АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk
28 August 2022
During the first three months of the full-scale war, eight rockets landed on the territory of the Mykolaiv Zoo. Fortunately, no employees or animals were injured. Meanwhile, the zoo’s collection includes more than 400 species, which is a total of almost 4 thousand animals. How does the zoo live under sirens and explosions? What trials befell him? What do workers do to save their wards? Director Volodymyr Topchyi told about this to project “Monologues of the War.”
It did not occur to me that such a thing could happen, but the war was not a surprise for me. I was preparing. When there were many russian troops on our border, I understood that it was not just like that. Therefore, somewhere in November, I started buying products. As of February, our feed shed, freezer and grain storage were loaded with feed.
On February 25, the zoo was closed, and already on the 26th, enemy tanks entered the city. The fight took place less than a kilometer from the zoo. Then people were injured, windows and doors were blown out in high-rise buildings, offices, and shops.
The first 2-3 weeks were particularly disturbing and difficult. Transport did not run. Fascist troops were stationed 10 kilometers from the zoo. There was constant shelling. It was necessary to organize work. Most of our suppliers were located in Kherson, which was already occupied at that time.
“For me, the main thing was to save the team, because people were afraid, they didn’t know what to do. And we work mainly with women. They were scared.”
The zoo was closed, and the entrance fee was the money with which we had to buy food, pay for utilities, taxes, but no one exempted us from them. Therefore, somewhere on the 10th day, I asked people to help me and buy online tickets. We have such an option on our website – to purchase an electronic ticket.
“Frankly speaking, I did not expect that there would be such a response from people. Not only residents of Mykolaiv responded, but also from other cities of Ukraine, and from many, many countries around the world.”
And then I had several live broadcasts with different countries — twice with Japan (Tokyo), Switzerland, the USA (Washington), the Czech Republic. Journalists called to ask what and how they could help us.
“The zoo was heard all over the world. And people started buying tickets. We collected a large amount in the account and now we can buy food, pay the utility bill; moreover, we paid taxes from this amount to the city budget. And this is more than 14 million hryvnias. This was our help to the city.”
When we transferred this money, we received a call from the city finance department: “What are you doing? Have you gone crazy? Where did you get such a sum?” (laughs – editor’s note). And we simply acted in accordance with the law. In fact, we live on this money to this day. We have opened more than 10 accounts in different currencies.
In addition, we cooperate with zoos in Europe. There is such a European Association of Zoos and Aquariums – EAZA, I was a member of the board of directors of this association for several years.
“EAZA collected more than a million euros to provide assistance to zoos in Ukraine. Literally today, 100,000 euros have arrived. Tomorrow we have an online conference with the directors of Ukrainian zoos. We will think about how to distribute this money.”
I am the President of the Association of Zoos of Ukraine. We help zoos in the occupied territories – in Berdyansk, Askania-Nova, Arabatskaya Strelka, which is in a very difficult condition. We supported “12 months’ ‘ near Kyiv, “Feldman Ecopark”, that is, they all received aid sent by EAZA.
Already after a month of full-scale war, freeze-dried fodder for zoo animals, birds, primates, elephants, and predators began to arrive. We have already unloaded 4 loads, which are about 4 tons. That is, we have a reserve for the winter.
“This is a great help to Ukrainian zoos. Everyone supported us. In addition to colleagues from russia, with whom I used to have a great friendship. We have known some for more than 40 years.” No one from any russian zoo called or inquired about how we live. Therefore, on the 10th day of the war, I left the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“Now I received an invitation from EAZA to take part in a conference that will be held in Portugal. I wrote that if there are russians there, I will not sit in the same hall with them, I will not breathe the same air with them. This is unacceptable for me.”
The director of the Tokyo Zoo wrote to me: “Topchii, have you already escaped?”. After learning that I was there, he replied: “Well, then I’m calm. So the zoo will work.” And where will I go? My life is a zoo.
