In the past year, the keepers at Kazkova Dibrova zoo in southern Ukraine have faced incredible challenges while protecting their animals under Russian occupation. Even as access routes to the zoo were blocked, making it impossible to evacuate the animals, workers risked their lives to feed the animals each day, dodging bullets fired by Russian troops across the Dnieper River, the Washington Post reports.
Over the winter, one volunteer brought home some of the smaller animals that would have perished in the cold. Farmers and residents also joined in, donating vegetables, fruits and hay to feed the many animals in need.
Once known as “Fairytale Dibrova,” the Kazkova Dibrova zoo is situated in a park on the banks of the Dnieper River, close to the Kakhovka dam that was ruptured, leading to widespread flooding in southern Ukraine.
When the workers arrived at the zoo after the flooding, they were met with a complete disaster. Up to 300 animals lost their lives and only a few swans and ducks remained alive. The facility expressed their deep sorrow and pain through a heartfelt message on Facebook, emphasizing their dedicated efforts to save the animals.
“Monkeys Anfisa and Charlie, pony Malish, osa mule, raccoons bear, lola, melon, jacco Vienna parrot, Roma crow, groundhog, cameroon goats, sheep, parrots, guinea pigs, ferrets and many more of our little pets,” reads the Facebook post, originally written in Ukrainian. “Only a couple of swans and ducks were saved. The little swan bird born just 5 days ago also died. As early as 6 in the morning, when the workers of Dibrova arrived, everything was flooded with water. We have been trying to save animals all year. Animals were blocked in the park. The park has been mined, all roads blocked, animal evacuation was impossible. A year back, we all raised funds as a group to buy feed for the year. Farmers, entrepreneurs, and many people helped by bringing vegetables and sending money to help animals.”
“This is terrible grief, terrible pain,” the zoo posted to Facebook, adding that it had tried its best to save the animals’ lives.
Oleksandr Todorchuk, the head of UAnimals, a rescue group actively involved in sheltering and rehabilitating animals during the Russian invasion, confirmed the animal fatalities on Facebook. UAnimals has dispatched rescue crews to assist in saving and feeding any displaced animals due to the dam’s destruction.
Both Ukraine and Russia have blamed each other for the dam’s damage, although the cause remains uncertain. The dam held crucial importance in supplying fresh water to Crimea, leading to accusations and tensions between the two countries. Aerial videos show significant sections of the dam seemingly missing.
Officials are deeply concerned about the ecological impact caused by the deluge of water unleashed by the dam’s destruction. Wildlife habitats are at risk, communities dependent on the water for drinking and agriculture face hardships, and towns downstream may need to relocate.
Most if not all zoo animals across Ukraine have been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict. Air raid sirens and blasts terrified animals in the Kyiv zoo in 2022, while other zoos in the country have suffered greater structural damage.
Following the flood, heartwarming videos eventually circulated, showing residents in communities downstream of the dam rescuing animals from the floodwaters. One touching scene depicted a man guiding a cow through thigh-high water in the southern city of Kherson.
Late on Tuesday, Kazkova Dibrova zoo officials received news that residents recovered a five-day-old baby swan believed to have been swept away in the floods. In another Facebook post, the zoo asked if other animals might have survived and urged local residents to care for them if found.
The resilience and compassion displayed by the keepers, volunteers, and community members in the face of such adversity remind us of the enduring human spirit. Let us stand in solidarity with those affected by this tragedy, supporting efforts to rebuild and ensure the welfare of all beings caught in the midst of this conflict.
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