By Rostyslav Averchuk
Lviv, Ukraine, Nov 21 (EFE).- A sanctuary in western Ukraine has rescued bears from the conflict zones of the Russian invasion and continues to operate despite the effects of war, including widespread power outages.
In early September, a unit of Ukrainian soldiers was making a sweep of a recently liberated zone of Bakhmut, a city on the eastern frontlines that bore witness to some of the war’s heaviest clashes.
There, in the yard of a semi-destroyed building, they came across a cage that contained a large brown bear.
Malnourished and stressed by the lack of space and constant shelling, the bear clearly needed help. With his owner nowhere to be found, he was transported to the Domazhyr bear sanctuary near Lviv, in the far west of Ukraine.
Several months have passed and Bakhmut, as the bear is now called, has settled in.
“Each bear gets around 25 kilograms of food every day, mostly vegetables and fruit, as well as fish and meat,· says Andriy Churylo, who helps feed the animals.
He hopes that Bakhmut will soon begin to hibernate for the winter — as many of the bears at the center already have done — by using the burrows prepared by the staff.
“We do everything we can to provide them a stress-free and stimulating environment,” Olya Fedoriv, head of marketing at the center, tells Efe.
“Of course, it is still not ideal for them. But, being born in captivity, they lack the skills they would need to survive in the wild”, Olya adds.
“How can anyone do harm to such a beautiful animal?,” she asks as another bear, Potap, seems to listen in.
The sanctuary near Lviv was founded in 2016 and has provided shelter to dozens of bears rescued from circuses and hunting stations where bears were routinely beaten, malnourished and often kept in squalid conditions.
Together with other NGOs, it has gradually managed to improve the animal protection situation. Animal circuses have been prohibited and the hunting stations, already illegal, have also found it harder to keep operating.
The Russian invasion has presented an altogether different kind of a challenge.
As well as rescuing the bear from Bakhmut, the sanctuary also hosted seven bears that were urgently delivered from a similar animal shelter near Kyiv when the Ukrainian capital was at risk of being encircled by the Russian troops.
“Getting a vet with a tranquilizer gun, preparing the bears for transportation through the dozens of checkpoints in the country in war was not easy,” says Fedoriv.
Three of the bears eventually moved abroad, like thousands of other animals from all over the country. Four returned to their homes near the capital after Russian forces withdrew.
Funded by the Austrian-based animal welfare foundation Four Paws and also earning money through its cafe and shop, the Lviv sanctuary continues to provide a safe environment for 31 bears. EFE