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Stepan the Internet-Famous Cat Escapes Ukraine, Finds Safety

The cat, who has more than 1 million followers on TikTok, has made it to France with his owner.

Stepan, a cocktail and vibes.
@loveyoustepan/Instagram

This story is part of War in Ukraine, CNET's coverage of events there and of the wider effects on the world.

Stepan is pure vibes. He's a 13-year-old tabby cat with more than a million followers on TikTok who relish videos of him cooly leaning against a counter with a drink, while colored lights dance on the wall, looking like his night out at the club is winding down.

Stepan is also Ukrainian, which means his life and the life of his favorite human, who goes by Anna on the app, have been utterly upended since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began Feb. 24. While days before the war started he was posing for his Instagram page with a large cheese pizza and the TV remote, he disappeared for two weeks (prompting concerned comments), and now has resurfaced on Instagram with a post detailing he and his owner's escape to safety in France. 

"We realized that the war had come to our house," a Wednesday post reads. 

His latest photos show him underground hiding from shells; snuggled in his owner's light blue, puffy jacket; tucked in his carrier; and looking wide-eyed, as cats often are, out the window of the train that took them from Lviv, after 20 hours, to the Polish border. Anna didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Kyiv Independent reported in December that Stepan found fame after Britney Spears reposted one of his videos, and that his owner originally adopted him off the street as a kitten. He even did a post in November with a $2,800 Valentino purse. 

This week, a post outlined the kind of harrowing escape that's become all-too familiar when reporters talk to Ukrainians on the news. 

Like so many, Anna wrote that they woke up on Feb. 24 to shelling. They spent two days in a basement in Kharkiv where they lived, and went a whole week without power. Initially, their apartment escaped damage, but that changed when a shell hit their neighbor's balcony, according to Stepan's Instagram story. They waited nine hours at the border to get out of Ukraine.

Anna is just one of more than 3 million refugees streaming out of Ukraine in the last few weeks. It's the largest influx of displaced people since World War II and neighboring countries like Poland are struggling to keep up with what's mainly been a sea of women and children escaping war, as men stay back to fight. 

While folks grab what they can -- maybe a toothbrush, passport or coat -- many also take their pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits and other critter companions. PETA UK, for example, is posting live updates on its efforts to rescue animals and get pet food where it's needed. On Tuesday, the organization said it transported 30 dogs and cats from shelters in Kharkiv into Poland.

For Stepan and his owner, help came at the border from members of the World Influencers and Bloggers Association, a global group for influencers. The organization didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. 

"They helped us get to France to wait for the very day when we could return home. We're all right now. We worry very much about our relatives in Ukraine and will do the very best we can to help our country," Anna wrote on Instagram. 

On Instagram, there are more than 14,000 comments on the most recent post alone, including messages like, "Sending love to Stepan and family," "I've been so worried," and "Stay safe."