Tag: Ukraine

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-1
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.

Sunday Cats: Larry Welcomes A New Servant To No. 10 Downing, More Cats Rescued From Ukraine

Larry the Cat, official mouser in chief at 10 Downing Street, is now on his fifth prime minister.

After the disastrous and short-lived tenure of his predecessor, Lizz Truss, new PM Rishi Sunak officially moved into the UK prime minister’s residence earlier this week — and walked right past Larry without acknowledging him:

Note the reporter doing a live broadcast, which you can hear in the background.

“He is arriving now…the new prime minister of the United Kingdom!” the reporter said as Larry padded his way down the sidewalk and stopped.

Failing to acknowledge the true power at No. 10 is an ill portend for Sunak and the UK. What kind of person doesn’t greet his boss on his first official day of work? Larry will get him sorted in short time, undoubtedly.

Big and small cats from Ukraine find homes in Poland and the US

During the opening phase of the Ukraine war, there was an Indian national webcasting from Donbas, constantly asking for money to keep his “pet jaguars” — actually leopards — safe from the advancing Russians.

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It was one of the most infuriating aspects of the young war. The guy was keeping the big cats in an apartment, referred to them as his “children” despite not even knowing their species or how to care for them, and he lied to his audience, claiming he’d purchased them from the Kyiv Zoo. He didn’t. Zoos don’t sell big cats to people. He got them on the illegal wildlife market.

I don’t know if those particular leopards are among the big cats rescued from Kyiv in recent weeks, but a new report says illegally kept pets are among the felids who were rescued from Kyiv and Odessa — two of the hardest-hit cities — and brought to sanctuaries in Poland.

That’s good news. Hopefully any remaining wild animals are taken out of the hands of private owners and put in sanctuaries where they belong. Big cats don’t belong in a war zone, and they don’t belong in private hands.

Meanwhile, Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Washington, D.C., has house cats from Ukraine up for adoption.

Most of the little ones were rescued from warn-torn areas in the eastern part of the country, and the rest were moved from a Ukrainian shelter just in time, as the building was hit by Russian missiles shortly after the animals were cleared out. Some of the cats were found wandering amid the ruins and destruction in towns and villages that had been hit hard by the invading Russians, Homeward Trails’ Sue Bell told WTOP.

The US non-profit will continue to work with a shelter in Ukraine, which rescues cats from heavily impacted areas.

“Right now, Homeward Trails is the only organization taking cats from this new Ukraine shelter,” Bell said. “And so, for every cat that we took from the shelter, that not only gave that cat an opportunity for a home, but it created a space in that shelter for the team to go out there and bring more cats in.”

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A belated happy National Cat Day!

There are so many cat days, I lose track, so apologies for missing this one.

Happy National Cat Day to all PITB readers and your beautiful kitties! It’s a good excuse to spoil our little buddies and remind them how much we appreciate them.

Changes to PITB

You may have noticed, if you don’t have ad blockers installed on your browser, that I enabled ads in mid-September. I strongly dislike ads and I don’t like clutter on the site, but after three years of operating and publishing PITB, I decided to enable a limited number of ads in an effort to get PITB to pay for itself and hopefully a few upgrades that would be helpful in making the site more accessible, while also providing the tools to expand PITB’s content offerings.

Please send us your feedback. If you see an ad that covers the content, let me know. If you see an inappropriate ad, let me know. You should see ads for cat-related products and/or ads for things you may have expressed interest in before — due to the way ad networks use cookies and data from services you use, which is perfectly normal — but I want to make sure no one’s having a bad experience here.

Little Ukrainian Girl Whose Family Fled To The US Is Reunited With Beloved Cat

Call me cheesy, but despite the polarization in our country, despite our disgusting political system and despite the fact that we’ve got plenty of flaws, America is still a good place to live and most Americans are good people.

I’m reminded of how lucky we have it here when I see photos of Uyghurs lined up by the thousands with their dead eyes in China’s concentration camps, and when I see clips of ghoulish Putin cronies on Russian state TV gleefully cackling at footage of destroyed Ukrainian hospitals, and laughing as they talk about drowning Ukrainian children.

I’m reminded of it in a much more hopeful way when I read stories like this one about 10-year-old Ukrainian Agnessa Bezhenar, whose family fled their war-torn country, spent time in Romania as refugees and eventually ended up in California.

Not only did Agnessa have to leave the only country she’d ever known and adjust to two foreign countries, and not only does she have to learn a new language and adjust to a new school, but her heart’s been broken since she had to leave behind her cat, Arsenii.

Agnessa with Arsenii
Agnessa was overcome with emotion after reuniting with Arsenii. Credit: Maria Bezhenar

Thanks to the efforts of two kind flight attendants, a volunteer at an animal rescue and her supportive new community in Cloverdale, Cali., Agnessa was finally reunited with Arsenii, a silver tabby with decidedly Buddesian looks. (No wonder Agnessa loves him so much!)

