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Stepan the Cat (Ukr.: Кiт Степан; Rus.: Кот Степан) is a tabby housecat from Kharkiv, Ukraine who gained major virality on TikTok and Instagram in 2021, first among Ukrainian and Russian users, and later globally. The cat belongs to TikToker @annaolala who first began posting videos of him in early 2020, accumulating over a million followers in two years.
In March 2020, TikToker @annaolala (Anna) from Kharkiv, Ukraine started posting videos of her cat Stepan, a 13-year-old (as of 2022) tabby cat whom she picked up when he was one month old. The first video was posted on March 22nd, 2020 (shown below, left). Starting in late November 2020, videos of Stepan, which @annaolala often paired with prominent soundbites recorded by other animal accounts, started going viral on the app (examples shown center and right).
Stepan achieved virality after May 25th, 2021, when @annaolala posted a video of Stepan sitting at a table next to a pizza on a chair. The video gained over 981,800 likes in one year (shown below, left).
Following the viral success of the video, @annaolala started posting more TikToks in which Stepan was seated on a chair next to food items, particularly beverages, usually paired with popular songs. For example, on June 19th, 2021, @annaolala posted a video of Stepan sitting next to a wine glass set to "I Just Called to Say I Love You" by Stevie Wonder. The video (shown below, center) gained over 32.4 million views and 7.9 million likes in nine months. The videos were perceived by Russian-speaking users as reflective of feelings of loneliness and hopelessness, akin to celebrating one's birthday alone.
As of March 2022, Stepan's TikTok account achieved over 1.1 million subscribers.
On August 3rd, 2020, Stepan's owner also launched an Instagram account for her pet that accumulated over 1.1 million followers as of March 2022 (post examples seen below).
Stepan the Cat did not see a major spread among Western social media users until November 24th, 2021, when singer Britney Spears shared a photograph of Stepan on her Instagram account in a now-deleted post (shown below).
In late 2021, Stepan then gained international virality on TikTok.
Escape From Ukraine
On February 24th, 2022, on the first day of the 2022 Russo-Ukrainian war, the Russian army started shelling Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city where Stepan and his owner Anna resided. Between February 24th and March 3rd, Stepan remained in Kharkiv, with several posts urging to stop the war posted on the Instagram account (shown below).
Stepan then disappeared from social media for nearly two weeks, causing concerns for his and his owner's fate. On March 16th, Anna made two Instagram posts revealing that she and Stepan managed to escape the country, first traveling to the city of Lviv in Western Ukraine, then to Poland, and later, with the help of the World Influencers and Bloggers Associations, to France where they were located as of mid-March 2022 (Instagram post shown below).
Stepan and Anna's refugee story attracted international media attention. For example, on March 17th, 2022, The Washington Post covered the story, referring to Stepan as "Ukraine's most famous cat."
 The Washington Post – How Stepan, Ukraine’s most famous cat, escaped the war to safety