Ukraine fears for the future of one of its most important nature reserves that remains occupied by Russia

The reserve houses a large zoo (EFE/Viktor Shapoval)

The future of one of the best-known nature reserves in Ukraine, the “Askania Nova”, with 110 square kilometers of virgin steppethis in danger with the Russian invasion and the specialized personnel who deal with it feel “under threat”.

The reserve, located in the partly occupied area of ​​Kherson, employs a number of researchers and houses a large zoo which attracted some 140,000 visitors annually before the Russian invasion.

Their semi-wild animalsLike Przewalski’s rare horses, they rely on the support of skilled personnel who managed to keep working even after the area fell under Russian control on the first day of the invasion more than a year ago.

However, the Ukrainian administration can no longer guarantee further preservation of the reserve and is “under immediate threat”, according to an official statement.

The first deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, Sergey Kirienko, arrived on the reservation together with the Russian-installed “head” of the region, Vladimir Saldo, on March 20, he told efe the director of the reserve, Viktor Shapoval.

They were received by an unknown person, who turned out to be the head of a Russian-registered entity, created on March 7 to take control of the reserve.

“Until now we have managed to work as part of the Ukrainian state system, despite being occupied by the Russians, in very difficult conditions,” Shapoval stresses.

The future of one of the best-known nature reserves in Ukraine, the
Its semi-wild animals, such as the rare Przewalski horses, depend on the support of qualified personnel (EFE)

The reserve has funded some of their work with donations from Ukrainian and foreign individuals and organizations and most of the money went to cover the cost of feeding the animals.

In the middle of the invasion, with planes flying over the reserverecalls Shapoval, “the animals ran in panic” and some suffered injuries.

In addition, the system to respond to emergencies has been in an almost total collapse, which makes it difficult to react to fires.

The Russian troops, who have been in the territory of the reserve since last autumn, have also confiscated some of the equipment of the reserve’s administration..

Shapoval, who left the occupied territory with part of the team and his family a day before Russia proclaimed its annexation, says that representatives of the Russian authorities had sought him out before and that he had refused to collaborate with them.

So far, the reserve has largely avoided the destruction suffered by many other occupied areas, along with the front line.

Shapoval hopes that the reserve will be spared from the effects of combat when Ukrainian troops manage to drive off the Russians. However, he is concerned that they are getting mines in large areas in the region while Russia prepares for defense.

This problem can take decades to solve.”, underlines Shapoval while recounting the multiple casualties suffered by the population in the front-line areas due to mine explosions.

The future of one of the best-known nature reserves in Ukraine, the

Name several nature reserves that were devastated by the Russian occupation that left trenches and large amounts of unexploded shells and ammunition.

Shapoval is concerned about the fate of the animals, fearing that the Russians may drive them away, just as they took some valuable animals and goods from the Yerson zoo and museums before their removal.

He is also concerned about the fate of the reserve personnel. “It is the people who are going to restore the reserve once it is released,” he explains.

Currently, the administration is collecting donations to support those who left their jobs, refusing to collaborate with the Russians. He praises everyone who worked for so long there, in the “hellish conditions” and under pressure to accept Russian citizenship.

“While many simply have no choice and lack the resources to leave the occupied territory, patriotism and courage are needed to continue caring for nature in such circumstances”, he assured.

(With information from EFE/By Rostyslav Avershuk)

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