The ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces has shocked the world. People everywhere have been heartbroken and moved by the struggles and resilience of the Ukrainian people as the conflict has upended everything in their lives.
Throughout everything, people have still been thinking about the animals: from the pets of refugees struggling to make it across the border to zoo animals trapped in the country and scared by the explosions, animals are again the innocent bystanders of war.
So people around the world have been worrying about the safety of Ukraine’s most famous pet, an internet-famous cat named Stepan. But now, fans are finally relieved to hear the beloved cat has made it to safety.
Stepan is perhaps Ukraine’s most famous celebrity cat: he has a whopping 1.1 million followers on Instagram and as many on TikTok. He became a viral star in recent years thanks to his deadpan, nonchalant facial expressions, which are often juxtaposed with a party atmosphere and a big glass of wine:
The videos apparently struck a major chord with people online, especially during the pandemic, and celebrities like Britney Spears, Diane Kruger and Hailey Bieber have shared Stepan’s posts.
“The expression on his face is a separate art,” his owner Hanna told the Kyiv Independent.
The owner says that she adopted the now-famous cat as a one-month-old kitten. He’s now 13 years old, a senior in cat years, but Stepan has been living the high life, doing promotions for luxury product lines like Valentino and receiving offers from Discovery Channel and MTV.
But the lives of Stepan and his owner were upended forever a few weeks ago, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. They live in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city and a major target, so they were right in the line of fire as the attacks began.
Fans around the world have worried for weeks whether this famous cat made it to safety. Thankfully, a recent post on Stepan’s Instagram has provided some relief — and a first-person account of citizens caught in the middle of the war.
In a post from March 16, Hanna recalls being at home in Kharkiv as the attacks began. “At 5 am, some explosion was heard, and I didn’t even understand what it was,” she wrote.
The bombing continued, and she writes that she “understood that something terrible was happening”: “We realized that the war had come to our house,” she wrote.
She writes about the early, destructive days of the attack: “Shells hit the neighboring houses every day; the houses burned before our eyes.” She says her house remained safe for a week, until it was damaged by falling shells.
“We spent two nights in the basement and without electricity for a week,” Hanna wrote. “We had to go to the nearby basement to charge the phone.”
Finally, Hanna and Stepan made it out of the city: volunteers took them to the train station, where they embarked on a 20-hour trip to Liviv. They then joined thousands of other people in line at the Polish border.
While it was a struggle, Stepan’s worldwide fame helped them once they crossed the border: the World Influencers and Bloggers Association helped them get to France. They are safe, and waiting for the day they can finally go home.
“We worry very much about our relatives in Ukraine and will do the very best we can to help our country,” Hanna wrote.
Throughout the ordeal, Stepan’s social media accounts were understandably quiet, which caused fans to worry about him. The news of his safe arrival in France was met as a welcome relief.
While it might seem trivial to focus so much on the wellbeing of one Internet cat while millions of Ukrainians are being impacted by the war, it’s clear that people really do feel a connection to Stepan, and his story puts a familiar face on this global crisis.
“I started checking the account every single day to make sure they were okay,” Kalina Newman, a 24-year-old graduate student from Washington, told the Washington Post. “It’s a testament to how powerful these Internet figures can be.”
We are so glad Stepan has made it to safety, and know millions of fans around the world are happy to hear he’s safe and sound.
His story is another heartbreaking account of the struggles all Ukrainian citizens have been going through over the past few weeks. We pray that this conflict will end soon — and this famous cat can go back to making funny videos.
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