Shelter in Ukraine’s capital takes in animals haunted by war

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Shell-shocked family pets started roaming around Ukraine’s capital with nowhere to go in the opening stages of Russia’s war.

Volunteers opened a shelter to take them in and try to find them new homes or at least some human companionship. Every day, Kyiv residents come to visit cats and dogs evacuated from cities on the frontlines or left without owners because of the nearly five-month war.

Hrystyna Sairova and her 12-year-old daughter Anna walk rescued dogs three to four times a week. Many of them arrived at the temporary shelter with lost paws 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. Wooden kennels and leashes fill a corridor, and a playroom is furnished with bowls and toys inside the safe haven for animals that would not exist if Russia had not invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

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

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

Like people, animals face trauma from war, suffering psychologically from bombing, shelling and shooting, Mazur said. Some of the animals were withdrawn and wouldn’t eat when they first arrived at the shelter.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 that came under siege last month and is 734 kilometers (456 miles) from Kyiv. He got separated from his owners during the chaos of a civilian evacuation and was found by a Ukrainian who helps with civilian evacuations and delivering humanitarian aid.

The dog, which shelter volunteers have named Bourbon, had a fractured chest bone when he got to the shelter and has been recuperating there for several weeks.

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

The makeshift space fulfills more than one kind of need. When the staff held an open house last weekend, more than 1,000 people showed up to walk the 25 dogs then staying at the shelter along with 11 cats. On Sunday night, the dogs were tired out from taking so many walks.

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

The Ukrainian government does not have a program for evacuating animals in wartime, but there are many private and volunteer initiatives. The nongovernmental organization UA Animals even hired people and paid them a salary to rescue animals from combat zones.

“We’re actually evacuating not the animals themselves, but the people, who won’t go anywhere without their pets,” UA Animals founder Oleksandr Todorchuk said.

While there is no active fighting in Kyiv now, volunteers plan to keep the temporary shelter going as long as the war continues.

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

“It’s not the animals’ fault that war happened. They certainly didn’t have war in their plans,” she said.

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

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