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Cats: Ukraine's secret weapon in the war with Russia

Cats: Ukraine's secret weapon in the war with Russia
Shayba the cat
Shayba the cat in a Ukrainian military uniform.Courtesy of Oleksandr Liashuk
  • Cats have provided crucial comfort and emotional support to Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines.

  • They have also been key to raising thousands of dollars in aid.

  • "One small cat can make big dreams come true," one cat owner told BI.

Cats have played a key role in supporting Ukrainian soldiers and civilians since Russia began its invasion in February 2022, keeping troops company on the front lines and providing comfort for displaced citizens.

They even help Ukraine raise funds for its military.

Their soaring popularity on social media has led to thousands of dollars in donations for equipment and weapons for front-line soldiers.

Oleksandr Liashuk is a soldier from Odesa in southern Ukraine. He said he and his cat, Shayba, have collected about $80,000 from their fundraising campaigns on social media.

Shayba the cat and Oleksandr Liashuk
Shayba the cat and Oleksandr Liashuk.Courtesy of Oleksandr Liashuk

Liashuk attributed his fundraising success to Shayba's popularity.

"His admirers are everywhere — from Chile to Japan — so Shayba's stories touch people's hearts worldwide, motivating them to contribute to Ukraine's aid," Liashuk told Business Insider.

Thanks to Shayba's fundraising efforts, Liashuk said he was able to buy eight military vehicles for his unit, an anti-drone gun, and a thermal-imaging camera.

Oleksandr Liashuk, car, Shayba, imager
Oleksandr Liashuk and a military vehicle in the background and Liashuk and Shayba with a thermal-imaging camera.Courtesy of Oleksandr Liashuk

Ukrainian authorities even gave him a volunteer award for his help, Liashuk said in a post on his Instagram account last year.

Another cat at the heart of the conflict on the front lines is Stepan, whose Instagram account has 1.4 million followers.

The noise of explosions from Russian shelling in Kharkiv injured Stepan, his owner, Anna Volodymyrivna Dmytrenko, told BI.

Stepan the cat
Stepan the catCourtesy of Anna Volodymyrivna Dmytrenko

But Stepan is still helping bring in funds, Dmytrenko said.

He even has his own online shop, "Love You Stepan," selling bags, towels, hoodies, mugs, and pillows with his face printed on them.

Dmytrenko declined to disclose the shop's revenues to BI.

But she said Stepan plays a vital role in fundraising campaigns for Ukraine's military.

Last year, he and his owner supported TheWarFragments museum charity in their efforts to raise close to $800,000 to support the military needs of Ukraine's Third Separate Assault Brigade, Dmytrenko said.

She added that they helped the Khartia Brigade raise $665,000 to help Ukraine's 13th Brigade of the National Guard buy electronic-warfare systems and reconnaissance equipment to aid its war effort.

"This is not just equipment — it's a chance to save the lives of our defenders and enhance their capabilities on the battlefield," she said.

Stepan the cat
Stepan the catCourtesy of Anna Volodymyrivna Dmytrenko

In 2022, Stepan also became the ambassador of "Save Ukrainian Culture," a project dedicated to restoring Ukrainian cultural objects damaged during Russia's invasion.

Shayba the cat
Shayba the cat in Liashuk's military uniform.Courtesy of Oleksandr Liashuk

The extra boost provided to Ukraine's funding efforts is particularly welcome given its depleting ammunition stocks, forcing its military to scale back some operations and ramp up its domestic drone production.

But there is some positive news for Ukraine: The Senate recently voted to advance a debate over a $60 billion aid package to the country.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it was a "good first step," adding that he would "keep working on this bill until the job is done."

Dmytrenko and Liashuk said they hoped their cats could offer soldiers hope in getting the necessary equipment to keep fighting.

"In these difficult times, Stepan has become a symbol of unity and resilience, showing that even one small cat can make big dreams come true," Dmytrenko said.

Read the original article on Business Insider