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Activists rally against using animals in the circus

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A woman holds a poster that reads "I stand for a circus without animals" as she protests against using animals in the circus in Shevchenko Park in Kyiv on April 15.
Photo by Anastasia Vlasova

More than 100 people rallied in Taras Shevchenko Park on April 15 against using animals in the circus shows.

The protest, which was organized by UaAnimals initiative founder Oleksandr Todorchuk, brought together animal rights activists, celebrities, families with children, and animal lovers who called on the government to ban performing animals from Ukraine’s circuses.

Most of the activists brought self-made posters with slogans demanding that the circus animals be freed, along with paintings depicting animals sadly sitting in small cages. Some of protesters even brought artificial bars, referencing the small cages that house circus animals.

UaAnimals recently posted photos and videos of the conditions in which animals are being held at the National Circus of Ukraine, showing that most of the animals live in cages that are slightly bigger than the size of their bodies. See the Kyiv Post’s photo gallery from a rehearsal of the National Circus of Ukraine here.

Anna Smagina came to the protest with her 9-year-old son Maksym the day after watching a performance of the National Circus of Ukraine. They said they liked the gymnastic performances by children and enjoyed most of the show, but Maksym was very disappointed after the circus trainers tried to make the seal perform, and it refused.

The boy also said that he felt pity for the bear and dogs performing in the circus.

“The dogs pounced on the food so aggressively! Like nobody had ever fed them,” he said, almost shouting.

The same evening, they saw a post about the protest on Facebook and decided to come.

Apart from activists, some Ukrainian celebrities and politicians including the vocalist of Onuka electronic band Nata Zhyzhchenko and her husband, music producer Eugene Filatov, who also performs in the band The Maneken, Ukrainian singer and actress Dasha Astafieva and mayor of Hlukhiv city in Sumy Oblast Michel Terestchenko, attended the protest.

Zhyzhchenko told the Kyiv Post that she has supported the activists since UaAnimals was founded and that she was happy to see so many people coming out for the rally. Zhyzhchenko and her husband came to the protest with their dog, Pif, who they consider to be more a member of their family than a pet.

Less than 300 meters away from the animal rights supporters, the Kobzov circus held its performances to mark World Circus Day, the day the protest was held. Dozens of people, most of whom wer families with children, came to see shows by the circus’s clowns and acrobats.

No animal performances were presented during the event.

Oleksiy Kuhlych, who went to the circus show with his wife and toddler daughter, believes that some of the animals were taken to the circus because they couldn’t survive in the wild and that they are been taken care of there. He and his family enjoy attending shows at least once a year at the circus.

“Both kinds of circuses, with and without animals, have the right to exist,” he said.

Georgy Kyrychenko, who has worked as a clown for more than 15 years, agrees with Kuhlych, saying that not all the circuses keep animals in small cages and torture them. He said that most of the trainers use non-violent methods based on giving animals tasty treats to incentivize them to do tricks.

He said that there might be some trainers who punish the animals, but in general, that’s an outdated method that he believes is not widely used among trainers.

However, Yaroslavna Gudym, who spent a month working in National Circus of Ukraine, said that during the trainings there “animals would scream for several hours without a break.”

She said that some animals in the circus “lost their minds” and could neither perform nor live in the wild. She kept asking the staff about the animals’ future, but never got an answer.

She also called the state circus “a very reserved business structure,” adding that management obstructs any changes.

Gudym said that it’s much more comfortable for circuses to exploit animals than to develop new shows, and that the management of the National Circus of Ukraine, who have kept their positions there for a long time, do not want to lose a source of stable profit.

“But as an artist, I think that we should not only give the audience what it wants, but also educate it,” she said.

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