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Second Chance For Pets Abandoned In Ukrainian War Zones

  • Yulia Ratsybarska
  • Daisy Sindelar

DNIPROPETROVSK, Ukraine -- Their names give a hint as to their wartime origins: Pravosek, a sleek 2-year-old tabby named after the nationalist group Right Sector, and Manyasha, a plucky white kitten who shares the nickname of Vladimir Lenin's favorite sister.

Pravosek and Manyasha were rescued from Pisky, the war-torn eastern Ukrainian village located next to the now-devastated Donetsk airport. They are the first felines to join a collective of seven dogs, also rescues, now living in the Dnipropetrovsk flat of activist and volunteer Alyona Havryushyna.

Havryushyna regularly helps deliver food, equipment, and other aid to Ukrainian soldiers fighting in the Donbas war zone. But after noticing a growing number of hungry and frightened pets left behind by owners fleeing the fighting, she began carrying out animals on her return trips back home.

"I took them in because I knew that's what needed to be done," says Alyona Havryushyna, shown with Busya.

"I took them in because I knew that's what needed to be done," says Alyona Havryushyna, shown with Busya.

"I took them in because I knew that's what needed to be done," says Havryushyna, petting a short-legged dog named Busya. "Animals aren't to blame. We're the ones who are to blame, for both our troubles and theirs. Someone has to take responsibility. We need to help them. How can it be otherwise?"

Altogether, Dnipropetrovsk volunteers have rescued more than 30 cats, dogs, and even a turtle discovered by a Ukrainian soldier in an abandoned house. So far, they have managed to find homes for all of them, often depending on their networks of friends and family.

Another volunteer, Olena Tymoshenko, recently brought home one of the war zone's more famous abandoned dogs: a Labrador, Anhelyna, who had been temporarily adopted by soldiers based in Pisky and had earned praise for alerting them to incoming artillery fire.

Many of the volunteers have begun sending photos of their new charges -- looking healthy and well-fed -- to the soldiers who helped rescue them.

Tymoshenko, who travels to the war zone together with her husband, says they try to bring back animals every time they go in with aid for the troops.

"We put out food and catch whoever comes to eat," she says.

"Children and animals -- they're the first to suffer. They can't understand why their world has suddenly changed, why they've been left behind," she adds. "Why these people don't take their pets, I don't know. You take a blanket, a sack of potatoes, a frying pan... take your dog! It's your friend. But I try not to blame these people. You never know what their circumstances were."

Pravosek the cat was rescued from war-torn Pisky.

Pravosek the cat was rescued from war-torn Pisky.

As fighting intensifies in the east, thousands of families have fled their homes, often under heavy shelling. But even some families who remember to bring along their pets later abandon them under the strain of finding a new place to live and a way to survive.

Natalia Mykhaylova, a volunteer with Fidelity, a local animal-support organization, says she's currently fostering a dog who was given up by his family even after activists offered to help by giving him shelter until they found a place to live.

"He's big and very handsome," says Mykhaylova. "We've fed him and put some meat on his bones. His owners brought him here and then gave him up, saying they didn't have any way to take care of him. Of course, he was terribly thin and frightened. Now he's very handsome, just a great-looking dog."

Thousands of abandoned animals remain in the war zone, left to fend for themselves against the winter weather and armed combat. Back in Dnipropetrovsk, however, Pravosek and Manyasha -- in a decidedly catlike fashion -- seem to be taking their luck for granted.

"They were scared and starving when they first got here. They ate constantly and never seemed to get full," Havryushyna says. "But now they've gotten used to their new situation and they behave just like ordinary pets. They're even picky about their food."

Written by Daisy Sindelar in Prague based on reporting by Yulia Ratsybarska in Dnipropetrovsk
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