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Saving Private fluffy: how Ukrainians rescue pets and zoo animals from war

pets death
Soldier Yehor Firsov with his cat Bucha. Photo: Ruslan Maslovskiy
Saving Private fluffy: how Ukrainians rescue pets and zoo animals from war
Article by: Christine Chraibi
Ukrainian volunteers and soldiers believe that there are hundreds of abandoned or feral animals in the war zones. Some, the lucky ones, are adopted by soldiers or rescue workers, or their owner somehow manages to find them. Others hide and venture out of their lairs when the shelling and gunfire die down.

Pets, animals and wildlife face death and extinction and endure much suffering in the midst of the war in Ukraine. But, there is no doubt that the human toll is the most shocking and heartbreaking aspect of this chaotic nightmare.

As Russian soldiers withdrew from certain areas of Ukraine to regroup and deploy elsewhere, they left not only battle-scarred towns and villages, but also bullet-riddled corpses of cattle, horses, goats and domestic animals.

Cats, and other domestic pets, are man’s everyday companions. It can actually greatly benefit humans to have a pet as it gives them something to look forward to, a sense of purpose after a long and harrowing day at the office, or in the case of soldiers – in the war zone. Soldiers are especially drawn to cats as they are small and can be carried easily.

Despite their nonchalant and independent behavior, cats enjoy the company of humans, but show it in different ways. They cuddle up on our laps, rub their heads on our legs and purr to express their affection. Here are just a few stories of cats saved from certain death or extinction.

The guardian cat from Makariv

The small town of Makariv, Buchansky Raion, Kyiv Oblast, was razed to the ground by retreating Russian forces.

In one of the private homes, Ukrainian soldiers noticed a fluffy white cat sitting in the window frame and silently observing the horrors around him.

pets Makariv
Photo: Kostyantyn Sova

Thousands of social media followers reacted to this no-name cat – a silent witness of Russia’s war against Ukraine – and wondered what would happen to it.

With every passing day, the Makariv cat gained more and more fame. He was even immortalized on a “portrait” painting by illustrator and co-founder of Pet Family Ukraine Tetiana Kopytova.

makariv cat
Illustration: Tetiana Kopytova

“On April 9, I saw a photo of this lone cat sitting on the frame of a broken window… My hands immediately went to my paints and palette.

Of course, everyone feels sorry for them, but animals don’t understand what’s happening and why their life and habits have changed so suddenly. They’re confused and abandoned. Someone’s owners died, someone left, someone got lost …

Some animals see new people and run to them for help; some are stuck in half-ruined basements and die there from their injuries, disease, hunger and stress. How many animals will die? We’ll never know!

They are all nameless, invisible victims of this senseless war!” writes Tetiana Kopytova on her Facebook page.

Then, one day, not too long ago, a wonderful girl called Lesya arrived in the town and took the Makariv cat home. Today, he has a cozy, safe home in Kyiv.

Photo: Tetiana Kopytova FB

Double happy ending. The cat from Bucha

We’ve all heard about the cat from war-torn Bucha, who was rescued by Ukrainian soldier soldier Yehor Firsov. But, this cat’s story has a double happy ending.

Former MP, environmental activist, and now defender of Ukraine Yehor Firsov entered Bucha with a group of demining engineers. As they worked their way carefully through the debris of a residential building, something caught Yehor’s eye…

“Here I am, picking my way through the rubble, when suddenly I see this graceful cat making its way toward me. I picked him up immediately and began stroking him. He purred happily…

Of course, I wanted to tuck him under my arm and carry him away with me immediately, but how? We had a lot of work ahead. So, I let him go. But, the cat stuck to our group, meowing loudly and following us everywhere. It was clear to all of us that in this hell on earth he’d lost his owner and that we were his new family,” Firsov said.

Before falling asleep that night, Yehor promised himself that if he saw the same cat the next day, he would definitely take him home.

pets death
Photo: Yehor Firsov FB

And that’s what happened. After working all day, clearing the rubble and searching for survivors, Yehor returned to the place where he had met the cat. And there he was… sitting and waiting in the middle of the rubble!

Yehor picked him up; the cat purred softly and rubbed his head against Yehor’s chin.

“It was the end of my shift, so I took him home. I treated his paws as they were cut and bleeding from the broken glass. I decided to name him Bucha.”

Photo: Yehor Firsov FB

A happy ending indeed, but the happiest was yet to come…

A few days later, Yehor received a message from a girl who had escaped from Bucha.

“She sent me a photo of her cat, my Bucha in fact, and explained how she and her boyfriend had run from house to house, trying to avoid gunfire and shelling. In their escape, they’d lost their cat…

That was a tough moment! At first, I didn’t want to give Bucha back to his rightful owners. I’d got used to this fluffy animal sitting on my lap, purring with satisfaction.

Frankly, Bucha relieved my stress. I’d come home after a day’s work, pet him and hug him close to me, and that helped me forget the horrors I’d seen during the day.

But, that’s the way it is… someone’s looking for Bucha; someone else loves him too. And he probably loves them back…” says Yehor philosophically.

