Workers at a shelter in Dnipro that is home to hundreds of vulnerable animals are vowing to stay on, even as other animal-rescue centers close down amid violence and uncertainty in eastern Ukraine.
Maryna Bolokhovets told RFE/RL that, with war raging to the north, south, and east of her rescue center, she and her volunteers are overwhelmed with animals in need of a safe home.
Bolokhovets runs Shelter Friend, an animal-rescue center that accommodates hundreds of animals, including disabled dogs and cats. Since the war broke out, Bolokhovets says warplanes are regularly roaring over the shelter, located near Dnipro’s strategically crucial airport, and air-raid sirens are going off “every day.”
Sites in Dnipro have been hit with 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’re surrounded by front lines but we are OK for now because people from Poland brought us a lot [of dog food and other essentials] so for the next couple of months we will be able to survive any blockade.”
Dnipro has become a hub for refugees fleeing the Russian advance, as the city still offers an open route west across the center of the country. Many pets have been left behind, either by Dnipro locals who fled amid the terror of the opening days of the war, or by those arriving from neighboring regions who are unable to travel onward with their animals.
One dog now in the Dnipro shelter is from Mariupol, a city currently under siege from Russian forces. The young male was delivered to the shelter by a woman who was about leave Dnipro by train with her two dogs. But the male was so traumatized by war the woman said he could not be coaxed into further travel.
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 kill shelter in Kharkiv.
On the streets of Dnipro, the dog rescuer says, “the situation has gone from bad to worse” after many people abandoned their pets. As a result, Bolokhovets says she is now hamstrung by a total lack of space in her shelter.
The biggest help anyone can offer, Bolokhovets says, is to adopt the animals under her care. But on top of the risk of the journey across Ukraine amid war, the process of adoption to the EU became more complex in March, when the Czech Republic — where many of Shelter Friends’ animals found their forever homes before the war — put a halt on accepting dogs from Ukraine that are not family pets.
A spokesman for the Czech State Veterinary Administration told RFE/RL that the move was made as a precaution against rabies returning to the Czech Republic. Rabies is relatively common in the dog and cat population of Ukraine, whereas the disease was eradicated from the Czech Republic in 2004.
Despite sending her children to safety in Poland after the war broke out, Bolokhovets told RFE/RL: “I will never leave the shelter, and my right hand Tetyana will never leave, and our cat-house lady will not leave. It’s just a matter of mentally surviving all of this.”