Ukrainian zoo keepers shot dead while holding food to give animals – Metro.co.uk

NEWS… BUT NOT AS YOU KNOW IT
Two Ukrainian keepers who were allegedly murdered by Russian troops at an ecopark had stayed behind after the invasion to take care of the animals, the owner said today.
Oleksandr Drach, 42, and Oleksandr Kovalevsky, 49, were shot dead and their bodies ‘barricaded’ in a back room at the sanctuary in Kharkiv.
Alexander Feldman said the ‘wonderful and courageous’ men were holding buckets containing carrots and dog food when they were found by Ukrainian soldiers.
Neither of the keepers wanted to abandon the animals at the heavily damaged Feldman Ecopark, which is located to the north of the province in the direct path of the advancing troops, after the invasion began on February 24.
A concerted evacuation effort has been taking place at the shattered park, with employees and volunteers putting their lives on the line to save animals including lions, cheetahs and monkeys.
Mr Feldman said: ‘Our employees were shot dead by Russian soldiers. They were found in the back room. One had half a bucket of carrots in his hands, the other had a bucket of dog food.
‘They held the positions of keepers. After the outbreak of the war, they were among the few who did not leave the animals they looked after.’
The circumstances of the men’s deaths is still not clear, with the 140-hectare park occupying a ‘grey zone’ in the conflict between Ukrainian and Russian forces, Mr Feldman said.
They had been missing for more than a month amid the chaos of the opening phase of the multi-pronged invasion.
The Kremlin’s forces had attempted to advance through the north-eastern province, where the park lies around 40 miles south of the Russian border.
In total, five members of staff have been killed since the Kremlin’s invasion began eight weeks ago.
The invasion has also claimed the lives of almost 100 animals, including big cats, bison, goats and monkeys, which have been killed as a result of heavy shelling by the Russian military.
The non-profit sanctuary announced the deaths of the devoted workers in a Facebook post and video on April 19.
They had been missing for more than a month before their bodies were discovered by Ukrainian troops, Mr Feldman said.
It’s not clear who was in control of the territory at the time, but at the outset of the invasion, Russia tried to deploy special forces and saboteurs in an attempt to seize key strategic targets, including Kyiv.
Fierce fighting erupted in Kharkiv in the first days of the war, with five people killed and six injured when a shell hit a civilian bus. The city itself continues to be heavily bombarded.
Work has been ongoing at the park to complete the evacuations to other parts of Ukraine but it has been fraught with danger, with enclosures torn apart and in some places destroyed by the bombardment. Rescue work has been interrupted for days on end because of incoming rounds. 
In the update, the park said: ‘When the war started, they stayed in the Ecopark and helped to feed the animals. We arrived at the Ecopark on March 7 and did not find them there. We searched for them for a long time, hooked up with law enforcement officers. Until the last, we had been hoping that nothing irremediable had happened, and they were able to survive.
‘But yesterday we received confirmation that their bodies had been found. Our guys were shot by the enemies, and their bodies had been barricaded in the back room. We’ll cherish the blessed memory of these wonderful and courageous people. Sincere condolences to their families and friends.’
Other posts by the park suggest that Russian forces have been deliberately targeting the site, despite its high profile as a civilian facility.
In an update on Wednesday, the park said drones flying overhead were often a sign that shelling was due to begin, even as they evacuated animals.
The free-entry attraction, which was involved with social projects such as providing therapy for children with special needs, was home to about 5,000 animals encompassing 300 species before the invasion.
Shellfire has severely damaged enclosures, while the wartime conditions have left the surviving creatures heavily traumatised.
However there was good news today, with the park announcing that it had managed to save alpacas which had been ‘famous throughout Ukraine’.
The various animals have been taken to other parts of Ukraine and to the relative safety of Kharkiv Zoo within the city itself.
For more information about the park and to donate click here
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