What happens to abandoned animals in the ruins of Ukraine?

Saturday March 27, at midnight, three members of PETA Germany and four volunteers are at the table, in their lodging, about forty kilometers from the border post of Médyka, in Poland. They concert around their plates to find a new way to lead injured Ukrainian animals further west to Europe.

“Passing the Ukrainian side is not difficult, it’s just long, it can take between one and six hours. On the other hand, Polish customs officers do not appreciate seeing dozens of cages. They think that the animals are brought back to Germany to resell them on the black market. And they are afraid that they will not be vaccinated against rabies.explains Max, who has made about twenty round trips since the group settled in Poland.

Monic, center, prepares a plan so everyone on the team can understand their role and where they need to go. | Jean-Baptiste Bornier / DR Collective

A few hours earlier, they tried to get to Lviv, sixty kilometers from the border. Monic, Timothée and Maxime had to turn around just a few tens of minutes from town. “Our contacts on the spot warned us that Lviv was being bombed by the Russians”sighs Timothy. In fact, Vladimir Putin targeted a fuel depot east of the city, injuring five. A new attempt will take place the next day, the team will have to take care of nearly thirty dogs and fifteen cats. In the meantime, everyone finishes their plate prepared by Yann, one of the volunteers in charge of stewardship, before going to bed. The next day, a big day awaits them.

Across Eastern Europe

On Sunday, like every day, the alarm clock is at 7:30 a.m., everyone has breakfast and prepares their meal for the day: “We know when we leave, but never when we return”, insists Monica. In his right hand, the plan produced the night before indicates to each team its mission. The objective, today, is therefore to pass the border post of Médyka, and to recover the animals fifteen kilometers further in a wasteland, “to avoid any problem with the army”, adds Monica. Two members of the Ukrainian association Animal Rescue Kharkiv bring the animals to PETA members.

The association benefits from a storage place for food and cages in Przemysl. Timothée is loading boxes for the dogs. | Jean-Baptiste Bornier / DR Collective

It takes about an hour to cross the border. Once arrived at the meeting point, the members of the Ukrainian association, Yarina and Oskar are already there. Impossible to miss them, the dogs bark at death: “Several were in shelters, under the bombardments in kyiv and Kharkiv. We have some burnt, others simply traumatized by the violence of the fighting.sighs Yarina.

The smell also takes in the throat. It took the duo several hours to get here with the dogs and cats, the latter lying in their feces for much of the way. “We have no choice, we can’t do otherwise. It’s hard to see, but you have to tell yourself that afterwards they will be safe and cared for.”she points out. “They can drive up to 48 hours in a few days. It’s traumatic for them, but not as much as the bombings. It’s a small price that I’m willing to pay for their comfort.”explains Yarina.

A burned dog after a bombing in kyiv. | Jean-Baptiste Bornier

It takes just over an hour and a half to transfer each animal to another clean crate and then fit them all into the cars. It is 2 p.m. when the convoy, made up of three vehicles, sets off along the Ukrainian border towards a border post in Romania. “We have an influential contact in Romania who called the station to let us through, raises Yarina. Otherwise, with so many animals, we would never have been able to.”

The roads are in poor condition. In places, it takes almost forty-five minutes to cover ten kilometres. “We can’t afford to drive fast with all the animals in the back”, comments Yarina. The small group therefore passes through Romania, Hungary and finally Slovakia before returning to Poland. It took almost fifteen hours by road to return to Médyka, whereas it would have taken only two hours via the Ukraine/Poland border post. Everyone took turns driving for only a few breaks, time to eat and rest for about ten minutes. But once there, fatigue and tension give way to joy. All are happy to have been able to carry out the mission.

Three vehicles are needed to transport the animals. Each was put in a clean cage for a minimum of comfort. | Jean-Baptiste Bornier / DR Collective

It is 9 am when three members of the Lithuanian association LionHeart arrive to take care of the animals and take them to their shelter. “Once there, we treat them, we take care of them and we find them a new family”, explains Ingrè, at the head of the association. Nine additional hours on the road still await these animals, which have come from the heart of Ukraine, but they will travel in larger and, above all, clean crates. The rest of the day, everyone can do what they want: most often a shower and a siesta before the evening meeting to plan the operations for the following days. “We have to do as much as possible before Saturday since we are all returning to Germany on Sunday. In one month, we saved almost 1,000 dogs and cats.smiles Monica.

The sirens are sounding

On Tuesday, March 29, the mission promises to be relatively simple. Travel back and forth between Medyka and Lviv to pick up seven cats. The team arrives around 3 p.m. in one of the southern districts of the city. The cats are in a cellar. It was Yustina, a young Ukrainian, who decided to help by welcoming them. Barely a few minutes after the arrival of the members of PETA, the sirens to warn of bombardments sound. “They were only missing that”, Youstina sighs as she tries to retrieve a hidden cat. Finally, the seven felines are placed in the cars in a few minutes and the convoy leaves. “We are going to try a new border post, further north of Prezmysl and Médyka”, Yan explains.

It takes an hour and a half to get there. Once there, the stress is present, but the first car passes. The second, which contains only three cats, is blocked. “The problem is that the passports are in the names of the Ukrainian owners and since we are Germans it does not pass.” Decisions are quite random at the border. One car can pass, but the second cannot. Max and Marie must therefore turn around to try to cross another border post. They will have to drive all night, turn around in Lviv, find a hotel. The next day, they gave the cats to Ukrainian refugees. The latter were able to cross the border, then give the cats back once in Poland.

“A haven of peace”

When they are not taken by another association, the cats and dogs are cared for in Poland in a clinic, then transferred to shelters. Joanna decided to create her own a few kilometers from Przemysl: “A little haven of peace where we take care of these poor animals.” Nearly 120 dogs and 60 cats are welcomed before finding a new family. “I make sure to meet interested people and go to their homes to make sure the animals have a good life”says Joanna.

Joanna, owner of the shelter, employed twelve employees to take care of the animals and make arrangements. | Jean-Baptiste Bornier / DR Collective

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“This is the largest operation ever organized in Europe by PETA”, insists Dan, the man behind all the logistical and operational organization of the small group. He was the one who put everything in place, found the shelter, the cars and the storage places for the cages and the food. “But since it is increasingly difficult to cross the Polish border with animals, we have to leave”, he laments. The majority of the members of the group therefore returned to Germany, while another operation took place in Hungary, where it is easier to organize the rescue of the animals.

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