Amid war, bat rescue continues in Ukraine

A common noctules bat rescued in Ukraine. Credit: Ukrainian Bat Rehabilitation Center

As Russian forces advanced this summer on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, the façade of an eight-story apartment building in the Saltivka district suffered heavy damages from shelling, as did many other multi-family structures. Dozens of bullets scarred the gray front wall, and most of the upper windows were shattered. By August, only a few families remained. Some noticed dozens of bats trapped in the lower windows. The animals had flown through broken panes of glass, then got stuck, unable to find an exit. Soon they were dying of dehydration and starvation.

But in a lucky turn of events, one of the families called the Ukrainian Bat Rehabilitation Center, an organization of biologists and veterinarians who rescue and treat injured bats. When Anton Vlaschenko, its director, and Lika But, a volunteer, arrived on the scene, they carefully removed the remaining animals, the majority of which were common noctules, or Nyctalus noctula. Eight of the bats were already dead. The remaining 18 they put inside a bag and took home. “We measured their body mass, fed them, watered and released them in the evening,” said Vlaschenko.

His organization, established in 2013, has become the largest bat rescue and research facility in Eastern Europe. But the war changed everything. The center lost all its funding in February, and some of its staff and collaborators were drafted. And hundreds of trapped bats — which are a key part of the ecosystem — began dying in destroyed or abandoned buildings.

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