One year of war in Ukraine: what has been done for animals?

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One year of war in Ukraine: what has been done for animals?

24 February 2023
Djurskyddet Sverige
Long read
A year ago we were counting at first the hours, then the days that it would take the Russian army to take over Kyiv. Today, we are still counting, and sadly it is already the one year anniversary of the war. Even though protracted war means more suffering for both people and animals, we would like to showcase the successes of our collective work to help the animals of Ukraine.

Today, we celebrate one year of tireless work of the international community, who did not hesitate to come to the rescue of animals a year ago; people from all over the world showed an unprecedented unity and willingness to make a contribution to someone else’s fight for freedom. We also celebrate the hard work of all the animal volunteers who chose to stay in the country in order to take care of the animals, risking and often giving up their lives to help animals over the past year. 

In the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Eurogroup for Animals and its members convened a Taskforce to help address the plight of Ukrainian companion animals. The members are still determined to help the animals in Ukraine, regardless of the effort and resources it requires.

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Over the past year, the Taskforce members have had numerous meetings to share information and decide on their strategy. They developed a network of trusted partners, and implemented varied projects such as providing pet food to animals, including in the most dangerous zones. They have supported local veterinarians, animal shelters and clinics, sterilisation and vaccination projects, and sent generators and mobile clinics in order to help animals in Ukraine, as well as receiving refugees with pets in the EU, providing them with all the necessary assistance.

To name just a few of their projects: 

  • Animalia supported the Best Friend Shelter Reconstruction Project; 
  • Animal Protection Denmark was present at Medyka border crossing point helping Ukrainian refugees with pets for two months at the beginning of the war; supported a cat mini-shelter Lapusik in Odesa; helped animals in zoos in Ukraine through the EAZA network; as well as successfully evacuated two lions to the Knuthenborg Safaripark in Denmark;
  • Cat Care Community supported shelter “Drug” (meaning Friend) in Kramatorsk and Ukrainians arriving to Latvia with pets;
  • Deutscher Tierschutzbund created an animal aid camp at Medyka border point in Poland for pets brought from Ukraine in cooperation with the Bundersverband GDT e.V. and IFAW; supported German member shelters, Polish shelters and organisations active in Poland (e.g. DDAO), so they can provide help to Ukrainian pets, including advocating for pet-friendly refugee camps and quarantine facilities for evacuated animals; evacuated an asiatic black bear from a rescue centre near Kyiv to the animal welfare centre Weidefeld; with the help of the Tierhilfe Hoffnung e.V. animals with no alternative option were evacuated from their animal welfare centre in Odesa (and other locations), and sent food, a generator, and other supplies to enable the centre to continue its work;
  • Djurskyddet Sverige launched a sterilisation project in Zhytomyr with the support of Animal Help ZT, sterilising and vaccinating animals of refugees and even animals brought by soldiers from front lines;
  • FOUR PAWS launched Kishka project - a sterilisation project aimed to sterilise 10,000 cats all over Ukraine; prepared a Shelter Adoption Program in the Ukrainian language; cooperated with USAVA in order to provide veterinary care for pets and strays; conducted sterilisation and vaccination against rabies project in 20 municipalities with a mobile clinic and a catching team; helped launch UPAW platform; helped rescue several bears and admitted them to their sanctuary Domazhyr, including from front lines such as Bakhmut;
  • GGI launched a sterilisation project, cooperating with numerous veterinary clinics, financially supported 30 shelters and sent 160 tons of pet food and 12,000 rabies vaccines to Ukraine;
  • Home4Pets provided help to refugees with pets in Czech Republic, including finding accommodation, as well as sent pet food to Ukraine; 
  • IFAW partnered with Mykolaiv Red Cross and Nova Ukraine in order to provide food and veterinary care to animals; launched free vaccination, sterilisation and microchipping project called Protect your pet with USAVA; cooperated with Save Pets of Ukraine initiative, founded by the Ukrainian manufacturer of food for cats and dogs Kormotech, in order to provide food to shelters in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Lviv, Zhytomyr and Odesa regions; brought five big cat cubs rescued from the exotic pet trade in war-torn Ukraine to a permanent home;
  • Naturewatch Foundation continues their spay and neuter project in Kharkiv region despite the war; additionally, they launched Drains for Ukraine project to help feed free-roaming animals;
  • RSPCA collected assistance to Ukrainian pets, as well as donated to FOUR PAWS to support their team in Ukraine;
  • Save the Dogs and Other Animals cooperated with 400 volunteers in Ukraine channelling food to abandoned animals; created an animal aid camp at Isaccea border point in Romania to assist refugees with pets; 
  • Worldwide Vets carried out frontline animal sterilisations and treatments, provided horse food grants, rescued 9 lions from Odesa who now reside in America, and fundraised for a mobile clinic equipped to sterilise, vaccinate and treat cats and dogs;
The members have collectively supported UPAW by sending pet food and making financial donations.
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The needs of animals in Ukraine today? 

