Hundreds of animals died in their cages at a zoo in Russian-occupied Ukraine when explosions ripped through the nearby Nova Kakhovka dam on Tuesday, flooding the surrounding area.
According to UAnimals, an animal rights NGO that has helped shelter and rescue animals during the Russian invasion, nearly all of the 260 animals in the zoo — dubbed “Fairytale Díbrova” — died.
“People were trying to save these animals for months. And then, just in one day because of the actions of Russians, 260 animals died,” Olga Chevganiuk, COO of the organization, told POLITICO, calling the incident “a real catastrophe.”
Speaking in Kyiv on Wednesday, Ukraine’s Environment Minister Ruslan Strilets also confirmed that “it was not possible to save the animals in the Kazkova Dibrova zoo,” adding that “only ducks and swans were able to save themselves.”
“Prior to the tragedy the zoo was home to monkeys, raccoons, a donkey, ponies, coypus, various birds, porcupines, groundhogs, turtles, and many other species. The occupiers do not value the lives of either animals or people,” he added.
Russian forces — which have occupied the left bank of the Dnipro river since February last year — deny any animals died following Tuesday’s flooding and claim the zoo doesn’t exist. “No animals were killed, because our city has no zoo,” a spokesperson for the occupied city’s emergency services told Russia’s state-controlled news agency TASS. They also blamed the Ukrainian military for blowing up the dam.
According to reports, Russian troops had mined the area around the zoo over the past year. Access routes were blocked and a checkpoint installed at the entrance of the zoo, making it impossible for workers to release the animals from their cages when the dam ruptured early Tuesday morning. UAnimals’ Chevganiuk confirmed these allegations.
“This is terrible grief, terrible pain,” the zoo posted on Facebook, urging locals to look after any surviving animals who may have escaped and survived the flooding.
Volodymyr Topchyi, president of the Ukrainian zoos association, said in a statement Wednesday that the dam explosion will cause “colossal damage” to “many ecosystems of the Kherson region.”
He added that he’s concerned “about the fate of the animals, both domestic and wild, that ended up in the flood zone” but that the association is ready to provide assistance to help the animals affected by the flood.
Kyiv has warned that the collapse of the hydropower station and the flooding that followed could be “the worst environmental disaster in Europe since Chernobyl.”
The war has already taken a heavy toll on Ukraine’s natural resources and wildlife. According to Kyiv’s environment ministry, more than 2 trillion hryvnia (€53 billion) of damage has already been wrought.
The deaths of animals are “not just a result of the war” but one of its “aims,” with Russian forces targeting them on purpose, said Chevganiuk. “Millions of domestic animals die and the nature is destroyed.”
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