To News and Stories
In wartime Longreads

How are volunteers saving animals from war?

Due to the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, thousands of animals were left homeless. The rescue of animals often rests on the shoulders of volunteers who organise shelters, evacuate animals, and find them new owners.

Photo: UAnimals

“There were situations when the Russians shot at rescuers during evacuation. Animals behave like people: they get scared, hide, panic, worry, and try to save themselves,” says a representative of one of the volunteer organisations.

Read what she and others have to say about the evacuation and fate of animals that survived the hostilities.

Shelter in Borodianka, the Kyiv region

Due to the temporary occupation of Borodianka, no one was able to take care of the dogs in the local shelter for about a month — 222 animals died, and the rest were hungry, exhausted, and frightened.

“For several years, the Khvostata Banda organisation has been working in the shelter in Borodianka. We came there every week, walked the dogs, brought food, and helped to settle them in the family. But, unfortunately, we found out that the animals were left alone after the occupation of Borodianka — we couldn’t get to the dogs,” says Iryna Isaieva, a volunteer of the “Khvostata Banda” team.

On April 1, the Ukrainian military liberated Borodianka. The following day, volunteers went to the shelter and evacuated 27 dogs in the worst condition. Four of them could not survive the journey. Finally, on April 3, the volunteers arrived accompanied by a convoy of the Security Service of Ukraine. In total, 263 dogs were rescued, and 222 died.

Animals that survived and got help. Photo: Tailed Friend Facebook page

“Many dogs died not of thirst or hunger but fear. They were antisocial and frightened. However, even in the absence of food and water, the animals did not give in to their instincts — there was not a single dog torn apart to be eaten by other dogs,” says Iryna Isaieva.

The rescued animals were examined, taken to vet clinics, and later placed in the stables of the Kyiv Hippodrome. Through donations, volunteers raised funds for the treatment and maintenance of dogs. Some animals were placed in Ukrainian families, and others were transported across the border and handed over to volunteers from Spain, Italy, France, and Poland.

UAnimals

Evacuation of animals is one of the areas of work of UAnimals — a humanist movement fighting for animal rights. The campaign was created in 2016, and after the start of the full-scale invasion, the team focused on rescuing animals from war zones and temporarily occupied territories.

Evacuation of animals from Sloviansk, the Donetsk region. Photo: UAnimals

UAnimals editor-in-chief Olha Lavrychenko says that most people either contact them with reports about abandoned animals, or the team sees information on the Internet and offers help. Before the evacuation, the movement’s representatives coordinate the details regarding the location and transportation of the animals with local volunteers. If no one is on-site, UAnimals brings in its evacuation crews. In addition, the team pre-arranges evacuation with the military if it is dangerous to be in certain settlements due to hostilities.

Before evacuating pets, volunteers look for a place in the shelter. Wild animals need to be injected with sedatives before evacuation. Then they are taken to the Nataliia Popova and UAnimals Wild Animal Rescue Center. The centre is a temporary place where animals recover and receive treatment. After that, they are taken abroad to facilities designated for their species. For example, lions go to the Republic of South Africa.

Nonna, a shepherd. Photo: UAnimals
Photo: UAnimals

Olha Lavrychenko tells the story of Nonna, a shepherd. The dog lived in the Donetsk region and ran to the position of the Ukrainian military during the shelling. She lived there for a while, and the soldiers grew fond of her. However, staying in the war zone was dangerous, so Nonna was evacuated to the Hostomel shelter not far from Kyiv, where she was waiting for a new family.

“In September, the military approached us. They found a bear in a cage on the territory of an abandoned house in Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. The animal was then named Bakhmut. When our team came to pick it up, the bear was so exhausted and scared that it could not escape even through the broken top of the enclosure,” Olha Lavrychenko recalls.

The last bear to be evacuated was Yampil from under the liberated Lyman. The military found him on the territory of the home zoo and asked volunteers for help. Unfortunately, a Russian shell flew into the house where Yampil was sitting in the enclosure. The animal had post-concussion syndrome. Now the bear is getting ready to go abroad.

In addition to individual animals, UAnimals assists shelters with relocation. Volunteers provide equipment for the convenient transportation of animals because their logistical support is not designed for transportation of such a scale. Due to overcrowded shelters, animals often have to be transported in groups to different facilities.

“Animal Rescue Kharkiv”

“The idea was born in 2015 due to the need to assist animals in emergencies. Since then, a hotline has been launched, a crew of rescuers has been formed, cooperation has been established with vet clinics to provide medical care for animals, and an animal adoption and rehabilitation centre has been built, which was bombed by the Russians in March. Since February, new challenges have arisen — we have started to evacuate animals from war zones,” says Yaryna Vintoniuk, the organisation’s representative.

Two rescue crews evacuate animals from the frontline and de-occupied territories of the Kharkiv and Donetsk regions; at the beginning of the full-scale invasion, they also worked in the Luhansk region.

