New film shows the toll Russia’s invasion has taken on animals in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has upended the lives of millions of people. It’s also disrupted the lives of an untold number of animals, both pets and zoo animals. An upcoming episode of Nature on PBS, “Saving the Animals of Ukraine,” documents how war-torn Ukrainians are reclaiming humanity by rescuing animals. John Yang speaks with director Anton Ptushkin about the film.

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  • John Yang:

    The war in Ukraine has upended the lives of millions of people. It's also disrupted the lives of an untold number of animals, both pets and zoo animals. Some were left for days without food or water traumatized by the sounds of war.

    Next, Wednesday's episode of PBS's Nature is called Saving the Animals of Ukraine. That tells how war torn Ukrainians are reclaiming a bit of their humanity by rescuing animals. Earlier I spoke with the director Anton Ptushkin about how the film came about.

    Anton Ptushkin, Director, "Nature: Saving the Animals for Ukraine": That was February 2022. And it was just the beginning of the full scale invasion from Russia side. And, you know, there was a vast majority of photos and videos with people from Ukrainian trying to save themselves and their animals. And we were so moved by this foolish, you know, because it was some kind of light of hope, and meets this dark time. So we decided to just develop this topic and eventually, you know, made a documentary.

  • John Yang:

    You show us a lot of stories about many animals, some of them very tragic, some of them happier. One of the happier ones is about the Jack Russell Terrier named Patron started out as the pet for a young boy and now is actually serving his country in a way of enlisted into the war effort. Tell us about Patron and what he's doing

  • Anton Ptushkin:

    Basically he's sniffing the bombs. And for me, the story is like speaks speak volumes because Parton was just a regular dog, you know, he just wants to play and just walk but because his father, you know, dog parent, Michael, he's a Colonel of engineer troops of Ukraine. He is looking for the mines. So that's why Patron's starts looking for the mines as well.

    Eventually, this dome become like a symbol of resilience of Ukraine. And he become, I believe, for the first time in history of UNICEF, he become like, Good Will Ambassador dog.

  • John Yang:

    You also show us animals who have been severely traumatized I think of the lion named Bretzel. He lived through a Russian missile barrage and keep telling us a little bit about him.

  • Anton Ptushkin:

    Yeah, it turned out that animals they almost share the same suffering as people. And the story of poor lion who was being kept in a cage in Donetsk region which is almost like a front line. And he was bombarded, you know, this area was bombarded many times and these poor lion he had like, severe symptoms of PTSD. He was trying to break away the cage and he smashed his face against the cage.

    So eventually he was immigrated to the Spain and to the place that we can call, like, let's say Animal Rehabilitation Center. And he completely recovered. You wouldn't believe like this is completely normal lion right now. And I remember him like a year ago. And he was just roaring, you know, every time when you come close to the cage, but right now he's completely recovered.

  • John Yang:

    There were other powerful stories that you told about animals that went long periods of time without food or water Shafa, a cat that was stranded on the seventh floor of a building for 60 days, the rest of the building had been destroyed. And you spoke with producer Kate Parunova, who was one of the first to spot Shafa?

  • Kate Parunova:

    I came to them and said, Look, guys, I'm so grateful that's having so much disaster and misery around you right now with people, you find time to help animals in such cases. And he replied to me, we don't care if it's an animal or a human being, we're Rescue Service, and every life matters to us. I mean, that was a point when you just start crying.

  • John Yang:

    You know, Anton, earlier you talked about these stories illustrating hope and dark times. What do you think these stories say about the spirit in the character of the Ukrainian people in this dark time of war?

  • Anton Ptushkin:

    You know, for me, all these documentaries, about people about resilience and about the moral aspects of Ukrainians, you know, because, as one of the main tenants of our documentary said, like, your attitude towards animals is basically your attitude towards people, you start to save animals, and then animals save you, because they help you drastically, you know, just to cope with the stress and those stories. I mean, they really bring us some hope.

  • John Yang:

    As you may know, there was controversy in the United States about continued aid to Ukraine in this war effort. Are you hoping that this film will remind people in the United States around the world that this is still going on that Ukraine still needs help and aid?

  • Anton Ptushkin:

    Yes, that's, that's my dream, actually. And I just came back from Ukraine, and a couple days ago, I lost my friend in this horrible war. Unfortunately, you know, these stories, we, people of Ukraine that we become kind of get used to. I mean, it's — it may sound cynical, but we get used to such stories, but I believe that people are America, people in the world. After watching this documentary, yeah, they feel, you know, this idea that the war is to go in and we don't need to forget about those horrible events that are going in my country.

  • John Yang:

    filmmaker, Anton Ptushkin, we are very sorry for your loss. And thank you for your time today.

  • Anton Ptushkin:

    Thank you. Thank you for having me.

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