A shelter in the Ukrainian capital welcomes animals haunted by war

Kyiv, Ukraine — Shell-shocked pets began roaming the Ukrainian capital with nowhere to go as the Russian war began.

Volunteers have opened a shelter to welcome them and try to find them new homes or at least human companionship. Every day Kyiv residents come to visit cats and dogs evacuated from frontline towns or left without owners due to the nearly five-month war.

Hrystyna Sairova and her 12-year-old daughter, Anna, rescued dogs three to four times a week. Many of them arrived at the temporary shelter with lost legs or other serious injuries, Sairova said.

“They don’t deserve this, nor do humans. They are members of our families,” she said.

The shelter occupies a small building that was once an exhibition space to showcase the achievements of the Soviet Union. Kennels and wooden leashes fill a hallway, and a playroom is furnished with bowls and toys inside the animal shelter that wouldn’t exist if Russia hadn’t invaded Ukraine on February 24 .

“We could not ignore the fact that due to the active hostilities, animals began to appear on the streets of the city,” said shelter coordinator Natalia Mazur, who also runs the Veterinary Medicine Hospital in Kyiv.

The shelter opened on May 31, around the time Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv region to focus their attacks on eastern Ukraine. More than 195 animals came through the gates, including 160 that were reunited with their owners or found new homes, Mazur said.

Like people, animals are traumatized by war, suffering psychologically from shelling, shelling and shooting, Mazur said. Some of the animals were removed and did not want to eat when they arrived at the shelter.

“To get out of this state, they need someone,” Mazur said. “The animal needs human care.”

A Siberian husky arrived at the shelter from Lysychansk, a city in eastern Ukraine besieged last month and located 734 kilometers (456 miles) from Kyiv. It was separated from its owners during the chaos of a civilian evacuation and was found by a Ukrainian who helps with civilian evacuations and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The dog, which shelter volunteers named Bourbon, fractured his chest when he arrived at the shelter and has been recovering there for several weeks.

“We know that these animals were left without owners because of the war, but they are very attached to human love. They are alone here; they need us,” volunteer Sayirova said.

Makeshift space meets more than one type of need. When staff held an open house last weekend, more than 1,000 people showed up to walk the 25 dogs who then stayed at the shelter along with 11 cats. Sunday evening the dogs were tired from so many walks.

“People understand that someone is in worse conditions than them. People now want to take care of someone,” Mazur said.

The Ukrainian government does not have a wartime animal evacuation program, but there are many private and voluntary initiatives. The non-governmental organization UA ​​Animals has even hired people and paid them a salary to rescue animals from combat zones.

“We are not evacuating the animals themselves, but the people, who will not go anywhere without their pets,” said UA Animals founder Oleksandr Todorchuk.

Although there is no longer any active fighting in Kyiv at the moment, the volunteers plan to maintain the temporary shelter as long as the war continues.

Nadiya Oleksyuk works full-time in computer programming but goes to the shelter every morning “because she has to”. In a shaky voice, Oleksyuk explains that she feels “a general guilt as a human being that animals are in this situation”.

“It is not the fault of the animals that the war took place. They certainly didn’t have war in their plans,” she said.

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Follow AP coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Christi C. Elwood