The Tragic Story of a Soviet Family Who Raised Lions as their Pets in the 1970s

In the 1970s, the Berberov family – a family from Baku, Azerbaijan, kept a lion in a Soviet apartment. They had two lions. While the first lion, King I, was grateful for Lev and Nina’s salvation and had a pleasant character, the second king, King II, turned out to be a murderer. He sent his mistress to the hospital and killed her first child, a 14-year-old boy.

Architect Lev Lvovich Berberov (Lev Lvovich means ‘lion’ or ‘son of the lion’) and his family-owned many pets. So when his wife brought home a dying lion cub from the Zoo, he was not surprised. They had enough room for several animals in their 100 sq meters apartment, like dogs, cats, hedgehogs, snakes, and raccoons. Nina Berberova and her daughter, Eva, saw a sick lion cub abandoned by its mother while walking at the Zoo. The family brought the lion home with the permission of the Zoo’s director and named him the King. Eventually, the lion became a family pet and was loved by all family members.

Within a short period, not only Soviet but also foreign media became interested in the King. He was the subject of many articles and TV programs. The King even appeared in several movies such as ‘Lion Left House’, ‘A Boy, a Girl, a Lion’, and ‘The Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia’. Lev Berberov left his architectural job and began to negotiate with film studios as King’s producer. Nina Berberova said that their neighbors were not happy about being adjacent to a lion. They lived in constant fear and anxiety.

The Berberov family and King lived in a school building for a short time while filming The Unbelievable Adventures of Italians in Russia in Leningrad. Residents living nearby were warned every morning not to approach the school. There were people, however, who ignored these warnings. One of them was Valentin Markov, a young man. When the King’s trainer went to drink tea, Markov appeared in front of the gym window of the school building and began jumping to catch the lion’s attention. The King accepted it as an invitation to play. Markov fell when he broke the window. When a police lieutenant heard Markov’s cries, he shot King several times. Thus, the film star’s career ended.

All family members were shocked by the King’s death, especially the children Eva and Roma. The most apparent victim of King’s absence was Chap, the dog. At home, he looked everywhere for King. Chap died a few days later. The family adapted a second lion in 1975 and subsequently named King II.

Lev Berberov died of a heart attack in 1978. Having lost her husband, Nina Berberova encountered some financial hardships keeping King II in the Zoo and could not return him.

Nina Berberova will never forget November 24, 1980, as the most tragic day of her life. When she got home from work, King II was acting strangely due to a strange smell. The drunken neighbor on his balcony burned plastic and threw away King II, making him very angry and irritated. King II attacked Nina as soon as she entered the room. Her son Roma tried to stop King II but couldn’t manage. The King fatally injured Nina and killed her son Roma before her eyes. Neighbors called the police, who shot and killed King II.

Nina Petrovna discovered the death of her son after being released from the hospital. After hearing the shocking news, she was hospitalized for three months. In her despair, she contemplated suicide. The actor Kyazim Abdullaev, later her husband, helped in her recovery from this incredibly depressing state of mind. They married after a year and had two children. However, she was unable to recover from the shock of her son’s death.

Written by Benjamin Grayson

Former Bouquet seller now making a go with blogging and graphic designing. I love creating & composing history articles and lists.

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