Criminal case opened against former Kyiv Zoo director
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2011:
KYIV, Ukraine–The Kyiv Prosec-utor’s Office on May 3, 2011
announced that it had opened a criminal case against former Kyiv Zoo
director Svitlana Berzina, who now heads the city dog licensing
bureau. “Berzina is suspected of embezzling some $47,000 from the
zoo by commissioning projects that weren’t fully carried out, if at
all,” reported Associated Press.
“Berzina was fired last year,” Associated Press recalled,
“after nearly one-half of the zoo’s animals either died or
disappeared. Rights groups claimed the deaths were caused by
mistreatment, with rare animals illegally sold to private
Neglect of Kyiv Zoo animals became a public issue after the
April 2010 death of the zoo elephant, Boy, 39. “In 2008, as part
of a campaign to urge citizens to help support the zoo, Kyiv mayor
Leonid Chernovetsky said he personally paid $6,000 a month for the
feeding and care of Boy,” recalled Kyiv Post staff writer Svitlana
Other early 2010 Kyiv Zoo deaths included a tiger, a
giraffe, a camel, a zebra, a bear, an armadillo, and a bison
named Viya. Berzina contended that the elephant Boy and other
animals had been poisoned by someone who was trying to make her look
bad. Investigation eventually determined that many of the deaths
were due to organ failure, but that the cause was inadequate and/or
improper feeding, not poisoning.
“Berzina became zoo director in 2008,” wrote Tuchynska.
Berzina succeeded Oleksiy Tolstoukhov, the then 28-year-old son of
the Minister of Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers Anatoliy Tolstoukhov,
who had held the job for four months.
“Before that, Christian Janatsch, the head of the Animal
Protection Society of Austria, videotaped dog fights in Kyiv with a
hidden camera and held a press conference in Kyiv,” recalled
Tuchynska. “He accused Berzina of being among the organizers.
However, problems at the Kyiv Zoo began long before Berzina,”
Tuchynska continued. “The Kyiv zoo was expelled from the European
Association of Zoos and Aquaria in 2007,” after the deaths of as
many as 300 animals amid rumors that the city was trying to force the
zoo to close.
“Let’s not forget the price of land parcels in Kyiv,
especially close to the city center,” reminded local political
writer Andriy Kapustin. “We are talking millions of dollars. I can
assure you the plan to move the zoo out of Kyiv is alive and well,”
Kapstin told Tuchynska. “If the population of the zoo is gone, the
city administration might argue there is no point for it to occupy
such a big territory.”
Former Kyiv Zoo administrator Serhiy Hrihoryev described to
Tuchnynska “attempts to sell the unfinished vet clinic at the zoo,
suggestions to rent a parcel to a private company for construction of
a dolphinarium,” and a proposal by a “very large private company to
buy the zoo and turn it into an entertainment center with animals
occupying just a small area. I am sure all these initiatives are
still on the table,” Hrihoryev said.
The goal of closing the zoo is shared by animal advocates
including John Ruane, president of the British-based Naturewatch
Foundation. Naturewatch has long partnered with SOS Animals Ukraine
to expose abuses at both the zoo and within the notoriously thuggish
Kyiv animal control department.
Originally a budka, which supported itself by selling dog
and cat pelts during Communist times, the Kyiv animal control
department was accused of poisoning dogs and cats in the streets as
recently as November 2010.
Berzina was suspended from running the Kyiv Zoo in June 2010,
but was returned her post on July 2. The animal deaths continued. A
six-year-old chimpanzee named Johnny arrived in August 2010, for
instance, but died on September 1. Three penguins died on September
Berzina was transferred to direct the Kyiv dog licensing
office in October 2010. Oleksiy Tolstoukhov returned to manage the