Workers at a shelter in Dnipro that houses hundreds of vulnerable animals vow to stay, even as other animal rescue centers close amid violence and uncertainty in eastern Ukraine.
Maryna Bolokhovets told RFE/RL that with war raging north, south and east of her rescue centre, she and her volunteers are overwhelmed with animals in need of a safe home.
Bolokhovet races Friend of the shelter, an animal rescue center that cares for hundreds of animals, including disabled dogs and cats. Since the war broke out, Bolokhovets says warplanes have regularly roared over the shelter, located near the strategically crucial Dnipro airport, and air raid sirens are going off “every day”.
Sites in Dnipro have been hit by Russian cruise missiles, but the city has so far avoided the kind of widespread destruction seen in Kharkiv and Mariupol.
Bolokhovets told RFE/RL by phone that “we are surrounded by front lines but we are doing well so far because the Poles have given us a lot [of dog food and other essentials] so for the next two months we can survive any blockade.”
Dnipro has become a hub for refugees fleeing the Russian advance, as the city still offers an open route west through the center of the country. Many pets have been abandoned, either by residents of Dnipro who fled amid the terror of the early days of the war, or by those arriving from neighboring areas who cannot continue with their pets.
A dog now in Dnipro shelterr is from Mariupol, a city currently under siege by Russian forces. The young male was delivered to the shelter by a woman who was about to leave Dnipro by train with her two dogs. But the man was so traumatized by the war that the woman said he couldn’t be persuaded to travel more.
In early March, the shelter took in seven newborn Rottweiler puppies from Kharkiv, a city that has come under intense bombardment from Russian rockets and missiles. Then, on March 12, Bolokhovets organized the collection of 125 dogs and 65 cats from a killing shelter in Kharkiv.
On the streets of Dnipro, says the dog rescuer, “the situation has gone from bad to worse” after many people abandoned their pets. As a result, Bolokhovets says she is now crippled by a complete lack of space in her shelter.
The biggest help anyone can offer, says Bolokhovets, is to adopt the animals she cares for. But in addition to the risk of traveling through war-torn Ukraine, the adoption process in the EU became more complex in March, when the Czech Republic – where many of the animals from Shelter Friends had found their forever homes before the war – put a stop to the acceptance of dogs from Ukraine that are not pets.
A spokesperson for the Czech State Veterinary Administration told RFE/RL that the decision was taken as a precautionary measure against the return of rabies to the Czech Republic. Rabies is relatively common in the dog and cat population of Ukraine, while the disease was eradicated from the Czech Republic in 2004.
Although she sent her children to safety in Poland after the outbreak of war, Bolokhovets told RFE/RL: “I will never leave the shelter, and my right hand Tetyana will never leave, and our lady of the cat house won’t go away. It’s just a matter of mentally surviving it all.”