Yehor’s doubts and fears disappeared when he saw how the young man reacted to his Bucha. As he picked up the furry creature and pressed him to his chest, the young man began crying; tears rolled down his cheeks. And, Bucha actually jumped into his arms and nuzzled up close to the boy’s neck.

Photo: Yehor Firsov FB

“Well, it’s OK, I’m sure I’ll find my cat somewhere… or he’ll find me,” concludes Yehor with a wide smile.

The ragged cat from Borodyanka

 The Borodyanka cat was found deeply buried under the rubble of a residential building. Several bodies of civilians were removed at the same time.

Photo: open source

The cat was exhausted, dirty and seriously injured. Moreover, he was in no mood to play or have his back scratched.

The State Emergency Services of Ukraine took good care of him, fed him and tended to all his injuries. They delivered the black-and-white critter to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where he was coddled, petted and cared for.

Photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine
Photo: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine

However, the cat’s condition deteriorated and he was transported to a veterinarian clinic. Murchyk, as he became known, underwent several operations, but he was too weak and frail to survive.

On 14 April, journalist Khrystyna Berdianskykh tweeted that Murchyk died.

The fuzzy kitten from Borodyanka

This small but very loud baby kitten was found in the ruins of a high-rise apartment building in Borodyanka.

pets death
Photo: Emergency Services of Ukraine

Shaking with fear, she clung to any human that picked her up. The rescue team named her Shpulya Borodyanska, which literally means “Wool Spool from Borodyanka”.

Shpulya now lives in the office of a medical rescuer from Kyiv, who saved Shpulya in Borodyanka on April 6 and can no longer part with the adorable little kitten.

Photo: Emergency Services of Ukraine
Photo: Emergency Services of Ukraine

Scorched, but safe. The cat from Andriyivka

When the snarling, scorched cat from Andriyivka appeared on the internet, people from all over the world began sending questions and offers of assistance.

pets death
Photo: Volodymyr Kryzhanivskyi

In short, Volodymyr Kryzhanivskyi, who works with, also saw this photo and decided to go and find that same cat, which was reportedly wandering the streets of Andriyivka, Buchansky Raion, Kyiv Oblast. He managed to pick up three abandoned cats, but the burnt feline was nowhere to be found.

The search continued as Pethouse volunteers joined rescue workers searching for survivors among the ruins and devastation of Andriyivka. Finally, Feniks, as he was so aptly named, was found cowering in the debris.

A volunteer took Feniks to the animal clinic, where he was thoroughly cleaned and diagnosed by the medical team.

“That’s him, that’s the scorched cat on the photo. The injuries match 100%: on the ears, lower jaw, lesions localized on the cat’s body. And, there’s something like a reddish tryzub (trident) on his forehead! ” said the doctors.

scorched cat
Photo: Volodymyr Kryzhanivskyi FB

On 12 April, Feniks came back from the clinic. Volodymyr decided to adopt him and posted a happy picture of his new family member on Facebook. He claims Feniks is glad to be home, but somewhat surprised by all the messages of goodwill that he’s been receiving. By the way, Feniks says hello and on to Victory!

scorched cat
Photo: Volodymyr Kryzhanivskyi FB

The media tabby cat from Bucha

Remember the red tabby cat whose photos caught the interest of the foreign press and thousands of readers?

When the reporters arrived in devastated Bucha, they found this cool-looking marmalade cat sitting in the middle of the main road of the city. He was photographed from all angles, but no one thought to take him home.

pets death
Photo: Borys Korpusenko, Vechirniy Kyiv
Bucha marmalade cat
Photo: Borys Korpusenko, Vechirniy Kyiv

Then, volunteer patrolman Dmytro from the Zoopatrol team arrived on the scene. Dmytro works as a drone operator and was on the way to help the military, but when he saw the cat he couldn’t abandon it in the middle of nowhere.

Dmytro has a terrible allergy to animal fur. Nevertheless, the young man took the cat in his arms and transported it to safety.

marmelade cat
Photo: Zoopatrol Kyiv FB

The cat is now safe with friends at the Pethouse office… but, little does he know that just a few days ago, his photo amidst the desolation of Bucha was making headlines.

As war rages in Ukraine, animals have been caught in the crossfire and the situation is growing more dire every day.

Suffering in the midst of this nightmare, and with no understanding at what has turned their world into chaos, animals – family pets, domestic stock, those kept in rescue facilities or zoos, and wildlife – are seriously threatened by death or extinction.

While many Ukrainian zoos are supported by international zoo associations such as EAZA, small animal shelters – especially those in active war zones – are struggling to provide basic care or arrange for evacuation.

There are many animal welfare organizations and volunteers caring for these injured and stranded animals throughout Ukraine. One of these is Nova Ukraine. There is no clear end of this war so fundraising is necessary to support the emergency rescue efforts of animals in Ukraine. Donations are used to cover costs of relocation, basic food supplies, medical needs, transport to new locations, etc.

Among many other needs, animal welfare is a matter of urgency and will probably remain topical for months and years to come.


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