Conflicts & War

Fate of Ukrainian nature reserve uncertain after Russian takeover

By Rostyslav Averchuk

Lviv, Ukraine, Mar 26 (EFE).- The future of one of Ukraine’s most important nature reserves is under threat after Russia took over its administration.

Located in Ukraine’s southern Kherson region, the Askania-Nova reserve is home to 110 square kilometers of the virgin steppe, a science and research base, a zoological park and important species such as the rare Przewalski’s horse.

Its semi-wild animals rely on the qualified staff at the reserve, who remained there even after Russian forces seized control of the area.

The park warned in a statement on Friday that its future preservation could no longer be guaranteed by the Ukrainian administration.

The first deputy head of the Russian presidential administration Sergey Kiriyenko visited the reserve with the Russian-installed leader of the region Vladimir Saldo on March 20, the reserve’s director Viktor Shapoval, told Efe.

They were joined by an unfamiliar person, who turned out to be the director of the Russian-registered entity that was created on March 7 to take control of the reserve.

“Up until now, we have managed to work as part of the Ukrainian state system, despite being occupied by the Russians, in very complicated conditions,” Shapoval said.

In doing so, the reserve mostly relied on donations from Ukrainian and foreign individuals and organizations. The bulk of the money went to cover the cost of feeding the animals.

“We have had every kind of aircraft flying above us, for the first time since World War II, which led to injuries to the animals who ran in panic,” he added.

The reserve has also seen some of its equipment confiscated by the Russian troops that have stayed on the territory of the reserve since autumn.

Shapoval, who left the occupied territory with part of the team and family one day before its proclaimed annexation by Russia, says he had been approached by the representatives of the Russian authorities earlier yet was adamant he would not collaborate with them.

So far, the reserve has managed to escape the kind of destruction that has been dealt on other occupied territories around the frontline

Shapoval, who hopes Ukraine’s troops will push the Russian forces from the territory, said he was worried about Moscow’s troops mining the zone in preparation for a possible counterattack.

“This problem can take decades to resolve,” Shapovalhe said.

He also fears that the animals could be transferred out of the park by the Russians as they did with the zoo and museums in the city of Kherson before Ukraine recaptured the regional capital.

He is also worried about the fate of the reserve’s personnel.

“It is people who are going to restore the reserve once it is liberated,” he explains.

The administration is currently collecting donations to support those who left their jobs and refuse to collaborate with the Russians. He commends all those who worked for so long there, in the “hellish conditions” and under pressure to accept Russian citizenship.

“While many simply do not have other choice and lack the resources needed to leave the occupied territory, it takes patriotism and bravery to keep taking care of nature in such circumstances”. EFE

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