Geoffry Peters, the Californian who provided his second home to the Bezhenar family, also helped arrange to have Arsenii brought to the US.

“Can you imagine your life being turned upside down and you have to leave a country you’ve never left before, ride on an airplane you’ve never done before? Arrive in a new country, learn a language,” Peters told CBS News. “I mean, it’s like starting from scratch, only it’s on steroids. It’s like everything moving 100 miles an hour.”

Peters connected with the family through a program that helps Ukrainian refugees find homes in the US.

“Maria [Bezhenar] sent an email saying we’ve been matched and we have a family of six,” Peters said. “And so I went to my son and I said instead of renting this house, which he was planning on doing, would you be willing to donate it for two years?”

A flight attendant the Bezhenars met en route to the US connected the family with a fellow flight attendant who does animal rescue and recommended a local animal non-profit. When the staff at that rescue were told about Agnessa’s predicament, they contacted a colleague who was vacationing in Greece. That colleague agreed to travel to Bucharest, where Agnessa’s uncle had stayed behind and was caring for Arsenii. (A Ukrainian version of the Greek name Arsenios.)

The colleague brought Arsenii to California, a trip that took human and cat from Bucharest to Greece to Montreal, then Seattle and finally to Cloverdale. In all, Arsenii traveled more than 7,000 miles to be reunited with Agnessa.

waiting for Arsenii
Agnessa and her older sisters waiting for Arsenii to arrive at the airport. Credit: Maria

Much like the Bezhenar family had arrived in the US to find Cloverdale locals holding up signs welcoming them to the US, the Bezhenars greeted Arsenii with their own signs — and lots of tears — when his long journey was finally over.

It’s been a rough year filled with trauma for the Bezhenar family, but they’ve found a new community, new friends like Peters, and have the support of people in Cloverdale, who worked together to make sure the Bezhenar’s new home was furnished when they moved in. They even got a piano for the home after hearing the kids liked to play.

After her daughter was reunited with Arsenii — and began sleeping better with the comfort of the little guy snoozing next to her every night — her mother Maria reflected on her family’s new community in Cloverdale. Continue reading “Little Ukrainian Girl Whose Family Fled To The US Is Reunited With Beloved Cat”

This Good Boy Has Helped Defuse 150 Russian Explosives In Ukraine

This is a cat blog, but every once in a while Little Buddy the Cat magnanimously allows us to issue well-deserved props to dogs who do extraordinary things, like Patron, a two-year-old Jack Russell terrier in Ukraine.

The bomb-sniffing good boy has so far sniffed out 150 dangerous explosives, including landmines and live ordnance left behind by the retreating Russians, according to Ukraine’s foreign ministry. He finds the explosives, tells his human buddies, and the de-miners go to work on neutralizing the devices.

Not only does Patron help save lives at a crucial time in the war, when Russian forces are covering their retreat with mines and other traps, he’s also a handsome little guy and he happily cuddles with kids who could really use a little brightness after what they’ve endured. Is there anything Patron can’t do?

Patron and other bomb-sniffing dogs perform a critical task as they help their human handlers sweep cities and towns before civilians can return. While some “experts” predicted Ukraine would fall in days, the country has shocked the world by not only enduring the Russian invasion, but pushing the invaders back after inflicting heavy losses on them.

Making home safe for returning refugees

As a result of their failure Russian units are consolidating in eastern Ukraine, and some Ukrainians are cautiously returning to what’s left of their cities and neighborhoods for the first time since the Feb. 24 invasion. Since Russia abandoned efforts to take Kyiv and the entire country, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been returning home every day, according to a United Nations report.

While Kyiv was a ghost town just a few weeks ago, people have returned to the streets, bakeries and cafes have reopened, and churches are holding services again. Patron and his buddies are making sure hidden mines and other traps are neutralized before people come home, avoiding further tragedy after so much loss.

Patron has been helping clear Chernihiv and its surrounding environs. The northern Ukrainian city, which is about 150 kilometers northeast of Kyiv, has been designated a “Hero City” by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The title has also been given to cities like Kharkiv, Volnovakha and Mariupol, and marks sites where Ukrainians dug in to defend their homes despite the brutality of the Russian invasion.

“One day, Patron’s story will be turned into a film, but for now, he is faithfully performing his professional duties,” staffers at Ukraine’s Centre for Strategic Communications and Information Security wrote on Twitter when they shared a video of Patron last month.

Cats have your back, dawgs!

Buddy the Cat salutes Patron and says cats “would totally would help sniff out explosives, but the dogs seem to have a handle on that and we don’t want to steal anyone’s thunder.”

Instead, Buddy said, he’s sure the felines of Ukraine are engaged in some other kind of dangerous, patriotic work, such as reminding humans when it’s dinner time, keeping seats warm and providing delightful company to the war-weary.

