Meet the woman risking her life to save animals in Ukraine

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Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Natalia Popova has been rescuing and rehoming hundreds of wild animals and pets devastated by the war.

In cooperation with the Ukrainian rights group UA animals, Popova has saved and sent abroad 200 animals. 

She rehomed another 100 animals in Western Ukraine, away from the fighting.

And she is currently housing another 133 animals, including a leopard and 13 lions, in her shelter in the Kyiv region.

Poznań Zoo in Poland is also helping her evacuate some of the animals, sending them abroad to places as far away as Spain, France and South Africa.

“I love them, and I understand that I do not have the resources to provide them with the comfortable life they deserve,” Popova said.

She rescued many of the animals at her shelter from eastern Ukraine, where fighting in places such as Kharkiv and the Donestk region makes the journey dangerous.

“No one wants to go there. Everyone is afraid. I am also scared, but I go anyway,” she said.

In some cases, Popova knows nothing about the animals she pulls from the frontlines, having been informed about them by Ukrainian soldiers.

“I feel very sorry for them. I can imagine the stress animals are under because of the war, and no one can help them,” she said.

Before the war, Popova opened the country’s first private horse club. But it wasn’t until four years ago that she saved her first lion.

She originally used the money from her horse business to bankroll her shelter. But since the war began in February, the cost of maintenance has jumped to around €13,700 a month. She says her debts have grown to around €195,000.