Ukrainian War – Denis († 15 years old) torn to pieces by a grenade: in front of his parents – foreign policy

The last time I saw Denis, he was still wearing the zoo’s red jacket, it’s a little too big for him.

His face is pale, his left leg almost severed: Russian shrapnel has severed an artery in his thigh. Denis loses a lot of blood when paramedics take him to hospital in Kharkiv.


Denis († 15) is brought to the emergency room with a torn leg, mother Svetlana rushes after.  Shortly after, Denis diedFoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

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Denis († 15) is brought to the emergency room with a torn leg, mother Svetlana rushes after. Shortly after, Denis diedPhoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

Denis was not in the military. He was almost a child. An animal lover who wanted to do good and save lives. But Putin’s troops have no value in the lives of animals, let alone civilians.

We went to Feldman Ecopark this Thursday, once a place of biodiversity and peace. 5,000 exotic animals have made their home here on the outskirts of Kharkov in eastern Ukraine: buffaloes, monkeys and white tigers.

Admission was free. “We are not a rich country,” says zoo boss Alexander Feldman. “I always wanted grandmothers to be able to visit the park with their grandchildren.”

Then came the Russians, then came the war.

The zoo was caught between the fronts. The animals have been dying under the rain of bullets for weeks, the carcasses decomposing in their enclosures. During brief ceasefires, rangers were able to save orangutans, tigers and bears. For many predators, the anesthesia didn’t work: fear, adrenaline.


For weeks, the animals of the Ecopark have been dying under a rain of bullets, the carcasses decomposing in their enclosuresFoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

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For weeks, the animals of the Ecopark have been dying under a rain of bullets, the carcasses decomposing in their enclosuresPhoto: Fredrik von Erichsen


Park helpers try to catch the animals in order to then bring them to safetyFoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

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Park helpers try to catch the animals in order to then bring them to safetyPhoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

This Thursday we accompany the volunteers who want to recover the last living animals, four buffaloes and a few ostriches. Brave people like Denis and his parents, Svetlana (50) and Vitaliy (52). The helpers manage to lead the frightened animals through the destroyed park to the entrance, where they must be loaded.

Then, suddenly, Russian rockets hit.

We take refuge on a small slope. The radio crackles: rescuers are injured in delivery vans, vehicles are destroyed. The wounded are frantically loaded into the last intact cars. Denis and his mother in one, his father and another injured in our car.


BILD journalist Björn Stritzel, Fredrik von Erichsen and other journalists must take cover from the artilleryFoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

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BILD journalist Björn Stritzel, Fredrik von Erichsen and other journalists must take cover from the artilleryPhoto: Fredrik von Erichsen


Svetlana and her helpers on the way to the hospitalFoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

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Svetlana and her helpers on the way to the hospitalPhoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

As we head back into town, the dust from the impacts still lingers on the road.

► Denis is only five minutes away in the hospital when someone breaks the news. The boy did not survive.

Deni’s mother collapses. “I no longer have a son”, she cries and hits her husband. Vitaliy tries to put his arms around his wife and calm her down.


Father Vitaliy takes care of his desperate wifeFoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

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Father Vitaliy takes care of his desperate wifePhoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

A car with Ukrainian soldiers accelerates, they have taken prisoners: Two Russian soldiers, one is seriously injured in the leg. While the prisoner is being treated, his comrade sits tied up on the hospital stairs.

The driver who takes Denis to the hospital yells at him Russians to: “Here, dammit, look into the eyes of the father. It was his child! Denis’ father holds out his bloody hands towards the soldier.


Vitaliy (52), father of slain Denis († 15), shows a Russian soldier his bloody hands - his son's bloodFoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

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Vitaliy (52), father of slain Denis († 15), shows a Russian soldier his bloody hands – his son’s bloodPhoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

“You killed my boy,” Vitaliy said. He is very calm, he looks the Russian straight in the eye. “It’s his blood. How should I feel about you?

The Russian cannot look back. He looks at the steps between his feet. What is he supposed to say about this senseless war? What to say to a father whose only child has just died of a hemorrhage?

The soldier trembles and is silent.

5000 animals lived there

The North Kharkiv Ecopark was created by businessman Alexander Feldmann to protect animals and introduce children to nature. The facility housed over 5,000 animals, and assistants also cared for thousands of street dogs.


Park helpers try to catch the animals then get them to safetyFoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

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Park helpers try to catch the animals then get them to safetyPhoto: Fredrik von Erichsen

Since the Russian invasion, the zoo has repeatedly been bombed and devastated by Putin’s henchmen.

Since then, trainers and volunteer helpers have been trying to take care of the animals and evacuate them, risking their lives: six helpers have already been killed, two of them found their colleagues in a toilet: Russian soldiers had executed!

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