After years of torture, abuse and ridicule, more than a dozen brown “vodka bears” are today being rehabilitated in a 43-hectar national park in Synevir, Ukraine.
This is the fascinating story of Europe’s largest rehabilitation center for brown bears in the rugged Carpathian mountains, near the wild border with Romania and Hungary. Our team embeds with the bear community in this isolated outpost to tell the little-known story of how—despite the conflict tearing it apart – the Ukraine is managing to unite around a common cause: to give back dignity to this community of exemplary, massive brown bears, which can weigh up to 200 kilograms. In 2011, the Ukrainian Environmental Ministry banned keeping brown bears in private captivity. But before then, it was not uncommon for bears to be held captive in horrific conditions. They were forced to drink hard alcohol – often vodka – then made to wear skirts and dance or perform other tricks in hotels, restaurants, petrol stations and illegal circuses to amuse visitors. Some of these places still exist today, but one by one, the bears are being released from their shackles and reintroduced to the wild.
Yura spent four years locked in a tiny cage to entertain guests at a restaurant. Benya was from an illegal circus and was forced to dance on hot plate that singed the pads of his paws. Rosa tried to escape 5 times from her little cell at a gas station in Letyn, 400 kilometers from Kiev, Potap was found near Lugansk by a hunter when he was just a cub. When he was rescued by center owners, he was in agony - being throttled by the same little collar his owner had put on him as a cub. Only one bear – Misha – had anything akin to a normal lifestyle. This documentary tells the story of one of Europe’s most far reaching bear rescue missions. It will feature interviews with Dr. Amir Khalil, a veteran of FOUR PAWS non-profit wild animal projects; the Governor of the Transcarpathian Oblast, Oleksandr Ledyda, as well as Mykola Derbak, Director of the National Park. The program will show how the bears were confiscated, explaining how the staff are trained and the medical equipment and supplies needed to carry out such dangerous rescues.