How a Ukrainian Cat Escaped Russian Captivity

Amid multiple tales of looting and destruction, a rare happy ending.

How a Ukrainian Cat Escaped Russian Captivity

Amid multiple tales of looting and destruction, a rare happy ending.

Maxim, an eight-year-old copper-coloured Maine Coon cat.
Maxim, an eight-year-old copper-coloured Maine Coon cat.
Monday, 29 August, 2022

Retreating from the devastation wrought in the Ukrainian city of Bucha at the end of March, Russian soldiers also took along a more unusual war trophy – Maxim, an eight-year-old copper-coloured Maine Coon cat.

His owner Olena Kukuruzka, told IWPR that she, her four-year-old son and her husband had fled Bucha, in the Kyiv region, on February 24, hours after Russia’s full-scale invasion began. Their beloved pedigree cat was left at home by accident.

“My husband was not planning to leave with us, he was only going to lead us to the highway and then go back home,” Kukuruzka said. “But at that time, a Russian landing party had already landed in Bucha, and none of the locals were allowed back. So Max remained alone.”

The 35-year-old later discovered that Russian soldiers had occupied her house in Bucha on February 25, the very next day. They stayed there all through March, turning the home into a supply warehouse.  

But she had no information about the location of her cat for nearly two months, although she searched for him across all possible networks in Ukraine and he had a GPS tracker on his collar with her contact details.

Then, on April 18, she received a message on Viber, a popular messenger in Ukraine, that read, “Hello Alena, my name is Maria. I found your Maxim in my yard.

“As I understand, you're from Ukraine. I don't know how the cat ended up in Belarus. Maybe you came to us and lost him.”

Attaching a photo of the cat and a GPS tracker, Maria explained that she was in the city of Rechytsa, near Gomel and 340 kilometres from Bucha.

Large numbers of Russian troops were based in Rechytsa after the withdrawal from the Kyiv region in early April.

“For a couple of weeks, military equipment went through us. Maybe they brought him,” Maria concluded.

Olena still does not know why the Russian soldiers took the cat with them. Maybe they liked Max because of his charisma – the pedigree breed is known for their friendly nature - or they wanted to sell him.

In early May, she was re-united with Max in Warsaw, after a Belarusian student agreed to bring him there. Max is now back with the family in Prague, and the plan is to return together to Bucha as soon as the renovations of their house, damaged in the war, are finished.

The theft of Max is only one of myriad examples of looting by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, explained Mykhailo Savva, a member of the documentation group of the Euromaidan SOS volunteer initiative.

The 57-year-old has been recording crimes committed by the Russian army in Irpin, Bucha and Makariv.

Savva said that because of much more complex crimes being committed, such as wide-scale murder or rape, looting was not seen as a key problem and little effort had been made to gather statistics. However, he continued, there was no doubt it was a mass phenomenon.

“The first thing the Russians stole from the locals was food,” Savva said. “Then there was lingerie, along with drawers from the closet, tools for digging trenches.”

Often jewellery was not taken, potentially because the soldiers feared bad luck. But they seemed to enjoy stealing and smashing up private cars, Savva noted.

“They took cars from the locals, drew the letter V on them [a symbol of the full-scale invasion], and raced them, drove into poles, fence, ponds - destroyed cars for fun,” he said. “I have seen many such cases in the village of Andriivka, Makarivskyi district.”

The prosecutor's office documented how, after the Ukrainian forces liberated the territories of Kyiv region, the Russian troops sent property looted in Ukraine to their relatives by post from the Belarusian city of Mazyr.

According to the Russian Mediazone outlet, the military sent 58 tonnes of parcels from Belarusian and Russian cities bordering Ukraine in the first three months of the war.

The peak of these shipments fell on April 4, when almost four tonnes of parcels were sent.

The Belarusian Gayun opposition media outlet also published a video showing people in Russian military uniform sending giant deliveries of huge boxes from the Kursk branch of the SDEK, the Russian express delivery company, in the Belarusian city of Mazyr.

The prosecutor general’s office of Ukraine said that they had identified ten Russian servicemen who looted the property in Bucha, in the Kyiv region, during the occupation. The looters will be put on the international wanted list.

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