Designer and zoovolunteer Maria Obrizan drew the above picture in memory of animals that died in a municipal shelter in Borodyanka near Kiev. They were abandoned during occupation, from February 28 to March 30. Animals locked in open-air cages could lick snow and mostly survived, those who were locked in cages inside the building didn’t have access to water and have been dying throughout March.

In the first days of April volunteers entered the shelter and found that 337 of total 485 dogs were dead (later the number was correctly reported as 222). Photos of piles of bodies of these animals were published in social networks; Maria’s picture is obviously based on them.

Activists demand to investigate the case and to punish an official responsible for the shelter who did nothing to save the animals. It was an absurd tragedy; it wouldn’t happen if someone in charge would simply open the cages to let the animals take care for themselves which would take only half an hour.

Actually 200 deaths is it’s not much, we just can’t see the whole picture. None can say how many animals had been abandoned by owners who evacuated. In the first days Ukrainian Railways evacuated some 11 000 animals and 500 000 people. That means that only one of 45 people or one of 15-20 families brought their pet with them in train. It was reported that in 2017, in Kiev had some 400 000 pets in a population of about 3 million, i.e. one pet for 7-8 persons, which is much more than Ukrainian Railways numbers. Many refugees handed their pets over to friends who remained, to shelters or simply left in the streets. Many pets were locked in apartments, volunteers managed to release some of them.

City shelters

Ekaterina in her mini-shelter in Kiev
Ekaterina in her mini-shelter in Kiev

Ekaterina who runs mini-shelter in Kiev provides medical assistance to stray cats for four years. Since the beginning of the war she and her team rescue locked cats on requests of their owners. According to her, several groups of volunteers do this; she knows that at the moment they have got no less than 500 such requests. This work goes on, now volunteers unlock flats not only in Kiev, but in the suburbs that were liberated recently. She guesses that many people don’t try to save their locked animals.

“People didn’t think that all that will happen like this. They hoped they were leaving their homes for just few days, but they could not return. I think a lot of animals have died in locked apartments” – she says.

There were not less than 1000 such deaths in the city, she guesses. I think this is optimistic assessment. Those pets that were left in the streets also should be taken into account because most of them would die.

Now city shelters try to find new families for orphaned animals and to send them in Europe. Since the beginning of the war this mini-shelter have sent 20 cats to new owners abroad and accepted 15 new guests. There are some 80 cats in this shelter in a usual apartment.

There are some 80 cats in a flat turned into shelter

Ekaterina says there are many such mini-shelters in the city; each has 20 to 100 or more animals. The overall number in all mini-shelters may be as high as 5 thousands. Their main activity is adoption; its opportunities worsened because of war, so volunteers hope their European colleagues will help to find new families for Ukrainian orphaned pets abroad.

Adoption in Europe

In the first days of war Europe really helped a lot. Customs regulations were eased so that every refugee could take one or several animals with them even without all the necessary documents. Shelters also could send them easily. Recently Poland, the main direction of evacuation, has tightened the rules again, probably because of diseases that were brought with Ukrainian animals.

Nataliya, supervisor at Irina Dobrolyubovs Shelter
Nataliya, supervisor at Irina Dobrolyubovs Shelter

“Polish border guards say our documents are fake because all they have the same stamp. But we prepare the required documents in our veterinary clinic, that is why stamps are identical” – says Nataliya, supervisor at Irina Dobrolyubova Shelter.

New owners are happy with her animals, and the adoption meant a chance for them.

“We always try to convince people to bring animals to us. Shelter is better than street where they die. Pets who lived in an apartment before wouldn’t survive in the city, they don’t know how to live in such environment, how to behave, to hide etc”, – says Nataliya.

Irina Dobrolyubova Shelter

Adoption in Europe might be the only guarantee to preserve the lifes of these animals. No one can say what will happen in Ukraine in the future. Even if now shelters accept some guests it is only a temporary solution. Situation in war zone is much worse than in Kiev. A lot of humans die there, what to say about animals.

What happened lately shows people are not ready to such disasters. In emergency they often can’t take animals with them. So, we don’t know about most of animals’ death because no one report them. We see just few fragments of the whole picture which drew attention of social network users. I guess that a lot of pets die because they can’t adapt to life on streets. There are also many deaths in empty flats. Two hundred deaths in Borodyanka shelter is nothing compared to the whole number.


I'm a freelancer based in Ukraine, l write mostly about details of life in a country during war. There won't be any military stuff, propaganda, war horrors hype or any violation of actual legislation in this blog. If you want to support my work send a donation as a friend at PayPal address unreporterua@gmail.com

6 thoughts on “What happens with animals during the war?

  1. It is so sad, but when bombs are coming people’s instinct is to run, and not to release their animals or take them. I hope a cross border adoption system gets worked out so that the animals can find foster homes. It is good to see that some people do care and will help abandoned animals. Thanks for such an informative post… sad, but informative.

    1. we all come to this disaster unprepared. Everything goes not as we expect. For example, people take a pet with them to bus, but the pet gets nervous and screams, the driver says he will get off such passengers and they had to leave the pet at bus station. They just didn’t expect such reactions and didn’t know that an injection before trip could calm their pet.

      1. Yeah, I was thinking about that after I commented. There are so many different things that can go wrong, and under such circumstances, you have to think of your family’s safety first. So many people and so many animals traumatised… and for no real good reason 🙁

  2. Thank you for more information, as heartbreaking as it was to read. 😦 People panic in many different ways.

  3. Thinking about all those dead animals just breaks my heart. But then again, seeing how some people volunteer and take in abandoned animals gives me hope. Thank you for reporting from Ukraine, I very much appreciate your posts and to get news from the perspective you bring!

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