Lion Cubs From Ukraine Find A Safe Home In Minnesota Sanctuary

As the brilliant but depressing Pride of Baghdad documented in horrific detail, war isn’t just hard on humans, it’s hell on animals too.

The real-life lions in that drama were left to fend for themselves when American and coalition aircraft began pounding Baghdad in 2003, and their harrowing journey began when an errant missile literally opened a path for them to walk right out of the otherwise abandoned zoo.

As Russian soldiers began pouring over the border into Ukraine and Moscow’s missiles and artillery struck population centers earlier this year, Ukrainian activists sought to avoid a similar fate for their animals and worked on getting wildlife out of the zoos and the country, but there was only so much capacity at sanctuaries in countries like neighboring Poland.

At the same time, remaining in Ukraine was untenable. After Russian forces suffered a series of humiliating ground defeats to a Ukrainian counteroffensive — fueled by weapons systems and tactical intelligence from the US and other NATO countries — Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered heavy and sustained missile strikes on civilian targets and critical infrastructure in already war-torn Ukraine.

One of his goals is to completely destroy the Ukrainian power grid via missile attacks on coal and gas plants as well as electricity substations, perhaps believing Ukraine might give up its opposition as its population freezes during the region’s harsh winters. The attacks have reached far into Ukraine, hitting the capital of Kyiv and cities like Lviv, which is more than 1,000 km from Russian territory, and some missiles have even disrupted power to neighboring Moldova. The Ukrainian people have not given up despite already enduring months of Russian artillery shelling, occupation and brutality.

But without electricity or reliable access to basics like clean water, caring for the remaining animals has become an impossibility as most people struggle just to keep warm, fed and hydrated.

Ukraine lion cubs
One of the cubs rescued from Ukraine, now living at The Wildlife Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota. Credit: The Wildlife Sanctuary

As a result, a quartet of lion cubs born several months into the war had to endure an epic, 36-hour journey that took them from Ukraine to Poland and finally to Sandstone, Minnesota, where they’re easing into their permanent home at The Wildlife Sanctuary. The facility is a non-profit and entirely funded by private donations, which means it’s not open to the public. Animals aren’t put on display, and their enclosures are built entirely for them, not for the benefit of visitor sight lines.

The lion cubs, who are all orphans, have already been indelibly impacted by the war.

“These cubs have endured more in their short lives than any animal should,” said Meredith Whitney of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which facilitated the transport of the young cats some 5,000 miles from Ukraine to the central US.

The cubs, all between four and five months old, are named Taras, Stefania, Lesya and Prada. Taras is male while the others are female.

“We’ve cared for 300 big cats at TWS and are acutely aware of the trauma many big cats around the world experience,” said Tammy Thies, the sanctuary’s founder. “From the moment IFAW reached out to request our partnership, we knew these cubs had found their forever home at our sanctuary. They have a custom, open space to explore and soft grass or hay to rest their tired bodies on. Because of the generosity of our supporters, we can provide lifelong care to big cats at our sanctuary.”

Ukraine lion cubs
Bottle babies: The cubs are all between four and five months old and were not weaned before they were orphaned. Credit: The Wildlife Sanctuary


Pride of Baghdad is a 2006 graphic novel based on the true story of four lions who escaped Baghdad Zoo during coalition airstrikes in 2003. It’s poignant, beautifully illustrated and wonderfully told, but also harrowing and deeply upsetting.

3 thoughts on “Lion Cubs From Ukraine Find A Safe Home In Minnesota Sanctuary”

  1. Thanks for this article! I’m so glad the lion cubs are in a safe place now. Is it too much to hope the war will end soon so Ukraine can rebuild and its people and animals can thrive again?
    I’ll keep the sanctuary and IFAW in mind for donations.
    The Pride of Baghdad … heartbreaking. Read it years ago and cried.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m no expert, but I’ve been reading/watching translated Russian state media stuff in addition to the usual western press and NGO sources.

      The rhetoric in Russia is absolutely insane. They’re on TV openly talking about herding Ukrainians into buildings and burning them alive, and drowning Ukrainian children in rivers.

      They are telling their domestic audience that the reason they’re being pushed back is because they’re fighting the US, Poland and other NATO countries. In other words, instead of the truth that the abysmally equipped and trained Russian military has been good only for killing civilians, they’re painting this picture of Mighty Russia taking on the US, Ukraine, Poland and a dozen other countries at once.

      And they’re threatening to nuke literally everyone. Vladimir Solovyov, Putin’s pet propagandist and TV host, threatens to nuke a new country every day.

      They’re also in full-on panic mode and are pointing fingers everywhere but at Putin. The people on Russian state TV (Solovyov, Olga Skabeeva, Margarita Simonyan and her husband, Dmitry Kiselev, etc., are the same elites who have lost yachts, villas and had their overseas accounts frozen via sanctions.

      Lastly, I think Putin himself realizes he won’t survive if he can’t sell some sort of victory, while at the same time the Russian military has been basically destroyed except for its ability to keep lobbing missiles and artillery.

      So how does this situation end? How does Putin save face and survive? On the other side, Zelensky wants Russia out of every inch of Ukrainian territory before peace negotiations can move forward.

      Amazing how “Kyiv will fall in 48 hours” has become a 10-month war of attrition that has killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions and created worldwide food shortages, all for the “legacy” of one small man with ambitions of being a new czar.


  2. Mee-yow those lovely cubss are so lucky!! They landed on their pawss….butt wee can emagin they are scarred bye all THE noise an unfire an chaos!
    Wee support IFAW an wee admire efurryone who werkss there!
    An mee lovess Minny-soda best beecause of mee Perryrin Falcon frendss an Minny-soda Vikin’ss Football teem 😉
    Wee gotta find “Pride of Baghdad” an reed it…..
    Guud Luck Lesya an Taras an Stefanie an Prada ❤ ❤ ❤ ❤
    ***purrss*** BellaDharma an ❤ BellaSita Mum

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s