This pet shelter in Ukraine saved over 2,000 animals from war

Amid constant danger, volunteers at a pet shelter in Ukraine make sure no animal is left behind.

Most Ukrainians, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, would not have been able to predict that Russia’s war in Ukraine would escalate as it has since its start on February 24. The unprovoked military aggression has led to an influx of Ukrainian refugees across the world, along with thousands of abandoned animals who find themselves constantly shelled and shelled.

Help for Ukraine comes in many forms, and for Animal Rescue Kharkiv volunteers, what to do after Feb. 24 wasn’t even a question. Everyone has found a role to play. “We didn’t need to talk about it,” says Yaryna Vintoniuk, communications and information manager for the organization. “Those who wanted to stay and do the job came together, and our job became clear.”

The non-governmental organization was officially registered to work with animals in Kharkiv, a city in eastern Ukraine, in 2016, but the staff’s experience dates back more than a decade. And while the number of volunteers was smaller before February 24, it has grown to around 25 people today.

Save those who cannot save themselves

Animal Rescue Kharkiv

When Russian troops invaded, many people fled Ukraine with what little they could carry on what promised to be a dangerous march to safety. Some took their pets with them. Others fled in panic, leaving animals behind. And then there are those who have become victims of war.

Many animals have nowhere to go and no way to save themselves.

“The nature of calls to our center changed overnight when the war broke out. These were mostly abandoned animals locked up in empty houses,” says Vintoniuk. “Many owners have called our hotline, asking [us] break doors or windows and do anything to save their pets. There were lots of pets that were just out on the streets or in buildings. These animals often found themselves under the bombings of Grad or injured by shrapnel.

So the volunteers from Animal Rescue Kharkiv did the hard part: they stayed.

The organization operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, its volunteers working in shifts and risking their lives, but respecting wartime laws. He often cooperates with the Ukrainian army in its most dangerous missions. “We were under constant airstrikes in Kharkiv,” Vintoniuk says. “During the second week of the war, there was a bombardment of Grad which killed seven of the nearly 400 animals we kept in our adoption center in Piatykhatky. Half of our kennels were also destroyed.

And the danger did not end there.

Dodge the bombs

Volunteer rescuing animal from Animal Rescue Kharkiv buildingAnimal Rescue Kharkiv

Since the start of the war, Animal Rescue Kharkiv has evacuated and assisted over 2,000 animals, mostly dogs and cats but occasionally pigs, wolves, donkeys, goats and chickens. As impressive as that number is, it didn’t come easily. Time and again, volunteers have put their lives on the line for their animal rescue efforts.

Take, for example, a mission in which seven rescuers working for Animal Rescue Kharkiv rescued 16 dogs and cats, 10 goats and a wolf near Feldman Ecopark. Since the start of the Russian invasion, the park has been under fire, and staff and volunteers have been killed trying to evacuate animals.

In other words, the rescue was necessary but incredibly dangerous for the volunteers. “Animals were stuck there when the war started, and it’s deep in the forest where the Russian army was,” Vintoniuk recalls. “The person accompanying these animals came in for one night but ended up staying for two months because they were trapped.”

It took a long time for Animal Rescue Kharkiv to find a way to reach the animals in the Russian occupied zone. The destination was 700 meters away (just under half a mile), but the course was rough and hilly. And they would return with a wolf, not the friendliest of traveling companions.

Once they figured out the logistics – the wolf would be given an injection to put him to sleep – they headed into the unknown. They reached the animals, but it was not a simple back and forth. A Russian unmanned combat aerial vehicle spotted the rescuers with the wolf and began bombarding them. They had to hide. At this time, the injection kicked in completely and put the wolf to sleep.

“So one of the rescuers, Volodya, had to carry the wolf on his shoulders,” says Vintoniuk. “He hid from the bombardment, then picked up the wolf and took over. The situation repeated itself six times, but luckily they all made it intact. All the animals were evacuated: the wolf, the 16 dogs and cats and the goats.

