You would think, as a single mother raising two children in a woodland shack, that Velga Vitola would already have her hands full.
On the contrary, she has found a third youngster to mother in the form of a baby brown bear names Ilzite.
The self-confessed animal lover made a home for the orphaned bear cub where it would regularly play with the children, join in on family walks and even sleep in the same bed as Velga.
She and her family all regard the wild bear cub as a sibling, she says, ‘I raised three children – a son, a daughter, and a bear.’
Velga came across her beloved Ilzite in the forest surrounding her home, he was with another abandoned bear cub, she picked them up and took her back to her shack.
‘Both my bears grew up in the house. They woke my kids up for school every morning,’ she said.
Unfortunately though, one of the cubs later passed away, but Ilzite thrived and developed a strong bond with the family, especially Velga.
‘She loves to give me, her mum, a kiss – any other human would lose their head if they tried it.
‘We just love each other,’ she added.
Velga reckons Ilzite believes he is a human being rather than a bear.
‘Once she saw her reflection in the window. It sounded like thunder, she was growling so loudly because she thought she looked like me – her mum,’ she said.
Velga has been dubbed as ‘the mother of all animals’ due to all the wild creatures she has raised, including hedgehogs, elk and more:
‘Once I woke up because a pair of wild geese were in my bedroom’
‘This is the place of my happiest moments. All of those moments are about animals. I feel like this is my place in the world.’
Ilzite eventually grew too big to live in the family house, but he is still regarded as part of the family.
Velga still regularly goes on walks with the bear, and their connection is still there and stronger than ever.
‘Once we both went for a walk along the wild boars enclosure, she was only one year old at the time and was afraid of them,’ Ms Vitola said.
‘She clung to my legs and started to growl at them. She felt safe because her mum was there. I told her: “You crazy bear, I will be the first to run.”‘
‘I need those moments, the bear kisses and hugs to feel happy and free. People can be two-faced, but when an animal looks at you he is only himself.’
‘We can learn a lot from them.’