Yaryna Vitnoniuk recalls: “There were situations when the Russians shot at rescuers during evacuation. Animals behave like people: they get scared, hide, panic, worry, and try to save themselves.”

The rescuers find out about animals needing help through people’s calls to the hotline and the military’s appeals. Then, when the team arrives at the settlement, it also takes away other animals that need help. Then, after collecting information and applications, analysing data, and working out the route logistics, the evacuation process takes place in several stages. The first is evacuation from the war zone, usually to Kharkiv. The second is transporting animals across Ukraine and abroad to new owners, organisations, or shelters for temporary keeping.

Between these stages, there is treatment, rehabilitation, vaccination, microchip implanting, passport preparation in case the animal goes abroad, and a search for temporary shelters and families for the animals. Due to a weak immune system, animals from war zones are more difficult to treat and require more investment and time to recover. Since the Animal Rescue Kharkiv adoption centre was destroyed, the organisation is constantly looking for temporary shelters and foster families where the animals can undergo rehabilitation and recovery.

Kitty House, Kyiv

The Kitty House shelter in Osokorky opened last year and positions itself as the first shelter in Ukraine to operate according to European standards. However, the workers stress that the animals need a good home, whatever the conditions.

“I have a lot of acquaintances and friends from the Donetsk region who care for animals. First, we sent cat food. Then they asked not to send food but to evacuate the animals. We brought about 20-30 cats from the Donetsk region to Kitty House. Transportation was done by carriers who had to pay their own money. The soldiers who sent the animals completely taped the cat carriers from the inside so that in case something bad happens, they would not break,” says Yuliia Sapon, a representative of the sterilisation team of homeless cats in Kyiv and an employee of Kitty House.

Shelter representatives say that kittens found on the street are more afraid of people — they have not felt love and do not know that people will not harm them. Those who come from war zones are afraid not of people but the environment — loud sounds and sudden movements. The shelter has a sterilisation room where the kittens are treated, vaccinated, and live in separate boxes during the quarantine period. To pick up a kitten from the shelter, you must pass an interview and sign a contract with a guarantee of proper care for the animal.

Temporary animal shelter “Expocenter”, Kyiv

At 09:30 on Saturday, a long queue lined up near the 16th pavilion of Expocenter in Kyiv. Now there is a temporary shelter for animals left on the streets due to the Russian invasion. Every day from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., there is a dog walk which is open to everyone over the age of 18 and children accompanied by adults. You must have your ID with you. Dogs are given out for walking on a first come, first served basis.

Photo: Andriana Velianyk
Photo: Temporary animal shelter “Expocenter”

“The shelter was created as a structural department of the municipal enterprise “Kyiv City Hospital of Veterinary Medicine” at the end of March for animals that lost their homes due to the full-scale invasion. After the Ukrainian military de-occupied the Kyiv region, representatives of the municipal enterprise “Zoodopomoha” went and picked up abandoned animals that showed signs of having been domesticated. Such animals came into contact, sat on a leash near abandoned buildings, some of them had collars,” says the representative of the structural division of the communal enterprise Vlada Mykolaienko.

A shelter employee comes to the queue and explains the rules for handling animals. For example, everyone needs to make sure that the dogs do not eat anything off the ground and that people do not give them food not intended for dogs — instead, anyone can bring animal food. Before the walk, the workers discuss each animal’s name, behaviour, and character traits.

The sisters, Kendall and Kylie, are about five months old. When the dogs were small, they were found by a caring man. He vaccinated the animals and tried to find someone to adopt them, but after unsuccessful attempts took them to the shelter.

“We have animals that still suffer from the effects of traumatic events. For example, the dog Kai was brought from Borodianka. For the first few weeks, he refused to leave the shelter. When someone approached him, Kai could pee himself in fear. Grace and time have made him much more approachable and calm. Now he goes for a walk, but he is still afraid of people and loud noises,” says Mykolaienko.

Photo: Andriana Velianyk
Photo: Andriana Velianyk

Sometimes the military take the animals out of the war zones themselves. For example, several dogs were brought from Lysychansk. One of them, Juliet, arrived with a litter of puppies. She was timid, and at first, she behaved like Kai. In the beginning, she had to be carried for a walk on our hands, and then she began to go out on her own.

There are equipped rooms with cats inside the shelter. You can go there to spend time with the animals or choose a pet for yourself. A cat Yuliia has been living in the shelter the longest. When volunteers found her, she was sitting on the ruins of a house in the Bucha district. Shrapnel damaged her paw — the wounds healed, but the animal’s limb remained deformed. In Bucha, a Russian shell hit the house where an elderly lady lived with cats. The woman died, and her neighbour brought the animals to the shelter.


Protecting the weak is a matter of the strong. Animals, like people, suffer from full-scale war. Volunteers, shelters, and animal protection organisations are working to save them in many cities. Everyone can help: become a volunteer, give an animal a new home, support shelters financially, and spread information.

Translated by Anastasiia Belanova