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Treat the wounded

Hurt Dog rescued by Animal Rescue KharkivAnimal Rescue Kharkiv

Not all animals are so lucky as those rescued by Animal Rescue Kharkiv near Feldman Ecopark that day. Some have been injured in the war, and even more face loneliness and loss of meaning. Such was the case for Zolotyi (“Goldie”), a dog always on Vintoniuk’s mind.

“Goldie was injured by shrapnel. He had a hole in his nose the width of a finger,” she said. “We took him to a clinic in Kharkiv, where he received the first stage of his treatment. He was very weak – skin to bone. We sent him to a small shelter in Munich. He’s quarantined there now.

Goldie’s nose injury could lead to damaged vision. And thanks to the routine health checks that are standard for all animal arrivals overseas, it was discovered that he had helminths, or intestinal worms, and had to undergo treatment. And yet it is the loss of a purpose in life that Vintoniuk calls particularly damaging.

She explains that dogs and cats live for their owners. Often, abandoned animals do not die because of disease, but because they understand that they have been abandoned. Yet she finds hope in the work done by Animal Rescue Kharkiv.

“Patrick Ottilinger, who helps us transport our animals abroad and continues to care for them, came to see Goldie when he was very ill,” she says. “He found her a family and told Goldie that there were people waiting for her, that there was meaning in life. Goldie feels better now.

Find safe and happy homes

Dogs rescued by Animal Rescue KharkivAnimal Rescue Kharkiv

Saving the animals is only the first step. The ultimate goal of Animal Rescue Kharkiv is to give these animals new homes.

From the moment it embarked on a rescue operation on the ground, the organization began to think about where it could take the animals. Rescuers spoke to international organizations and searched for people willing to adopt a pet.

“And that’s how we started to evacuate. Every day we were picking up new pets abandoned by owners. This is still the case today. We are evacuating fewer animals overseas, but there are still so many abandoned animals and requests for help,” Vintoniuk said.

She notes that they managed to relocate the animals they were already caring for at the adoption center as well as those picked up during the war. Most animals end up in Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Italy, Spain and Portugal, with smaller numbers going to families in France and the Czech Republic. Romania and Hungary serve as transition points in the animal evacuation process.

The operation has expanded to help where needed. “Small shelters have also asked us for help, and not only from the Kharkiv region but also from the Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia regions,” she notes.

Provide wraparound support

Animal rescue volunteers in KharkivAnimal Rescue Kharkiv

What makes Animal Rescue Kharkiv so special is its do-it-all mentality. The organization provides what Vintoniuk calls global support.

“Our rescuers go to where the pets are and provide the necessary help there,” she says. “If there is a need for medical help, we help by transporting the animal to a clinic. We fund the treatment at the clinic and when the treatment is over, our staff collect the animal and bring it here for rehabilitation and further treatment, and then we look for families to give him a new home.

Vintoniuk says she would like to provide in-house medical help to reduce the cost of treatment. “We have 25 to 30 animals and it costs us $1,000 a day to care for them in private clinics,” she says. “These are huge costs, and we understand that it would be cheaper if we had our own clinic and our own vets. Private clinics cannot offer us price concessions.

This is where we all come in. Donations to Animal Rescue Kharkiv help advance the organization’s mission and save the lives of helpless animals. The association accepts donations by bank transfer. To send money from a US bank, use this information:

  • Last name: Animal Rescue Kharkiv
  • International Bank Account Number (IBAN): UA203515330000026006052223580
  • Bank: JSC CB “PrivatBank”
  • Swift Code: PBANUA2X
  • Company address: UA, 61166, Kharkiv, 4b Serpova St.

Even easier, however, you can donate to Animal Rescue Kharkiv by sending a PayPal donation to [email protected] Once you hit send that donation, do more good by supporting these Black Lives Matter charities making a difference in America.


  • Yaryna Vintoniuk, communications and information manager for Animal Rescue Kharkiv
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