Extreme Bravery from the Women Saving Ukraine’s Dogs of War

Cars have been streaming in a single direction away from the Ukrainian city of Donetsk as families try to get far, far away from this hot spot seized by Pro-Russian separatists. Many of the exiting cars are using trailers to pull coffins as terrified residents flee with all that is most precious to them. Yet not everyone is bringing their pets along, and a small group of brave women are staying behind because they alone must care for the dogs of war.

The animal shelter in Donetsk is extremely vulnerable now. Shelter caregivers sacrifice their own safety to protect the dogs and cats.

At the animal shelter here in Donetsk, icy fear hangs like a spider web across the grounds. Waves of silence are broken by a thunderous barking as the dogs respond to the sound of machine gun fire and artillery falling in the city. The teary-eyed women here are fighting flashbacks of the moments when they said goodbye to their family and friends who recently fled this once-thriving center of cultural and economic abundance.

To make matters worse, the tenacious truce between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels began last Friday evening, but by Saturday both sides were already claiming the other broke the agreement. By Sunday, the fight was back on.

Fearing that the worst is not yet over, there has been a mass exodus from Ukraine’s most besieged cities. But there are more than 800 dogs and cats within the walls of the shelter in Donetsk alone and someone must stay to care for them. In a makeshift medical area, medicine is given to a young dog who suffered a stroke when a bomb went off beside him. A handful of women are quickly peeling a donation of potatoes that have just arrived in the back of a pickup truck. They’ll cook the meal in giant pots and serve the warm treat to all the dogs. The remaining workers are on their knees cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. The women used to sing while they worked, but no more.

Human Refugees Living At Animal Shelter

Shelter Director Marina Bolokhovets and a volunteer relax with the dogs at the shelter earlier this summer

A similar scene plays out miles away in Dnepropetrovsk, where hundreds of dogs speckle the grassy fields of their modest shelter .

“I feel that for the last two months I constantly have tears on my eyes and it is not from happiness,” said shelter founder Marine Bolokhovets, who is also a young mother. “We tried to call friends in Luganks at the animal shelter from which we rescued 6 dogs, but there was no connection. Lugansk is wiped from the map. Volunteers and my friend from Donezk shelter don’t leave but bombs are exploding and animals and people have nothing to eat. Today there were sirens here in Dnepropetrovsk and we were advised to store as much food and fuel as we can. I am thinking about my kids, about my dogs in the shelter. Will there be an end to all this and will we reach that end alive?”

A refugee boy takes comfort in the unconditional love the dogs here have to offer.

Marina’s shelter has taken in several Crimean refugees who are now living there along with the animals. Some of the refugees are children. They seem to take comfort in helping care for the animals. It gives them purpose, companionship and distraction from the ache of missing their homes.

Further west in the capital city, the Shelter Kiev SOS is trying to manage the wave of abandoned cats and dogs coming their way.

“More and more refugees are arriving to Kiev every day, and they are bringing their pets that they cannot care for anymore,” shelter founder Tamara Tarnawska explains. “In the last three days we got 52 puppies and more are coming. We have the money to keep the shelter running for less than two months. Unfortunately, Ukrainian people cannot help us now. Ordinary citizens collect money to help the army, refugees, children. The animals’ problem remain in the far background. The administration of the city is even unable to pay staff salaries. I am in despair. How to survive the cold winter and save the lives of animals?”

At the shelter in Kiev, cats will be kept warm indoors during the coming winter.

Getting Food and Fuel to the Animal Rescue Centers Before Winter

Kibble is a luxury item at the shelter in Kiev and is available only to the puppies and to the cats here. The majority of the dogs don’t receive kibble every day and are instead fed a mix of cooked rice and expiring food from McDonalds and grocery stores. Before the crisis there were 1,200 cats and dogs here. That number rises weekly.

All three of these animal shelters have turned to the Harmony Fund international animal rescue charity for help. Harmony Fund has accepted the mission to provide food and fuel to heat the shelters through the coming winter.

Animals of all kinds receive care here.

Emergency veterinary needs are also a major expense for animals injured in the military attacks and for those who are simply sick. The shelter in Donetsk is aching for diagnostic tools: an x-ray machine, biochemical analyzer and an ultrasound machine, but those tools are unlikely to arrive unless donated by a veterinary clinic elsewhere because the monumental task of simply feeding the animals and keeping them warm must be the first priority.

A Message from the Heroes in Ukraine: “We Wish Everyone Peace”

PHOTOS

“We would like to wish everyone peace. Let God protect you from being in the situation similar to what we are currently experiencing,” says Vita, a caregiver at the shelter in Donetsk.  “In these conditions when the banking system is totally blocked, when the majority of shops are closed and importation of products into our city is minimal, it is very difficult to feed 800 dogs retained in our shelter and 300 dogs who are retained at our partner facility. We will be very grateful for any assistance provided to our shelter.”

Get involved in the effort to provide food, fuel and veterinary care for the animals in the Ukraine.

263 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Dmitry Latyshenok
.2 years ago

Russia is not the aggressor. The real aggressor is sitting in Kiev and does what he says nigger from the White house (I use Yandex translate)

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ElenaNoFwdsPls M.
Elena M2 years ago

Charles W. and Marina N.- I am an ethnic Russian, I live in Kiev- the capital of Ukraine, I speak Russian language all I want. Moreover, during my trips to the Western Ukraine couple of times I forgot to switch to Ukrainian language and no one said a word to me. At the same time, in Donetsk and Luhansk area Ukrainian speaking people are in danger. My friend's father-in-law moved from Poltava to Luhansk area more than 40 years ago,
he spoke Ukrainian all his life and locals understood him very well. He was out of politics. In November 2014 he walked down the street talking on cell phone. Several men from Russian Don Kazaks gang with AK approached to him and shot... his only fault was- speaking Ukrainian language! in Ukraine! There are many similar stories.
I live in Kiev, I'm in touch with people who help animals in the war zone, and I know people who escape from there. By the way, most of them are ethnic Russians, they speak Russian, but they want to live in Ukraine and they don't want Ukraine to be under Russia's rule.

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Loesje vB
Loesje Najoan2 years ago

God bless you people of harmonyfund.org.

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Roberto Meritoni
Roberto Meritoni2 years ago

Thanks for sharing

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Jenni Haughton
Jenni Haughton2 years ago

Amazing woman I salute you. You have shown true compassion to our wonderful animals and in such devastating and dangerous conditions you are the heroes of this pointless war.God bless you if only every human was just like you. We would live in a much better world.

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Diane&Wolfgang Weisenberg

Mark D, you are so right. Patricia D, you just inspired me to send my 10 bucks. If we all send just 10 bucks, it would be immensely helpful.

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Mark Donners
Mark Donner2 years ago

What did the animals do to deserve humans and their psychoses like war, pollution and mass murder? This human infested planet is a liability to the universe. Not to put down the few who care and rescue these victims, but the majority of the human race is downright evil.

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Patricia Dehler
Patricia D2 years ago

This breaks my heart. I dashed right over to the http://harmonyfund.org/ so I could donate. If we all gave only $10,00 think how that could add up.

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Rike Wesendahl
Rike Wesendahl2 years ago

Wish there were more people like her.. with compassion and bravery.

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