On March 7, Mykolaiv was heavily shelled. Then the first rockets landed on the territory of the zoo. And then there were more and more, in total 8 of them fell in 3 months. Miraculously, no one was hurt. The rockets did not explode, only the fence and netting in the enclosure were damaged.
In the first weeks, some of the workers spent the night at the zoo, because there was shelling at night, the transport did not run, and the animals needed to be cared for and fed. “We come in the morning; see what has flown in, call sappers if necessary.”
Then there was no light. It was necessary to solve the problem. We had an old but working diesel generator. We turned it on for several hours, during which time the compressors in the aquarium worked, because without aeration the fish would die, elephants were driven over, and porridge was cooked in the feed house. That’s how we survived the time without light.
“Then the fascists blew up the water intake on the Dnieper and Mykolaiv found itself without drinking water. And the zoo too. The city helped us a lot, volunteers brought drinking water, and we distributed it in buckets, bottles, and tanks around the zoo and watered the animals.”
A month later, we drilled two wells. Unfortunately, the water is conditionally drinkable, but it is not as salty as the water flowing in the pipes of Mykolaiv residents, which is purely technical. And they installed 2 large reverse osmosis stations for water purification. And we already drink it to the animals. And our employees take it home.
Residents of Mykolaiv love the zoo. When I asked the townspeople for help because we had nothing to feed the animals, they started carrying food. Someone brought sacks of bread, potatoes, carrots, and someone brought kilograms.
“Once a woman came to the zoo and brought a small bag with apples and tangerines. She is modestly dressed and it is obvious that she has little wealth. She bought it and took it home, but she thought that we needed more… It was very painful for me to take these apples from her.”
Someone came and gave UAH 1,000 just like that, we bought fuel with them. A pensioner came, brought 300 hryvnias and asked to buy food for the animals. We wrote everyone a check.
“That is, the city loves the zoo and we are very grateful to the citizens for the help they provided and continue to provide for our animals.” Literally a month ago, the zoo opened for visitors on the weekend. People walk, grab our hands and thank us for preserving the collection of animals.
This is not the first time in the zoo’s history that it has experienced war. During the Second World War, when the fascists came for the first time, the team did not run away, the director, his wife, and youth workers remained.
They went around the city looking for horses that had died from shelling, and cut their meat, which they then fed to predators. Water in barrels was transported from the Ingul (a river within the borders of the Kirovohrad and Mykolaiv regions — ed. note). Everything is repeated.
In our museum, we keep the entrance tickets of the 42nd year, the period of occupation. And when the Soviet army entered the city on March 29, 1944, the soldiers left a note in the feedback book, saying they were amazed that the animals were saved.
“And we could not do otherwise. We have people who have worked at the zoo for 20, 30, and even 40 years. This is life; this is service to the zoo, service to one’s city.”
Moreover, our collection is the largest in Ukraine. We have more than 400 species, and a total of 4,000 animals. These include elephants, hippos, giraffes, crocodiles, polar bears, a collection of primates, and birds. In addition, this is a large farm – 35 structures that require maintenance.
During these months, we have had a lot of interesting and valuable rare animals. For example, on March 8, a Far Eastern leopard was born. And also gibbons, white-shouldered eagles, and servals.
“We are very grateful to our guys who protect our lives and the lives of our animals 20-30 km from the city.” We are used to sirens. We are working. We cannot get used to night shelling. One night, 40 rockets fell on the city. Schools, institutes, kindergartens were destroyed, children, civilians were killed… We are afraid of winter. How to survive the winter with our heat-loving animals? This is a question…
Чому важливо поширити цю історію?
Якщо українці не розповідатимуть свій погляд на війну в Україні, світ поступово забуватиме про нас. Натомість цим обов’язково скористаються росіяни. Тому не даймо їм жодного шансу.
Why is it important to share this story?
If Ukrainians do not share their views on the war in Ukraine, the world will gradually forget about us. Instead, the Russians will definitely take advantage of this. So let's not give them a chance.
АвторAuthor: Iryna Hyliuk | Translation: Mariia Moskaliuk