From Ukrainians heroically rescuing abandoned pets to international organizations raising funds for shelters, the Russian invasion of Ukraine generated a massive spontaneous effort to save animals from the devastation done by the war.
Just days after the invasion began, zookeepers in Poland did their best to rescue vulnerable animals from the Kyiv animal sanctuary and bring them to safety, in a peaceful environment away from weapons.
Workers at the Poznan Zoo managed to mobilize six lions, six tigers, two caracals and an African wild dog to Poland after receiving a call for help from the sanctuary’s owners.
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“They had to take a long detour to avoid Zhytomyr and other shelling areas. They had to go back many times, because all the roads were blown up, full of holes, impossible to pass with such a load, that’s why it took so long,” Poznan Zoo spokeswoman Malgorzata Chodyla told Reuters.
According to Chodyla’s testimony, the transporters encountered a barrier of Russian tanks that did not allow them entry on their first attempt, so they were forced to turn back and look for an alternate route.
Concerned for the welfare of a 17-year-old tigress looking tired and stressed, three men accompanied and assisted the Polish zoo keepers until they were sure the animals were safe, then returned to Ukraine to fight for their country.
The hero of Irpin
A Ukrainian actor managed to reach Irpin, a city located 25 kilometers from Kyiv that was destroyed by the war, with the aim of going house to house in search of abandoned pets that he would later move to shelters and safe places.
Alexei Surovtsev, known for his participation in the Ukrainian version of Dancing With The Stars, managed to enter bombed-out buildings as the wreckage was still burning just to save a few cats.
In some videos posted on Instagram it is possible to hear gunshots in the background, coming from the armies fighting for control of the city.
The actor managed to rescue up to 30 animals per day, according to his own testimony in social media, and took them home to feed and care for them while he found safe shelters to move them to.
The heroine of Irpin
For her part, one Irpin resident took on the task of rescuing all the disabled animals she could find to save them from war and relocate them to new families.
Nastya Tikhaya, whose parents ran a shelter for disabled animals in her town, has always dedicated her life to protecting helpless creatures. She owned 19 dogs, five cats, turtles, hamsters, pigs, a chameleon and a spider.
As soon as the invasion began and the Russian Army arrived in Irpin, Nastya and her husband Arthur dedicated themselves to rescuing wounded, frightened, or abandoned animals in the midst of the war.
An effort from inside and outside Ukraine
Animal welfare groups launched an international crusade to save the helpless animal victims of the devastating Russian invasion, along with thousands of volunteers who have collaborated. The Humane Society International, for example, has managed to provide food, medicine, and veterinary care to pets and animals caught up in the conflict.
The organization’s director in Germany, Sylvie Kremerskothen Gleason, told DW that while it is understandable that some pets are left behind in emergency evacuations, their efforts to help animals multiply in times of war.
“Leaving pets behind to starve or be injured in the conflict is understandably for many an impossible decision, and we have heard from refugees we’re helping in Berlin that the loyal companionship of their pets has kept them and their families going on the arduous journey to safety,” the activist said.
Other NGOs and charities are raising funds to help animal shelters that are still operating in Ukraine, sending them urgently needed supplies for animals that cannot be evacuated, are injured, abandoned, or unable to make the journey due to health or old age.
One of them is the Four Paws organization, who operate the Domazhyr bear sanctuary and a stray animal care team in Ukraine, and are in contact with more than 30 fellow organizations in the country.
“Only a few days after the war began, we started helping people fleeing with their pets at the borders in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Moldova,” reads the donation page on their website. “We provide them much needed items such as food, bowls, transport cages, leashes, collars, toys, and blankets.”
Thanks to donations, Four Paws alone has been able to help more than 320 dogs and dozens of concerned families since the invasion began.
For its part, PETA Germany has delivered 110 tons of animal food in Ukraine, rescued 80 dogs from an animal shelter in Kharkiv, and 11 cats and 10 dogs in Kyiv.
According to Open Cages, countries such as Poland, Latvia, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic and Slovakia temporarily lifted all requirements for transporting pets and animals without the usually required veterinary documents, such as vaccination certificates or passports.