Man from Birmingham travels 280 miles through Ukraine to rescue female bear

Richard Ashmore joined the rescue mission into Ukraine and said that Masha is now safe in a Romanian sanctuary.

A man, who is from Birmingham, travelled 280 miles into Ukraine to rescue an ex-circus bear whose relocation to sanctuary was prevented by the Russian invasion.

Animal rescuer Lionel De Lange from the charity Warriors for Wildlife was joined by British journalist Richard Ashmore, from Birmingham, along with filmmaker Andrew Drury as they drove through the warzone on Saturday and Sunday to save 22-year-old brown bear Masha.

Masha, who spent 19 years of her life in a circus, had been due to be moved from Sambir, near Lviv, to a sanctuary in Romania, when war broke out.

Now back in Birmingham, Mr Ashmore described the difficulties in getting the bear into a van - and the people he met on their way to a sanctuary in Romania.

"She's by no means domesticated," he said. "She's been living in a temporary enclosure, on her own."

"She'd never been sedated before - she's 22 years old but bears in captivity can live up to 40 - so it was a question of giving her enough sedation to make her not attack us but at the same time we didn't want to give her too much."

"What she's experiencing now is a huge enclosure, which she'll have all to herself. She's got water, trees, grass and past her fences she's got other bears."

The team who travelled into Ukraine to rescue Masha Credit: Magnus News Agency

Mr de Lange originally flew into Ukraine on February 21 to transport Masha to Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Transylvania.

But three days later Russian troops invaded Ukraine on the order of President Putin and and Lionel left his home in Kherson near the Black Sea and return to his native South Africa.

However, with Masha still trapped in Ukraine, he returned on March 19th accompanied by the two British journalists.

Lionel, 56, said every time the rescue mission stopped to refuel and give Masha some air she brought happiness and hope to soldiers and fleeing families.

“I didn’t want to go into Ukraine with a big van with nothing in the back so we took over medical supplies, food, feminine hygiene products, dog and cat food and military surplus gear. We even gave dog food to the soldiers dogs.

“We didn’t help the whole of Ukraine but we helped a few people and rescued a Ukrainian bear.”

In particular, Mr Ashmore remembers encountering a lady who had had a horrific experience, and hopes that meeting Masha the bear gave her some comfort, and hope.

"She broke down crying and said that she was in Kyiv and as there was an attack...a friend had shielded her, and died on top of her, and she lived through that, and unfortunately the friend died."

"And even her, she'd driven so far from Lviv to the Romanian border and she asked come and see Masha, and she got out of her car and came over and obviously smiled at that moment and told us we were doing a good thing - despite everything she'd been through."

"I'm sure her story is very similar to hundreds of thousands of other Ukrainians right now."

Cristina Lapis, President of AMP Libearty Bear Sanctuary, said: “All the creatures who are suffering need our compassion and our help. Masha is a refugee like thousands of people who run away from fear of war.

“It is our human duty to save the animals also and Masha is the symbol of a successful rescue.”