Oleg Zubkov steals raccoons and other animals from Kherson Zoo


The Russian army has gained notoriety for pillaging its way into Ukraine, taking washing machines, electronics, cultural items and the remains of Empress Catherine II’s lover. But the latest theft – involving seven raccoons, two female wolves, peacocks, a llama and a donkey from the Kherson Zoo – has entered the realm of farce.

A private Crimean zoo, Taigan Lion Park, run by Oleg Zubkov, was filmed unknowingly grabbing raccoons by their tails and throwing them into cages in a YouTube video titled “We’re 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 in a collapsed, windowless van as a dog pulled up close. Another video uploaded on Sunday showed two wolves from the Kherson Zoo being introduced to a Crimean zoo as two Russian television channels filmed the event. He called it “temporary migration.”

“It will be much better for the wolves here: a large area, the Crimean sun, and besides, after isolation, they will find a man,” said Zubkov. “It was their dream to live here,” he said in a statement to Russian media on YouTube.

He said the animals, including any wolf cubs, would be returned after Russia reoccupied Kherson.

“For us, this is a humanitarian work. These animals have no zoological value to us. We have our wolves. We have 75 raccoons. We can make canned raccoon meat,” he said before cracking up, in what appeared to be a bad joke. “Sorry. But seriously we have a lot of raccoons, but we took these animals to keep them alive and for the residents 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 posted one of the videos and warned of retaliation for raccoon theft.

Ukrainian forces retook the southern city last week after retreating from Russia. Kherson was one of the first major cities to fall in the all-out assault on the Kremlin that began in February. Freedom was celebrated in the streets after months of Russian occupation.

The removal of the animals was widely reported in the Russian media, which was shown as a small bright spot in an unnecessary picture. It came to light when the Russian nationalist poet and blogger Anna Dolgareva boasted in Telegram that “the only good news” about the handing over of Moscow Kherson was that her friend was able to “get a raccoon” from the Kherson Zoo.

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“We’re not going to bring the raccoon back,” Dolgareva said. “We will return to Kherson.”

He said the Telegram channel of the raccoon, Raccoon of Kherson, has been established.

Ukrainian animal activist Oleksander Todorchuk confirmed the report on Facebook.

Zubkov, who calls himself Lion, was convicted of negligence after one of his tigers bit a one-year-old boy’s finger in September 2021. He was sentenced to two years and three months in prison, and served two months. The labor court overturned the sentence on October 27 and released him soon after, provided he did not leave the area. Zubkov said the Kremlin’s designated leader in Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, intervened to ensure he could travel to Kherson to pick up the animals.

Last month, the designated leader of Russia in Kherson, Vladimir Saldo, said that Russia took the remains of Grigory Potemkin from his tomb in Kherson. Potemkin, the 18th century Russian general, who captured the Crimea, founded the city, controlled Russian land in the region and created the Black Sea Fleet. He was known to be a lover and close guardian of Empress Catherine II, who was known as Catherine the Great.

The loss of the city of Kherson undermines Putin’s war aims in Ukraine

Ukrainian officials accuse Russia of removing disabled children from Kherson to Crimea and Russia, as well as taking prisoners of war. Independent local media broadcast video of buses, fire engines, construction equipment and a small train with baby carriages – all being driven out of Kherson in the days before Moscow surrendered the city.

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Kherson’s elected Kremlin administration also removed hundreds of works of art and valuable symbols from the Kherson Art Museum, evacuated the gallery from Oct 31 to November 3, and took the works, wrapped in cloths and packed in unmarked vans, to Crimea before the Russians. Kherson’s dedication, according to museum staff in a Facebook post on November 4.

They call it ‘migration.’ In our language it is ‘robbing,’ ” the post said. The works were later displayed in the Central Museum of Tavrida in the Crimean city of Simferopol. Kherson police have announced a criminal investigation into the theft of the works, although they are focused on stabilizing the newly retaken city.

The police also reported that the Russian forces stole four official cars from the medical center, hospital computer equipment, medicines, personal cars, boats and hunting equipment.

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

Russian forces also dug up buildings and blew up a television tower, communications towers and bridges in central Kherson, according to Ukrainian officials. Local media reported witnesses saying they saw Russians removing building materials, furniture and household appliances from Kherson.


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