Ital­ian pho­tog­ra­pher moves to Ukraine, runs an­i­mal shel­ter

Kyiv Post - - Lifestyle - BY YASHITA VASHISHTH

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.

Ital­ian be­gin­ning

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 to­tks

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)

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