Oleg Zubkov steals raccoons and other animals from Kherson Zoo


The Russian military has earned a reputation for looting its way into 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 female 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 inexpertly grabbing raccoons by the tail and throwing them into cages in a YouTube video titled “We are in Kherson. Oleg Zubkov captures the raccoons with bare hands!!!

The video, which was made unavailable on Sunday, showed two assistants manhandling the llama in a dilapidated, windowless van while a dog barked nearby. Another video uploaded on Sunday showed two wolves it said were from the Kherson zoo being unloaded at the Crimean zoo as two Russian television channels filmed the event. He called it “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 his dream to live here,” he said in comments to Russian media on YouTube.

He said the animals, including wolf cubs, would be sent back after Russia reoccupied Kherson.

“For us it’s a humanitarian mission. 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 blurting out, in what appeared to be an awkward joke. “Sorry. But seriously we have a lot of raccoons, but we took these animals to keep them alive and so that the residents of Kherson will be happy to see them alive. 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 raccoon theft.

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

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

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“We will not return the raccoon,” said Dolgareva. “We will return to Kherson.”

She said that a raccoon Telegram channel, Raccoon from Kherson, had been created.

Ukrainian animal activist Oleksander Todorchuk confirmed the report on Facebook.

Zubkov, who calls himself the Lion Man, was convicted of negligence after one of his tigers bit the finger of a 1-year-old boy in September 2021. He was given a prison sentence of two years and three months, and serve two months. An occupation 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 head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, intervened to ensure he could travel to Kherson to pick up the animals.

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

Losing the city of Kherson breaks Putin’s war aims in Ukraine

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of taking disabled children from Kherson to Crimea and Russia, as well as taking prisoners of war. Independent local media channels broadcast videos of buses, fire engines, construction equipment and even a miniature train with its own baby carriages – all driven from Kherson in the days before Moscow surrendered the city.

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The Kherson 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, in Crimea before the Russians. Kherson’s surrender, according to museum staff in a Facebook post on November 4.

“They call it ‘evacuation’. In our language it’s ‘looting,'” the post said. The works later appeared in the Central Tavrida Museum in the Crimean city of Simferopol. Kherson police have announced a criminal investigation into the theft of the works, although they are focusing on stabilizing the recently recaptured city.

Police also reported that Russian forces stole four official cars from a medical center, hospital computer equipment, medicines, 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 television tower, communications towers and bridges in downtown Kherson, according to Ukrainian officials. Local media reported witnesses saying they saw Russians removing construction materials, furniture and household appliances from Kherson.


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