  • Food
  • Veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations
  • Sterilisation

The foremost need of animals today is access to food, which is especially acute in times of cold winter conditions in Ukraine. The Ukraine Taskforce members have been providing food to their partners in Ukraine, who then redistribute it to those most in need. The situation is the most challenging at the front lines: there are many abandoned animals left to fend for themselves. Increased numbers of free-roaming animals are driven by abandoned unsterilised animals, since sterilisation of owned animals has never been widely practised in Ukraine even before the war. It is impossible to count these animals, but we are talking about hundreds of thousands if not millions of animals in need of food.

We realise that, unfortunately, the provision of food to animals in Ukraine will be a never ending need, which is why the Taskforce also focuses on a more systemic approach: the sterilisation of both owned and free-roaming animals. This is the only way to humanely manage the population and reduce their suffering. The Taskforce members partner with local veterinarians, some of whom have mobile clinics on the ground, while others have their teams in Ukraine who sterilise animals. We coordinate our efforts in order to cover as many regions as possible. Last, but not least, animals are in constant need of veterinary care. Many are injured on front lines during military activity, but also in car accidents in more peaceful areas. 
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What lessons can we draw from this year? 

Animals are part of the family or have economic value for people. We saw thousands of pictures of Ukrainians evacuating with their animals. We know about thousands of stories of people who left their animals locked in their homes, expecting that the war would be over in just a few days and they would come back home; instead they found themselves having to re-enter dangerous zones days later in order to evacuate their pets. Meanwhile, people such as managers of animal shelters, animal guardians in zoos and farmers refused to evacuate even from the front lines if the animals could not be evacuated with them. Humans are bonded to their animals and this influences human evacuation behaviour

Local communities were the first responders to the plight of animals in Ukraine. Whilst this will be the case in any disaster, the direct involvement of private persons is not always safe. Ideally volunteer activity on the ground should be coordinated by the government and the NGOs who have special procedures for animal rescue, evacuation or first aid. It can be dangerous for untrained people to try and manage animals under stress, as not all free-roaming animals are social. Volunteer activity by private individuals could be encouraged since they are the first responders on the ground, but they need to comply with the minimum safety procedures and they should not operate in silos. 

There is a lack of coordination among international and local animal welfare NGOs involved in Ukraine. Everyone chooses their own way to support: directly helping individuals financially, investing into the reconstruction of veterinary clinics and shelters, or sending in-kind donations. Unfortunately, there is a lack of communication among all the stakeholders, which may lead to duplication of efforts and hamper the ability to reach those most in need. Eurogroup for Animals’ Ukraine Taskforce urges everyone involved in Ukraine to join us. We are happy to share information about our projects and our expertise. 

You can help animals in Ukraine today by:

  • Donating to UPAW 
  • Adopting from a local shelter, which will liberate resources for Ukrainian animals
  • Donating to an NGO in your country who is helping animals in Ukraine

Thank you everyone who has been involved in helping animals in Ukraine and around the world.