April 15, 2024

Bowlingual Dog

Animal Planet Directory

Ukraine’s largest dog shelter overwhelmed, suffering as volunteers and donations dwindle two years after war’s start

FEDORIVKA, Ukraine – The Western appetite to volunteer and donate to help Ukraine has largely dwindled more than two years after Russia’s invasion of its neighbor — increasing the suffering of some of the war’s most innocent victims.

Directors of non-profits in Ukraine recently told The Post they now fear that the dire situation, fueled by the continuing shift in global attention to the Israel war, will only worse as the US Congress continues to hold up billions of dollars in desperately needed Ukraine aid.

Sirius Animal Shelter emodies the plight of those affected. Located on an 8-acre plot about an hour north of Kyiv, the largest pet shelter in Ukraine now houses more than 3,000 dogs, hundreds of cats and even a couple of peacocks – most of which were left behind by their owners desperately fleeing the country since the war.

Aleksandra Mezinova, the owner of Sirius Animal Shelter about an hour north of Kyiv, greet s a pack of dogs left behind during the war. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post

At the war’s start, the shelter captured international headlines when its neighborhood came under Russian occupation. Thousands of dollars in donations flooded the shelter during that time – including enough to cover the construction of a new $250,000 facility dedicated to providing a quiet respite for cats.

“We raised enough to build a heated building for the cats,” she said. “It is my dream that we can do the same for the dogs.”

A cat finds respite at the Ukrainian shelter during the war. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post

After the Russians were quickly pushed out of the region, volunteers came to the shelter in droves, feeding and caring for the animals and helping construct new homes for them.

But two years later, a fraction of the group, or about 18 paid and volunteer staff members, is all that remains to care for the thousands of furry victims of war. Together, the volunteers prepare thousands of meals from scratch and patch up animal enclosures as they can while providing essential care.

“When the war started, there were a lot of donations for the first month. People from all over the world and locally were donating massively when this place was occupied,” volunteer Valery Shchekaturov told The Post. “A few months later, the flow minimized – the flow almost finished.

“Local donations are shrinking as well because the economy is not doing great. And of course, people have less and less money available for themselves and not only to spare for poor animals,” he added.

Dogs wait for lunch at the overwhelmed Sirius shelter outside Kyiv. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post

But it’s not just the assistance that has slowed — so have adoptions. In the first month after Ukrainian troops forced the Russian occupiers out of the region, Sirius adopted out more than 100 animals.

Two years later, that number recently slowed to just 40 for the month. Meanwhile, the shelter is taking in about 60 new displaced animals each month, resulting in a regular net gain of 20 mouths to feed.

Sirius is committed to adopting out its animals, helping foreign hopeful adoptees – from the United States to Switzerland – navigate the paperwork process of importing the pets as fluffy refugees.

A dog rescued from the recently fallen Ukrainian town of Avdiivka is among the shelter’s denizens being taken care of. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post

It can take up to eight weeks to receive approval from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to process paperwork to import pets to the United States, but that hasn’t stopped dozens of American families from doing so, she said.

“We are grateful to each one,” Mezinova said.

Sirius houses more than 3,000 dogs in Fedorivka, Ukraine. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post

But it’s expensive to run an organization of this size. It costs Sirius roughly $40,000 each month to keep its regular operations going, and the group has racked up debts of more than $8,000 to area veterinarians who treat the more extreme cases of the animals’ war-related injuries.

Stretching every donated dollar, Sirius cooks up its own dog food for most of the rescue’s population. A barn-like structure serves as the shelter’s “kitchen,” where volunteers take turns stirring vats of culinary concoctions over wood-burning stoves.

“We cannot afford Kibble – it’s just for puppies and dogs with special dietary needs,” Mezinova said of the brand-name dog food. “That’s why we make porridges from donated meats, grains and vegetables.

“When donations are low, we can’t afford grain, so sometimes it’s just potatoes mixed with what meat is left,” she lamented, noting that the combination is not great for the dogs’ stomachs.

Shelter workers cook their own dog food for most of the rescue’s population because dry food is too expensive. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post

The homey scent of the food mixtures can be smelled wafting throughout the rescue, and the 3,000-plus dogs in its care jump excitedly in their shelters as volunteers bring wheelbarrows full of the stuff to dish out to them every day.

About a third of the dogs here were rescued directly from the frontlines in the southern and eastern portions of Ukraine, Mezinova said.

A chihuahua mix named Dzhonni – pronounced “Johnny” – has quickly become a staff favorite after his rescue by Ukrainian troops on the frontlines. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post

One such pup, a Chihuahua mix named Dzhonni – pronounced “Johnny” – with an adorable underbite was found shivering with fear inside a destroyed home in Donetsk Oblast when Ukrainian troops scooped him up. Several months later, he’s found his confidence, prancing around the shelter seeking treats from incoming visitors.

Many of the shelter’s denizens display wounds of war and are patched back together at its tiny-but-mighty veterinary office. For example, two red Pekingese brothers — one named Maliuk, which translates to “Baby” in Ukrainian, and the other, Barmalei — survived a shelling attack on the frontlines.

An exploded shell blinded each dog in one eye, leaving Maliuk with sight in just his left eye and Barmalei in his right.

Dogs under intense stress from the war ripped apart about 60% of the enclosures at the rescue during a particularly horrific time of nearby fighting. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post

Some of the animals’ injuries are more psychological in nature. During the Russian occupation, stressed-out dogs chewed through roughly 60% of their enclosures as the sound of artillery shells exploding nearby terrified them. Many needed special socialization after the ordeal.

Staff members sustained similar wounds. Mezinova’s voice shook as she told The Post how the Russian occupiers searched the shelter for non-existent Ukrainian troops each day during their reign, harassing both innocent humans and animals alike.

In one instance, Russian troops confiscated the workers’ cell phones, laid them out on the ground and shot the devices with their assault rifles, terrorizing the staff and leaving them without contact to the outside – and unoccupied – world, she told The Post.

Shelter staff members struggle to go about their day taking care of the animals — all of them terrorized the conflict. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post
Peacocks also have been rescued by the shelter. Caitlin Doornbos / New York Post

Despite the circumstances, Mezinova holds onto hope that the shelter can turn the corner. The organization is now trying to raise funds to build a hostel-like bunk area where foreign volunteers can stay while giving their time to the furry victims of war.

Asked where she finds her source of hope, Mezinova – whose husband is headed back to the frontlines this week after recently recovering from open-heart surgery – replied: “What other choice do we have?

“We are Ukrainian,” she said. “We do what we must.”