Ukrainian risks her life to rescue wild animals from war

Natalia Popova has discovered a brand new objective in life: Rescuing wild animals and pets from the devastation wrought by the war in Ukraine.

"They are my life," says the 50-year-old, stroking a light-furred lioness like a kitten. From inside an enclosure, the animal rejoices on the consideration, mendacity on her again and stretching her paws up towards her caretaker.

Popova, in cooperation with the animal safety group UA Animals, has already saved greater than 300 animals from the war; 200 of them went overseas and 100 discovered new properties in western Ukraine, which is taken into account safer. Many of them have been wild animals who have been saved as pets at non-public properties earlier than their house owners fled Russian shelling and missiles.

Popova's shelter within the Kyiv area village of Chubynske now homes 133 animals. It's a broad menagerie, together with 13 lions, a leopard, a tiger, three deer, wolves, foxes, raccoons and roe deer, in addition to domesticated animals like horses, donkeys, goats, rabbits, canine, cats and birds.

The animals awaiting evacuation to Poland have been rescued from scorching spots similar to jap Ukraine's Kharkiv and Donetsk areas, which see every day bombardments and lively combating. The Ukrainian troopers who let Popova know when animals close to the entrance traces need assistance joke that she has many lives, like a cat.

"No one wants to go there. Everyone is afraid. I am also scared, but I go anyway," she stated.

Often she is trembling within the automobile on her means to rescue one other wild animal.

"I feel very sorry for them. I can imagine the stress animals are under because of the war, and no one can help them," Popova stated.

In most circumstances, she is aware of nothing concerning the animals she rescues, neither their names and ages nor their house owners.

"Animals don't introduce themselves when they come to us," she joked.

For the primary months of the war, Popova drove to war scorching spots alone, however a pair from UA Animals not too long ago supplied to transport and assist her.

"Our record is an evacuation in 16 minutes, when we saved a lion between Kramatorsk and Sloviansk," Popova stated. An economist by schooling with no formal veterinary expertise, she administered anesthesia on the lion as a result of the animal had to be put to sleep earlier than it might be transported.

Popova says she has at all times been very connected to animals. In kindergarten, she constructed homes for worms and talked to birds. In 1999, she opened the primary non-public horse membership in Ukraine. But it wasn't till 4 years in the past that she saved her first lion.

An group towards slaughterhouses approached her with a request for assist saving a lion with a damaged backbone. She didn’t understand how she might assist as a result of her experience was in horses. But when she noticed a photograph of the massive cat, Popova couldn’t resist.

She constructed an enclosure and took within the lion the subsequent morning, paying the proprietor. Later, Popova created a social media web page titled "Help the Lioness," and other people started to write asking for assist saving different wild animals.

Yana, the primary lioness she rescued, has change into a member of the family since she couldn’t discover a new residence due to a incapacity. Popova took care of her till she died two weeks in the past.

The shelter is only a non permanent cease for the animals. Popova rehabilitates them after which appears for brand spanking new properties for them. She feels a particular reference to every massive cat, however says she doesn’t thoughts letting them go.

"I love them, and I understand that I do not have the resources to provide them with the comfortable life they deserve," says Popova.

At first, she bankrolled the shelter with her personal funds from the horse enterprise. But since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, the horse enterprise has not been worthwhile. With greater than $14,000 a month wanted to maintain animals wholesome and fed, she has turned to borrowing, and seen her debt develop to $200,000.

She will get some cash from UA Animals and from donations, however worries about how to maintain the whole lot collectively have saved her up at night time.

"But I will still borrow money, go to hot spots and save animals. I can't say no to them," she stated.

Popova sends all her animals to the Poznań Zoo in Poland, which helps her evacuate them and discover them new properties. Some animals have already been transported to Spain, France and South Africa. Her subsequent venture is sending 12 lions to Poland this week.

With no finish to the combating in sight, Popova is aware of she is going to nonetheless be wanted.

"My mission in this war is to save wild animals," she says.

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