People On Social Media Think A Cat Is Helping Ukrainian Soldiers Dodge Russian Sniper Fire

According to the legend of the “Panther of Kharkiv,” a vengeful house cat has been using his superior feline vision to spot the telltale red laser dots from sniper scopes and warn Ukrainian soldiers they’re targets before snipers can get off a shot.

I imagine it goes something like this:

“Dude, there’s a red dot on your face.”

“You said that 42 times in the last hour.”

“Well, it’s true. Give me my treat as a reward, otherwise I might forget to inform you next time.”

“If I find out you’re lying…”

“Treat, now! Thanks…Mmmm, that’s good. Oh look, there’s another red dot on your head! Quick, take cover and give me another snack!”

Either that or kitty is just launching himself at Ukrainian foreheads, chasing the ever elusive red dot.

Of course you don’t need us to tell you this viral social media story is nonsense, do you?

ukrainian-army-cat
Mmmmm, Elmer’s!

Hundreds of thousands of people have proven themselves more credulous, and continue to share the Panther of Kharkiv posts on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, TikTok and other platforms despite warnings that the story isn’t true. The accompanying photo, while real, is from 2018.

“Complete garbage,” is how Liam Collins, a West Point faculty member and former defense advisor to Ukraine, put it.

Others see these stories as evidence of new frontiers for psychological operations, propaganda and counter-propaganda.

Psy-ops have long been a part of war, from Alexander the Great’s armies leaving giant-size helmets and breastplates in the ruins of conquered cities to seed tales of impossible huge — and unbeatable — Greek invaders, to a CIA-devised plan to drop condoms on Soviet territory.

“Condoms?!?” you ask. “How exactly do condoms help a war effort?”

Because they were intentionally manufactured in ludicrously huge sizes marked “Medium” and “Small” with “MADE IN USA” prominently stamped on the packaging, which would be left for the enemy to discover and, the thinking went, to kill their morale. (There are also reports that US psyops left footlong condoms on the Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam, leading terrified Vietcong to hide their women.)

And, famously, US Army psyops drove around in up-armored Humvees during 2004’s bloody battle of Fallujah, blasting the South Park creators’ “America, F— Yeah!” from military sound systems as Marines engaged insurgent forces.

The point is to raise friendly morale, destroy enemy morale, or both, and it makes perfect sense that psyops would move into the digital domain in a war in which cyber warfare has become a major part of the hostilities.

The Panther of Kharkiv, like tall tales of wars past, collapses under scrutiny.

As Snopes correctly notes, snipers don’t actually use little red laser dots. Not only would they be counter-productive at the distances snipers work, when things like atmospheric conditions and wind speed come into play, but using lasers would alert the enemy that they’re being targeted and give away the location of the sniper(s).

The entire point of a sniper is to take out targets over long distances without giving themselves away. They’re not equipped for routine firefights, and the last thing they want is to be stuck somewhere relying on a sidearm while riflemen flank them. That’s asking to get killed.

The second absurdity is the idea that cats can be reliably trained to do anything of military value. The CIA already tried that in the 1960s with Project Acoustic Kitty, when they outfitted cats with listening devices and released them in the vicinity of Soviet targets in an attempt to eavesdrop on their conversations.

Twenty million dollars, a few years and several failed attempts later, the CIA concluded training cats as spies was “not practical.” The problem, of course, is that you can train cats all you want, and maybe the cats even have the best intentions, but then…Oh hai is that a bird? Is that a bird? Yes, it is! I’m chasing the bird! Wait, birdie! Oooh, what’s this on the ground? A bag with a half-eaten burger? How delicious! …

Cats are easily distracted, easily bored, driven to do their own thing, and not really open to suggestions when it comes to telling them where they should walk or lounge.

The Panther of Kharkiv joins The Ghost of Kyiv as a creation of social media, wish-fulfillment figures of legend for the age of information. The latter has been earning praise as a supposed ace fighter pilot who has been terrorizing Russian Su-35 pilots from the cockpit of a Soviet-era MiG-29.

A surprisingly realistic video of the legendary pilot has been making the rounds on social media, but the footage is actually from Digital Combat Simulator (DCS) World, a game made by developers so obsessive that they even model things like the effect of recoil from mounted guns on aircraft operation.

In the viral video, a Su-35 screams overhead as two Ukranians chatter in the background. A shaky camera tracks the jet until a missile fired from out of the frame blasts it to pieces. The MiG-29 follows a millisecond later, dipping its wings in a celebratory gesture as one of the observers says “Oh shit!”

When a simulator looks like this, it’s easier to understand how people could mistake out-of-context, long-range footage for the real thing:

Now if you put a cat in that footage, wearing goggles and flying wing, people would know it’s fake. On second thought, maybe they wouldn’t.