Monday, May 13, 2024

Nature: Saving the Animals of Ukraine, on PBS

Do you like dolphins? If so, you should despise Putin. Since the launch of his illegal invasion, the Ukrainian wildlife reserve on the Black Sea has found the corpses of at least 5,000 dolphins, but they estimate thousands more have died. Clearly, animals have suffered from Russia’s military aggression, just like the Ukrainian people. Yet, despite the chaos and danger, ordinary Ukrainians have risked their lives to rescue animals both wild and domestic. Viewers need to watch their brave efforts, which Anton Ptushkin documents in “Saving the Animals of Ukraine,” premiering this Wednesday on PBS, as part of the current season of Nature.

It sure is funny how everyone who was so concerned about the animals in the Baghdad Zoo have had so little to say about the animals of Ukraine. Regardless, the entire world saw images of desperate Ukrainian refugees carrying their beloved pet cats and dogs. As a result, at least one NGO talking head had to dramatically rethink they way he thought about refugees. Inevitably, many pets were still left behind, often not intentionally, but rather due to unexpected Russian bombardments. Zoopatrol was organized to save those animals, either by jail-breaking them outright, or noninvasively feeding them through front-door peep-holes (this mostly works for cats).

Perhaps their most famous rescue is Shafa, who was found by drones trapped on the exposed ledge of a completely bombed-out seventh-floor apartment, where she had been perched for sixty days, with minimal food or water. Despite her advanced age, they successfully nursed Shafa back to health. Since then, she has become an online sensation, symbolizing Ukrainian resilience in her own grumpy cat way.

Likewise, Patron the Jack Russell terrier has also become an international influencer, thanks to his work sniffing out landmines. Patron’s small size gives him an advantage over other ordinance-detecting dogs, because he is too light to set-off mines calibrated for human weight. That little guy is a charmer.

Unfortunately, many of the stories Ptushkin documents are profoundly sad, like the two animal shelters that took very different approaches when evacuating their human staffs. Tragically, both shelters were near Hostomel Airport, which Putin’s thugs and mercenaries bombed into rubble, greatly distressing the animals in the process. Clearly, several on-camera experts suggest one shelter handled the challenge in a much more humane manner, but the real villain is Putin, who put both shelters directly in harm’s way.

Sadly, there is very little the staff of the Ukrainian wildlife refuge can do, except count the bodies of dead dolphins (who are disoriented by Russian sonar and often die from “the bends” when explosions force them to raise too quickly). Yet, there is reason from a past
Nature installment to hope the wildlife will eventually rebound. Ironically, Radioactive Wolves documented the surprising rebirth of a healthy wolf population in the Chernobyl Exclusion zone—another case of Mother Russian causing extensive damage to the Ukrainian ecosystem.

This is a deeply moving film that really reminds us of mankind’s responsibility to animal-kind. Supposed animal-rights advocates like Glenn Greenwald really need to watch it, to see how animals pay the price for their Russian appeasement. Yet, everyone else will simply fall head over heels for Patron and Shafa. Very highly recommended for animal lovers and Ukrainian war-monitors,
Nature’s “Saving the Animals of Ukraine” airs this Wednesday (5/15) on most PBS stations.