For Ruslan Lukanin and his fishing buddy, it was about to be an exciting day of cold water fishing out on the frigid waters of Lake Vygozero in the northern Karelia region of Russia. But what they were about to witness on the cold lake that day was something they never imagined they would see in their lifetimes.

20. A Fishing Excursion Gone Wrong

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19. Something in the Water

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As they set across the lake in their fishing boat, the fishermen caught a glimpse of two rather large objects in the water that appeared to be moving and splashing around quite violently.

18. Journey Across the Lake

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Two baby bear cubs had also set out that morning to cross the cold lake with their mother. However, their swimming skills were not developed enough to keep up with mama bear, as she was much further across the lake at this point.

17. Cubs Trying to Keep Afloat

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Ruslan and his fishing buddy sped up and approached the two cubs in the water. What they saw was heartbreaking.

16. Too Weak to Swim

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The two cubs were were too young to swim. They looked to be just at the age where they could walk on land, let alone swim. They were just too weak to keep up with their mother in the water.

15. Exhausted Mother Bear

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Exhausted herself, the mother bear kept on swimming to reach land. She must have known that she would drown too if she turned back for them. But would she come back for them now that the fishermen were approaching them?

14. Shivering Cubs

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The fishermen had to act quickly if they were to save the cubs from the freezing water. It was becoming evident that the cubs were cold as they were shivering and now trying to latch onto the side of the boat.

13. -20 Degree Lake Vygozero

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The men had to come up with a plan of action and quick! Lake Vygozero is an unforgiving place and would quickly swallow up the cubs in the sub zero waters. It’s normal for the water temperature to reach -20 degrees Celsius, or -4 degrees Fahrenheit, and for it to freeze over during certain times of the year.

12. Thinking Fast!

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Ruslan quickly scrambled to grab all the gear he could to try to lift the cubs into the boat and told his friend to grab his phone to record the event.

11. Terrified Cub Clings to Boat

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As Ruslan climbed over to the side of the boat where the first cub was clinging, he looked him square in the eyes and instantly knew what the bear was feeling. The cubs’ expression said it all!

10. Fisherman Scoops Cub Up With Fishing Net

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The cubs eyes were wide with fear. Ruslan could tell he was terrified. He quickly dipped a large fishing net into the water behind the bear and tried to scoop him into the boat. His friend yelled to him that the net would never hold and that the bear was too heavy for it.

9. Carefully Bringing the Freezing Cub Aboard

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Ruslan continued to try to scoop the young cub up out of the water. The cub even did his best to hold on by gripping the side of the boat with his razor sharp teeth. Ruslan had to be extremely careful as he pulled the cub in. If he got to close the cub may try to thrash at him out of desperation with his sharp claws and teeth.

8. Fisherman’s Recollection of the Day

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In an interview with Dailymail, Ruslan recalls how the situation went:

‘They had swum[across the lake] with their mother, but she overestimated her strength and swam away. The cubs began to sink. We picked them up and dragged them to the island to which their mother had swum. It was dangerous, of course, but they are living creatures. We couldn’t just look the other way.’

7. Soothing the Scared Cubs

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As the men helped the first cub into the boat, they soothed him with comforting and encouraging words.

“Don’t be afraid, just don’t be afraid. We’ll rescue you, don’t be afraid” they said.

6. In the Water Too Long

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Soon after the first cub was in the boat, the men steered the boat closer to the remaining cub who had swam away from the boat. They could tell that this cub wasn’t doing well at all. He had been in the freezing water too long trying to keep his head above water.

5. The Search for Mama Bear

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Totally exhausted, the second cub welcomed the net around him as the men lifted him into the boat. He did not struggle with them at all. The men decided that their next objective would be to search for mama bear.

4. Needle in a Haystack

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But how far did their mother swim after leaving the cubs to fend for themselves? If it weren’t for these brave fishermen these poor cubs certainly wouldn’t have made it back to shore to find their mother. There are nearly 500 islands on lake Vygozero, so finding mama bear on one of them would be like searching for a needle in a haystack! 

3. Mama Bear Spotted Nearby

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After a short while of patrolling the area, the fishermen spotted a large brown bear on a nearby island close to the mainland. Based on the proximity to where they found the cubs in the water, they were certain it was the mother. So as not to spook her or make her angry at the sight of her cubs on the fishing boat, they drove around the side of the island just out of her sight.

2. Returning Cubs to Their Mother

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Ruslan and his friend pulled up close to the island and lifted the cubs off of the boat. They were far too cold and weak to climb off themselves and they didn’t seem to mind the men lifting them down to the shore at this point.

1. Hopes of Reuniting

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As the men pulled away from the shore they watched as the cubs scurried away. They could only hope they would meet up with their mother there on the island.