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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

What will happen to the former president’s animals in Mezhyhiria?

The top-class menagerie is now cared for by activists, but the Kyiv Zoo has declared itself responsible for it. Volunteers oppose it
26 February, 2014 - 18:28
Photo by Mykola TYMCHENKO, The Day

Social networks are now abuzz with discussing what to do with the presidential residence in Mezhyhiria. Let us recall that once Viktor Yanukovych left it, the admission to the residence has become free, and Verkhovna Rada had it nationalized. Some advise to make a sanatorium or museum out of it, others would like to see it sold and the money spent on the unfinished building of the Okhmatdyt children’s hospital. The fate of the zoo, located in the residence of the former president, also remains uncertain. The animals went hungry on the first day after the residence opened its doors, because its employees failed to appear on that day. Moreover, as crowds rushed to explore the 150-hectare estate, many animals got into real trouble, as they, unused to such a large number of visitors, suffered from shock...

The first to come to the animals’ rescue were Bohdan Shvaika, activist and former employee of the Kyiv Zoo, who had been fired for having told the public about the management’s financial irregularities and inadequate maintenance of animals, and Serhii Hryhoriev, who still works in the capital’s zoo, but also is embroiled in a conflict with the management because of his active position. These people look credible if only because they have been spending days and nights in Mezhyhiria lately trying to provide the animals with feed and to limit access of hundreds of people to them as much as they can.

Hryhoriev said that at the time of their arrival, the animals were cared by one man only. He said that Mezhyhiria employees had been ordered to leave the estate, and most of his colleagues did not know what to do and how to proceed on. After a few days, they began to return to work. About 20 employees are caring for animals now.

“For the time being, I and Shvaika act as the temporary management of the zoo, for the volunteers who were there had no experience to actually help animals,” Hryhoriev said. “First of all, we have worked hard to ensure the adequate feeding of animals, for well-intentioned people brought bread and apples, but the animals are accustomed to specialized feed, so it was necessary to ensure the maximum care. Some people brought fresh bread, but it is unsafe or even deadly for some animals. Therefore, we ask those who are going to Mezhyhiria and want to feed the animals to contact us beforehand, and we will tell you what and how to do. Now we have to solve the problem of providing animal feed, because the stocks will last another 10-20 days, and we will seek a permanent solution.”

Tamara Tarnavska, president of the SOS International Society for the Protection of Animals, tried to resolve this issue, too. She was there the whole day on February 23 and asked guards to put a moneybox at the entrance for donations for the purchase of animal feed.

“Hundreds of thousands are coming there now, and if everyone will donate 50 kopecks, it will be enough to somehow stabilize the situation until the ultimate fate of the zoo is determined. During the day, there were no donations at all. Animals are not to blame for their former master’s deeds,” Tarnavska said. “When I tried to talk to people, I was almost lynched. No one supported me besides an American journalist, who asked me naively several times where the money to cover the residence construction costs had come from and whether Ukraine had any financial or law-enforcement agency that would monitor this financial flow.”

Both experts complained to The Day that such an excessive amount of people who were pouring into Mezhyhiria brought only harm to the animals. “On the first day, there was a direct access to the animals, and people went directly into their cages. Therefore, we want to have people banned from access for the time being, because some birds have already perished. Unauthorized persons came to a service space, turned off a switch, and some animals suffocated in the room because there was no ventilation,” Hryhoriev told us.

Unfortunately, not all visitors have the proper education and cultural level. Tarnavska said that some people were feeding animals cigarette stubs! Of course, the presidential zoo tour is a rare occasion, but it is a pity that many people took it as a wild entertainment. By the way, there is a lot to see there. Volunteers have not listed the animals yet, as they say they will do it in the coming days. It is said that the zoo houses the largest American eland specimen, held specifically for milking. There are a number of elite cows, sheep, goats, pigs, making the facility look more like an elite farm.

“There is also an African ostrich, emu and rhea. The zoo houses also two bustards and a steppe demoiselle crane, a rare species of geese from Australia, peacocks, about ten species of pheasants, three species of swans, and mara rodents from South America. Interestingly, maras died out in the capital’s zoo because they could not create conditions needed for them, while here they are kept outdoors throughout the year and thrive,” Hryhoriev added.

While the volunteers normalize the presidential menagerie’s functioning, the Kyiv Zoo’s management has declared itself responsible for the animals. The zoo’s press office released a statement saying that its deputy zoologist Ihor Mariichuk and vet Inna Vasylkivska visited Mezhyhiria on February 24 on behalf of the Kyiv City State Administration’s head Volodymyr Makeienko, listed animals (as Hryhoriev explained to us, it was impossible to do in the half a day they spent on site), studied their health and determined availability of feed. They will now initiate relocation of these animals to the Kyiv Zoo and take the responsibility for their fate. Regarding its employee Hryhoriev’s actions, the zoo called them illegitimate, saying that he did not have the appropriate qualifications.

Given the extremely negative reputation of our zoo and how animals live there, the presidential collection may simply die out, so the volunteers find it inappropriate to relocate the Mezhyhiria animals there. Hryhoriev said that if relocating the animals to Kyiv would become real, he would appeal to concerned public to protect them. “Mezhyhiria has highly skilled employees, the approach to work is better by an order of magnitude than in the zoo, workplace conditions are good, the animals are fed mainly specialized feed. Sanitary standards are very high, and our capital’s zoo needs to catch up to that level. The animals should not be removed from here, it will be dangerous for them,” he said.

The activists would only allow deer and cattle to be removed, as they propose to send them to the Askania-Nova Reserve where more favorable conditions for them exist. They also advise to mothball the zoo, to make a separate entrance for it and restrict access of crowds to it. Thus, the activists now want to have so-called commandant for Mezhyhiria appointed and organize a security system, as self-defense units alone cannot protect this large area.

By Inna LYKHOVYD, The Day
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