Oleg Zubkov steals raccoons and other animals from Kherson Zoo


The Russian military has earned a reputation for marauding its way through Ukraine, taking washing machines, electronics, cultural artifacts and even the bones of Empress Catherine II’s lover. But the latest theft – including seven raccoons, two wolves, peacocks, a llama and a donkey from the Kherson Zoo – entered the realm of farce.

A private Crimean zoo, Taigan Lion Park, owned by Oleg Zubkov, filmed him clumsily grabbing raccoons by their tails and throwing them into cages in a YouTube video titled “We are in Kherson. Oleg Zubkov catches raccoons with his BARE HANDS!!!”

The video, which was made unavailable on Sunday, showed him and two assistants carrying the llama into a dilapidated windowless van while a dog yowled nearby. Another video uploaded on Sunday showed two wolves, believed to be from the Kherson zoo, being unloaded at the zoo in Crimea as two Russian TV channels filmed the event. He called it a “temporary evacuation.”

“It will be much better for the wolves here: a large territory, the Crimean sun, and besides, after the quarantine, they will get a male,” said Zubkov. “It was their dream to live here,” he said in comments to Russian media on YouTube.

He said the animals, including all the wolves, would be returned after Russia reoccupied Kherson.

“For us, this is a humanitarian mission. These animals have no zoological value for us. We have our own wolves. We have 75 raccoons. We can make canned raccoon meat,” he said before laughing in what seemed like an awkward joke. “I’m sorry. But seriously, we have a lot of raccoons, but we took these animals to keep them alive and for the people of Kherson to be happy to see them alive again. The animals are in good hands.”

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The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine published one of the videos and warned of reprisals for the theft of a raccoon.

Ukrainian troops captured the strategic southern city last week after a Russian retreat. Kherson was one of the first major cities to fall from the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion that began in February. The liberation was met with celebration in the streets after months of Russian occupation.

The removal of the animals was widely covered in the Russian media, presented as a small bright spot in an otherwise gloomy picture. This came to light when nationalist Russian poet and blogger Anna Dolgareva boasted on Telegram that the “only good news” about Kherson’s handover from Moscow was that her friend had managed to “steal a raccoon” from the Kherson zoo.

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“We will not bring the raccoon back,” Dolgareva said. “We will take back Kherson.

She said that a raccoon channel was created on Telegram, Raccoon from Kherson.

Ukrainian animal activist Oleksandr Todorchuk confirmed the report on Facebook.

Zubkov, who calls himself The Lion Man, was convicted of negligence after one of his tigers bit off the finger of a 1-year-old boy in September 2021. He was sentenced to two years and three months in prison and served two months. An occupation court overturned the sentence on October 27 and released him shortly thereafter on the condition that he not leave the area. Zubkov said Kremlin-appointed Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov intervened to ensure he could travel to Kherson to pick up the animals.

Last month, the Russian-elected head of the Kherson administration, Vladimir Saldo, said that Russia had taken Grigory Potemkin’s bones from his tomb in Kherson. Potemkin, an 18th-century Russian warlord, annexed Crimea, founded the city, ruled Russian imperial lands in the region, and established the Black Sea Fleet. He is also known as the lover and close protégé of Empress Catherine II, who was known as Catherine the Great.

The loss of Kherson shatters Putin’s military goals in Ukraine

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of moving disabled children from Kherson to Crimea and Russia, as well as taking prisoners of war. Local independent media channels broadcast videos of buses, fire engines, construction equipment and even a miniature train with children’s wagons – all of which were driven out of Kherson in the days before Moscow surrendered the city.

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Kherson’s Kremlin-appointed administration also removed hundreds of valuable works of art and icons from the Kherson Art Museum, emptying the gallery from October 31 to November 3 and taking the works, wrapped in rags and packed in unmarked vans, to Crimea ahead of Kherson’s handover to Russia , according to museum staff in a Nov. 4 Facebook post.

“They call it ‘evacuation.’ In our language, this is “grabbing,” the post said. The works later appeared in the Central Tavrida Museum in the Crimean city of Simferopol. Police in Kherson have announced a criminal investigation into the theft of the works, even as they focus on stabilizing the recently captured city.

Police also said Russian forces stole four medical center company cars, hospital computer equipment, medicine, civilian cars, boats and hunting weapons.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of looting or damaging hundreds of Ukrainian cultural institutions during the war.

Russian forces also mined buildings and blew up a TV tower, communications towers and bridges in downtown Kherson, according to Ukrainian officials. Local media reported witnesses who said they saw Russians taking construction materials, furniture and household appliances out of Kherson.


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