As the invasion of Ukraine rages on, countless citizens have been left in harm’s way. Animals, too, have faced serious danger, from pets separated at the border to zoo animals unable to evacuate from war-torn cities.
The most famous of these animals has been Stepan, a Ukrainian cat who has a large following on social media thanks to his funny viral videos. His owner recently revealed that she and Stepan had made it to safety after surviving bombings near their apartment.
After making it across the border safe and sound, this celebrity cat is now giving back, using his fame to help raise money for other animals still in Ukraine.
Stepan’s rise to fame
Stepan is perhaps Ukraine’s most famous celebrity cat: he has a whopping 1.2 million followers on Instagram and as many on TikTok. He became a viral star in recent years thanks to his deadpan, nonchalant facial expressions, which are often juxtaposed with a party atmosphere and a big glass of wine:
The videos apparently struck a major chord with people online, especially during the pandemic, and celebrities like Britney Spears, Diane Kruger and Hailey Bieber have shared Stepan’s posts.
“The expression on his face is a separate art,” his owner Hanna told the Kyiv Independent.
The owner says that she adopted the now-famous cat as a one-month-old kitten. He’s now 13 years old, a senior in cat years, but Stepan has been living the high life, doing promotions for luxury product lines like Valentino and receiving offers from Discovery Channel and MTV.
But the lives of Stepan and his owner were upended forever a last month as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. They lived in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and a major target, and they were right in the line of fire as the attacks began.
“At 5 am, some explosion was heard, and I didn’t even understand what it was,” Hanna wrote on Instagram. As bombing continued, and she writes that she “understood that something terrible was happening”: “We realized that the war had come to our house.”
She writes about the early, destructive days of the attack: “Shells hit the neighboring houses every day; the houses burned before our eyes.” She says her house remained safe for a week, until it was damaged by falling shells.
“We spent two nights in the basement and without electricity for a week,” Hanna wrote. “We had to go to the nearby basement to charge the phone.”
Finally, Hanna and Stepan made it out of the city: volunteers took them to the train station, where they embarked on a 20-hour trip to Liviv. They then joined thousands of other people in line at the Polish border. From there, World Influencers and Bloggers Association helped them get to France.
Giving back and helping Ukraine’s animals
Stepan and Hanna are now safe in France, waiting for the day when they can go home.
They have continued to worry about those left in Ukraine and have pledged to “do the very best we can to help our country.”
And since making it across the border, they’ve made good on their promise. Five days ago, Stepan’s Instagram shared a photo — a photoshop of Stepan as a lion in front of a blue-and-yellow backdrop — announcing a fundraiser to raise money for animal charities in Ukraine.
“I cannot stand aside,” Hanna wrote. “I want to help my friends who also became victims of the war and cannot take care of themselves.”
Amazingly, Stepan’s fans came through in a big way. In a follow-up post, Hanna announced that they had raised $10,035!
That’s an amazing haul for just a few days of fundraising, but never underestimate the internet’s love of funny cats — or their support of Ukraine in their time of need.
Despite the good news, Stepan still looks characteristically unfazed:
According to Hanna, the money is being distributed to a number of charities helping animals in Ukraine, including Happy Paw, who will provide medical treatment to animals; UAnimals, who is providing humanitarian aid, animal feed and transportation of animals to shelters; and the Mykolaiv Zoo, who is continuing to care for their animals despite the war.
“Your contributions are priceless — thanks to your support, we might provide decent care and treatment for every animal in Ukraine,” Hanna wrote.
Thank you to Stepan and his owner for giving back and raising such an amazing amount to help Ukrainian animals. We’re so glad you made it out safe and sound and are doing so much to help.
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