“They do not like it when there are no people.” Director of the Odessa Zoo for life during the war, animal grief and the needs of the institution

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Odessa Zoo (Photo: NV)

The Odessa Zoo stopped receiving visitors on February 24, following a large-scale Russian invasion of the country. Nevertheless, today it continues to operate under new conditions – under the sounds of sirens, bombings and with constant thinking about what will happen tomorrow.

About how the war changed the daily life of the zoo and its employees – in the material NV Odessa.

For almost a month, the Odessa Zoo is closed to visitors. At present, there are up to one and a half thousand animals in it, says the director of the institution, Igor Belyakov. About 500 more were brought by the townspeople when they left Odessa – some stayed forever, as they spoke directly, and some promised to take them later. Most of them, thanks to the zoo workers, have already found new homes. This has significantly alleviated the status quo, Belyakov explains, since even now pet cages are placed in the corridors, on the stairs and in the buildings of the building.

For almost a month, since the beginning of the war, Igor Belyakov has spent the night at his desk, in a rollaway bed, near his desk. As he explains, he fears that at night a missile could hit the area, scare or injure animals and he will not be around. Since there is a curfew in the city and the manager does not have a special card, it may be too late to arrive in the morning, he says.

“The pace of our lives has changed. Very much. I have been sleeping in the zoo since the first day of the war. I’m afraid something will happen and I will not be able to get in here. The animal may be injured or the casing damaged, it will need to be caught and treated. If I’m home, how do I get here? And you have to react immediately, not in the morning. Therefore, a group of people who spend the night here remain in the zoo. So we are ready for any conditions “, adds the director.

In general, Belyakov calls the situation at the zoo satisfactory. Workers formed stocks of food, water and medicine. We agreed on the required number of generators and fuel if there is no electricity. Money – almost a million hryvnia – was raised in a matter of days. Only oats are missing so far, but the townspeople are already bringing it. Slowly, Belyakov adds, his reserves will be replenished.

“We have not had any serious problems yet. “Compared to other zoos, for example, in Gostomel or near Kharkov, everything is fine with us,” he says.

During the day, the animals eat a lot: about 100 kg of meat products, fish and hay, as well as up to 200 kg of fruits and vegetables. At the same time, they are gradually getting used to dry food, which was given by colleagues from European zoos in Warsaw, Tallinn, Prague and Berlin. It will be given when a normal diet is difficult to achieve. Among those who eat a lot, Belyakov names the Wendy elephant, tigers and lions.

“Animals understand that there are no humans. They have already seen it during the severe quarantine due to the coronavirus. They remember it and do not like it when there are no people. Otherwise, we did not change anything: the diet was not reduced, the portions remained the same. “The staff is close,” Belyakov said.

About 160 workers now care for all the animals. Only three, women with children, left the city. This, the director assures, allows the foundation to continue to work at full capacity and to care for the animals as much as possible. As for their evacuation, the zoo already has an answer to this question.

“Having assessed all the risks, we came to the conclusion that the safest place for our animals is Odessa, our zoo. So we do not intend to go anywhere. This road has not yet been experienced. And I know my animals as relatives – someone is old, someone is aggressive, someone is shy. Some people may be given sleeping pills and some may not. So we live in Odessa. ”

Currently, most of the animals walk in the open. Zoo staff claim that only zebras, lions, monkeys, antelopes, elephants and some ungulates are afraid of sirens and explosions. They are often closed so as not to get angry.

As for his own feelings during the war, Belyakov notes: despite the funny picture, the circumstances made him more aggressive.

“It changed in a second. Hatred and a terrible desire to catch a machine gun erupt from inside me. Of course, I understand that I can reap the maximum benefit here at the zoo. After all, everyone has their own front and the war depends to a large extent on the rear. Therefore, I direct all negative thoughts at work so that they do not devour me from within.

He adds that he trusts the Ukrainian army, so he stays in Odessa, at his place of work.

“I’m not a politician, but it seems to me that, despite the horror we have to endure, there is one main thing – Ukraine must not go for peace at any cost. We must win this war. And, it would be better if the war ended in Moscow, with a blue-yellow flag in the square. Do not make any concessions. After all, our whole future life will depend on it. “

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