Italian photographer moves to Ukraine, runs animal shelter
A horse stands under a sun shade on a baking hot day in a village near Kyiv. Andrea Cisternino, the horse’s owner, explains that the horse, named Tathanka, suffers from asthma, and is not supposed to stay in the sun for too long.
Cisternino, a 55-year-old Italian, can remember the names and health conditions of all 320 animals that live in his animal shelter — Rifugio Italia in Ukraine — in the village of Lisovychi, some 40 kilometers north from Kyiv. The shelter is a home to 140 dogs, 35 cats, and a menagerie of other animals including cows, horses, turkeys, ducks, hens and goats — all rescued from the streets or from abusive owners.
“Last year, we found a dog that had got into an accident, and lost all four of its limbs. Michael, as we’ve named him, was sent to a doctor in Italy, and now has four prosthetic legs,” Cisternino says.
During his life, Cisternino has lived in different cities, and done different jobs, but says that his true passion — helping animals — has been with him for his entire life.
Cisternino worked as a professional fashion photographer for 20 years. He started as an assistant at a photo studio in Milan, were he worked with internationally famous photographers like Bart Herreman from Belgium and Mario Nodari from Italy.
He opened his own photo studio in the Italian city of Como in 1997, but just one month later he was involved in a car accident. As a result, his left hand was paralyzed for two years. He had to sell his photo studio and equipment to raise enough money for surgery.
When he recovered from the injury, Cisternino returned to fashion photography, but also used his skills to fight cruelty to animals.
He would take pictures of ill-treated farm animals, and bring the images to the police. He also reported various pharmaceutical companies for testing chemicals on animals.
Love for animals, as well as a taste for adventure, has helped him in personal life, too. Vlada Shalutko, his 45-year-old Ukrainian wife, says these common interests sparked their attraction to each other. They met in 2008 in Milan at a friend’s party. They married after a year in Kyiv, Shalutko’s hometown.
“Most people in Ukraine want to migrate to the West, but I feel that my true happiness lies in my city,” Shalutko says.
Life in Kyiv
After moving to Kyiv, Cisternino opened a photo studio in 2010 and started working on his first photo album. This album was devoted to homeless animals and people in Kyiv, and was released in 2011. He released his second album of the same topic in 2014.
When Ukraine and Poland were preparing to host the UEFA Euro 2012 football championship, a volunteer told Cisternino that street dogs were being poisoned and shot in an effort to clean up the streets of Kyiv. His own dog was then poisoned as well.
“To raise my voice in protest at violence against animals, I started an online campaign, and garnered a lot of support,” he says, adding that he received a lot of threats from the dog hunters at that time.
Italian journalists approached him about his story, and he has been invited to give speeches in various European cities about protecting animal rights.
And together with his wife, Cisternino established the International Animal Protection League charity fund in 2013, and in the following year they built their shelter for homeless animals.
The shelter is built on a 40,000-square-meter land plot donated to them by an Italian couple who were touched by Cisternino and his wife’s work to protect animals. The buildings are equipped with solar panels, and have several kitchens where food for the various animals is prepared.
“We make about 300 kilograms of porridge for our dogs on a regular basis,” Cisternino says. “Apart from that, we give them meat and macaroni too.”
The shelter has a staff of seven locals who change shifts, so that the animals are taken care of around the clock.
The shelter has agreements with various veterinary clinics, but the owners are now building their own hospital for animals within their complex.
In the coming years, Cisternino also wants to open an animal park at one end of his shelter.
“I want to build a petting zoo like the ones in Italy. It will be a visual delight for children, and they’ll be able to touch the animals too,” he says.
The animals at the shelter are also up for adoption. They all are vaccinated, and healthy. To pick a pet, come to the shelter in Lisovychi, first sending a message to www. facebook. com/ Rifugio- Italia- Kj2Ukraine- 828245003881821/, or calling Cisternino at +38098 635 2370, or +39382 066 3116.
To buy Cisternino’s first photo album, go to www.amzn.to/2kExtks
Andrea Cisternino and his wife Vlada Shalutko stand next to Thelma, a female horse, at their animal shelter Rifugio Italia in Ukraine in a village near Kyiv. The shelter is a home to 320 animals. (Oleg Petrasiuk)
Dogs jump in excitement as they see Andrea Cisternino, a co-founder of the Rifugio Italia in Ukraine animal shelter, on May 30. There are 140 dogs, of various breeds and age groups, living in the shelter. (Oleg Petrasiuk)