the menagerie and some employees were shot by the Russian troops on spot. In March the Feldman Ecopark employees started to transport animals to other cities with conditions being extremely harsh – the complex found itself as the epicenter of fighting, and the temperature outside sometimes dropped to -20 ℃ (4℉ below zero).
“Repeatedly we were under “GRAD” fire [Russian Multiple Launch Rocket System] … We got out on our own, rolled tracks to move further” – says Vitaliy Ilchenko, the director of the Ecopark, stressing the heroism of Ukrainian volunteers. “More than a hundred animals died, among them orangutans, chimpanzees, baboons. They died from heartbreaks caused by explosions. Among the ungulates there are does, deer, buffaloes which fell prey to the shootings”. Besides, some park territories occurred to be mined.
The private farm/eco-park “Kyilivska Askania” near Kyiv also suffered from intense shelling by the Russian soldiers. As a consequence, shootings left massive destructions and a huge number of animals dead.
The Mykolaiv Zoo came under the fire of shells and cluster rockets. The staff then began raising funds through their efforts to save animals from starvation. The Russian invasion led to most zoos being left without any profit. Mykolaiv residents requested to purchase tickets online so that the zoo would be able to buy at least a little food for animals in need. Likewise, the administration of the nature reserve “Askania-Nova”, which is now under occupation, has to maintain the complex at its own expense.
The shelters in the Kyiv region suffered as well, the situation there was extremely tense and difficult due to the lack of food, water, electricity, and heating.
According to UAnimals, the volunteers, who managed to get to Borodyanka (Bucha district, Kyiv region) shelter were stunned by what they saw there – only 150 animals survived out of 485. And even those alive were exhausted and dehydrated. In Horenka (Bucha district) a dog was found in the bushes; it had numerous burns and was almost blinded by shelling.
Natalia Popova, the manager of the “Shelter for wild animals” near Boryspil, said: “When the bombing started, it resounded very loudly. Due to the noise a lot of animals maimed themselves, they flounced. A roe deer was so afraid that it hit the wall and twisted its neck. It killed itself.” From the beginning of the warfare up to 100 animals were evacuated from this Shelter to zoos and nature reserves in Romania and Poland.
Another problem that is aggravating with each passing day – fighting in the south and east of Ukraine, which results in the disruption of feed supply chains from farms. The food crisis is undermining the animals’ viability as there is no food at all. The owners of some shelters claim that the issue can be partly solved by virtue of humanitarian aid, but it is still not enough.
The situation is getting worse in the economic context as well – for someone livestock farmingappears to be the only means to survive and sole chance to feed their families. For instance, one Ukrainian farmer lost 20 cows in the first two days of shelling. The cattle were directly related to the owner’s and his family’s livelihood: “They were shooting so hard as if it was some kind of computer game. The first two days I stayed in the house, but then it was so insufferable that I had to leave. When I returned, I was in shock. My house, the warehouse, the barns … were all destroyed. I lost everything.”
The callousness and sadism of the Russian soldiers go far beyond any boundaries. Animals suffer not only because of shelling but also due to deliberate abuse and cruel treatment in the occupied territories. Along with the horrifying footage of mass atrocities in Bucha and Hostomel, the images of dog paws nailed to the ladder and chicken wings grafted to the ropes were published, showing the real attitude of Russians toward any living creature. In Hostomel, the Russians destroyed the “Oleksandriia” stable, where about 25 horses were burnt alive. At the same time in the village of Husarivka (the Kharkiv Region), the Russian forces starved the cows. When locals tried to come and feed the cattle – they were shot.
Another striking example is the beating and mining of a dog near Makariv. The animal has been found recently – the Russians mocked and mined the dog so that there would be more victims among the civilians who would express willingness to save the animal. The dog was rescued, although it has a fracture of the thoracic vertebra and other numerous injuries.
It is clear, that animals have become toys that can be hurt or killed for fun or given to the Russian leaders as war trophies. Once the occupiers killed a dog, by throwing grenades at it for joy. According to the dog’s owner, the animal died from four grenade fragments and was buried just in the yard. The volunteers also report another situation when the Russian soldiers took the dog of the captured defender of Mariupol and gave it to the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, as a victory gift.
According to one estimate, as of 2014, there were about 750 thousand dogs and 5,5 million cats in Ukraine. In a desperate attempt to escape the war, the owners left behind a lot of their pets, especially big dogs that were inconvenient and uneasy to transport. Meanwhile, farms and shelters that have survived the rocket bombing are running out of food and water, and some are still lacking electricity. As a result, countless animals continue to suffer. Organizations such as UAnimals and UAAA (Ukrainian Association of Animal Advocated) are collecting donations to support local veterinarians and provide financial assistance to animal shelters. They have already managed to evacuate a vast number of pets to neighboring countries.
A particularly tough situation is with farm animals as they are difficult to evacuate. In Ukraine, there are approximately 3.5 million cattle, 5.7 million pigs, and 212 million chickens that are vulnerable to any transportation.
“I came in the barn, where the cows were looking at me pitifully and asking for a drink, but I didn’t have anything to give them. I had nothing to do but release all livestock into mined fields under Russian aerial bombs. They will be torn apart by “GRAD” or high-explosive shells, but at least they won’t suffer [from thirst]” – said Oleksandr, a farmer in the Donetsk region who had been living under shelling for four months. He didn’t want to leave the farm and his cows, and yet the man was forced to leave.
“The war in Ukraine is terrifying for both people and animals. Our thoughts are with all those affected by this tragic situation. Animals are often the forgotten victims in times of crisis, but they also suffer immensely.” – Steve McIvor, CEO of the World Animal Protection, international non-profit animal rights organization
“The devastation caused by some of these rocket attacks, that open environment full of glass, concrete, and metal is dangerous to people but also to animals,” says James Sawyer, UK director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). His organization helps to maintain shelters in Ukraine by supplying such resources as food and veterinary equipment. IFAW continues to pay salaries to its staff so that animals can be cared for. “Local supplies are running out, one of the two animal shelters we support has been damaged by shells”, James Sawyer adds.
Animals stuck in zoos are another huge problem. Kyrylo Trantin, head of the Kyiv Zoo, says: “It is almost impossible to evacuate the animals because it is impossible to provide for proper veterinary care and transportation”.
There is no accurate data on how many animals have been moved or transported from the state since the beginning of the warfare. However, it is clear, that the number of evacuated species is less than of those which are in constant danger within Ukrainian borders. The animals have to endure terrible things – lack of fodder, psychological stress from persistent shelling, injuries from the Russians’ acts of harassment, and extermination.
Now, in the midst of the full-scale war, animals require aid and protection more than ever. Hesitation will lead to the rising death toll of innocent animals with nobody left to save.
The attitude toward animals demonstrates the difference between Ukrainians and Russians, while the former rescue animals at the cost of their own lives, and the latter try to destroy all living beings that get in the way.