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Lion cubs rescued from Ukraine find sanctuary in the United States

Lion cubs rescued from Ukraine at their new home, the Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn., on Wednesday. (Julia Cumes/International Fund for Animal Welfare/AP)

Four lion cubs rescued from Ukraine have found a new home at a wildlife sanctuary in the woods of Minnesota.

The cubs, a young male called Taras and three females — Stefania, Lesya and Prada — landed in the United States on Tuesday after a nine-hour flight from Poland, where they had been cared for in recent weeks by a local zoo since being plucked from the conflict by animal welfare groups.

“These cubs have endured more in their short lives than any animal should,” Meredith Whitney, Wildlife Rescue Program manager at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, one of several groups working to rescue animals from the war, said in a statement. “They were born at breeding facilities in Ukraine, during the war and then orphaned at a few weeks old.”

Four lion cubs landed in Chicago on Nov. 29 and were taken to their new home at a wildlife sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn. (Video: The Washington Post)

The cubs survived sporadic bombings and drone attacks, according to the animal welfare group, before making an arduous 36-hour journey to Poland three weeks ago.

How Stepan, Ukraine’s most famous cat, escaped the war to safety

The cubs were cared for on the flight by an American veterinarian. International regulations for transporting animals specify that they must be kept in a temperature-controlled environment, and the space for the cubs on the plane was pressurized, the welfare group said.

The cubs will live together as a pride in a specially designed woodland habitat at Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minn.

Tammy Thies, who founded the sanctuary, north of Minneapolis, more than two decades ago, said her organization has cared for 300 big cats over the years and is “acutely aware of the trauma many big cats around the world experience.”

“Because of the generosity of our supporters, we can provide lifelong care to big cats at our sanctuary,” she said in a statement.

A shelter in Ukraine saved hundreds of cats and dogs — and a lion

Tales of heroic animal rescues have surfaced throughout the conflict. Asya Serpinska, the 77-year-old owner of Hostomel Animal Shelter, went toward the front lines as Russian tanks neared the capital, Kyiv, earlier this year to rescue hundreds of animals caught in the fighting, including a lion. Still, countless others have been left behind as their owners fled the war.

Asya Serpinska, 77-year-old Hostomel Animal Shelter owner, went toward the front lines to rescue animals caught in the fighting. (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

Zoos and rescue centers across Europe have opened their doors to many animals rescued from Ukraine, but at the time of the cubs’ rescue, they were operating at capacity, according to the welfare group. Lions can live for more than 20 years — and their upkeep costs about $10,000 a year, according to Thies.

The Wildcat Sanctuary shelters about 130 lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards and other wildcats, many of which were rescued from the exotic pets trade.

Louisa Lovelock contributed to this report.