Hundreds of families lined up to visit the animals at the Odessa Zoo in southern Ukraine, which opened Saturday for the first time since the Russian invasion.
With Russian forces bogged down about 85 miles northeast in Mykolaiv, Odessa has been spared shelling for the last several weeks, encouraging the port city to return to normal life. Stores have reopened and people are back out on the streets.
Things aren’t quite normal, of course. Nearby cities remain under constant attack and the millions of Ukrainians are displaced by the war.
But for a brief few hours, children were able to marvel at tigers and elephants and feed the goats.
The highly regarded zoo is housing not only its 1,600 animals from around the world, but also about 400 pets left there as residents of the city fled in the early days of the war, CBS News reported.
Individuals from around the world purchased tickets online while the zoo was shut down in an effort to keep money flowing for animal food and worker pay. Pleas were posted on social media that the zoo would reopen Saturday, telling supporters not to buy tickets and prevent residents from visiting.
A similar campaign is underway to buy tickets for the shuttered zoo in Mykolaiv, which houses more than 4,000 animals. Several Russian rockets have hit the facility since the start of the war.
“Every day we go to work, feed and clean the animals despite the howl of the air raid siren,” zoo director Volodymyr Topchyi wrote in a Facebook post earlier this month. “Seven of our employees went to the front to fight the invaders.”
Those who made it to the Odessa Zoo on Saturday found a new resident, a calf born after the war started. It was named “Javelin” after the American-made anti-tank missile system the Ukrainians have used to good effect since the invasion.