Family pets, zoo animals taken to safety from Ukraine | CBC News

At an animal shelter in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Natalia Horobets bid an emotional farewell to her beloved pet cat Charly this week.

Horobets and her husband had fled their home in the eastern city of Kramatorsk as Ukrainian troops fought Russian invaders.

But after a difficult journey west on a packed train, they finally decided to let their pet go, concluding that setting up a new life hundreds of miles from home would be hard enough without a hyperactive cat to care for.

“Our trip by train lasted for 40 hours,” Natalia Horobets said in Lviv, which along with the rest of Ukraine’s west has so far been largely untouched by the conflict. “There were many people and we were afraid that he would be trampled.”

Irina Vasilieva carries one of five puppies she found on the streets on Monday as she brings them to an animal shelter in Lviv, Ukraine. A crew of volunteers was set to get them to shelter in Latvia. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

Rasma Krecia, a Latvian volunteer, is the rescuer hoping to take Charly and dozens of other pets across the border into Poland until the war is over.

“We’re going to try to take as many animals as we can out, back to Latvia, back to Europe, back to safety,” Krecia said at the Home for Rescued Animals in Lviv, where she was loading up three vans with the first batch of dogs and cats.

She couldn’t have remained in Latvia and done nothing, she told Reuters. “If I have an opportunity, if I have a large van, if I can bring food here and take some animals back to safety, I can’t stay at home.”

The Lviv sanctuary previously dealt with wild animals and strays, but since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, it has taken in more animals from people fleeing the violence.

WATCH | Donetsk refugees bid emotional farewell to their Latvia-bound cat at Lviv animal shelter:

Donetsk refugees bid emotional farewell to their Latvia-bound cat at Lviv animal shelter

Natalia and Volodymir Horobets bid an emotional farewell to their beloved pet cat, Charly. The Home for Rescued Animals was previously a home for wild animals and strays but since the fighting broke out they have taken in more animals from those fleeing the violence. Pets that are left here will get the chance to go to safety in Latvia, thanks to the help of Rasma Krecia, a volunteer from Latvia. 5:03

Now dogs, cats and even a pet rat jostle for attention alongside foxes and storks.

While Reuters was at the centre, a Lviv resident brought in half a dozen puppies that her friend had found in a box at the train station three days before, where thousands of internally displaced people pass through on a daily basis.

As Krecia prepared to fit cages to her vans, the Horobets family said their final farewells to their cat.

“Charly, my little one, you will come back home, but you need to stay in a different place for now; you will be good there,” said Natalia Horobets.

Natalia Horobets who fled the Russian invasion from Mariupol, is comforted by Latvian caretaker Rama Kreica after handing over her cat Charly on Monday at an animal shelter in Lviv in western Ukraine. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

Her husband Volodymir said they did not know what their future held: “We hope that Ukraine will endure and win and we will come back home.”

Year-old twin lions arrive in Belgium

While those animals headed north to Latvia, others were taken west to to shelter in Belgium and one in Poland.

A Belgian animal shelter has taken in two young lions evacuated from Ukraine, which it says Russian troops had threatened to shoot when they encountered them outside Kyiv.

The lions arrived at the Natuurhulpcentrum shelter, one of few able to provide immediate care to wild animals, late on Tuesday. The shelter will hold them in quarantine for three months and nurse them back to health before starting to look for permanent homes, such as sanctuaries in Africa.

The twin male lions Tsar and Jamil, born in January 2021, arrived in Belgium late Tuesday. It is expected that a more permanent home will eventually be arranged for them. (Clement Rossignol/Reuters)

The shelter said the lion twins were abnormally small when rescued, lacking essential elements such as calcium and malnourished after being fed expired meat, while X-rays revealed bone fractures.

The twin males Tsar and Jamil, born in January 2021, were due to be transferred to Belgium in May after the Ukrainian authorities seized them from private owners who had mistreated them.

However, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine meant the transfer had to happen immediately, with shelling of Kyiv, where they were held, causing them stress and injury as they jumped against their cages.

Frederik Thoelen, a biologist who has worked at the Belgian shelter since 2007, recounted the lions’ tough five-day journey from Kyiv on Feb. 26 to Poland’s Poznan zoo, beginning with an encounter with the Russian military outside the Ukrainian capital.

“The Russian army, they pointed their guns at the carers. They threatened to kill the animals. The carers said ‘no those are our animals. If you touch the animals you first have to touch us’,” Thoelen told Reuters on Wednesday.

“So they risked literally their lives to save the animals. Eventually the Russian army let them through. Then they had a long, long way to the Polish border. They had to drive through different small routes to avoid the traffic jams,” he continued.

Polish zoo takes in array of animals

Late last week, a truck carrying six lions, six tigers, two caracals and an African wild dog from a sanctuary east of Kyiv reached Poland after a two-day drive. 

The owner of the sanctuary had asked for help from Poznan zoo in western Poland to get the animals to safety. 

Tigers from a sanctuary near Kyiv, Ukraine are seen at Poznan Zoo in Poznan, Poland on March 4 after a two-day journey to safety. (Piotr Skornicki/Agencja Wyborcza.pl/Reuters)

“They had to go a long way around to avoid Zhytomyr and other bombardment zones. They had to turn back many times, because all the roads were blown up, full of holes, impossible to pass with such cargo, which is why it took so long,” said Poznan zoo spokesperson Malgorzata Chodyla.

“But here they are, and we just can’t believe it.”

Helping the driver were three older men with no experience in handling wild animals, and who had now gone back to Kyiv to defend their city, she said.

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