At the beginning of the war, the train stations were crowded with people escaping from shelling. Often, their pets, which they took with them, awaited a new fate with them. Unfortunately, in places where the fighting was fiercest, people often simply did not have time to take their pets with them. It was just lucky to get out of there alive.
Thousands of cats and dogs were left alone due to this war. Along with the danger of shelling and explosions, they faced the danger of hunger, cold, and disease. Even after the liberation of these cities by Ukrainian forces, the situation remains difficult, as very few people will return to the region, where the danger of war remains the highest.
Iryna and Olena go to liberated cities and towns once every two weeks. They take several boxes of meat and dry food with them, which they give out to the abandoned animals they meet.
Neither Sloviansk nor Kramatorsk have ever had shelters for abandoned or stray animals. In Ukraine, this problem is quite urgent. Very often in cities you can see whole packs of stray dogs. Sometimes they are aggressive.
But for a long time, animal protectionists worked in Sloviansk. Over time, they created their organization "Give Chance", and helped build a shelter for stray dogs. They gradually worked to provide comfortable conditions for the abandoned animals there - they arranged enclosures, bought food, and hired workers to take care of the site. In total, about 100 dogs are still there. They couldn’t take all of them with them. There was simply no room for it. But, unfortunately, people often perceived the playground as a shelter and left puppies or other dogs there.
"A lot of purebred dogs appeared on the streets. People who are still in the city take some for themselves, and some still wander. Here, for example, two spaniels were thrown out, and people took them away. They called me all week and asked me to pick up Alabai. Well, where do we take it if we have all the other dogs? Where do we pick up? And then the guy called and said that they took the dog away," says Iryna.
At the same time, other organizations started helping animal volunteers with dry food. This made it possible to feed the dogs at the quarantine site and share with other families who took responsibility for the homeless animals. The organization was often contacted by city residents who noticed abandoned dogs on their street. There was simply nowhere to take them, so Iryna offered at least to feed and provide them water on her own. At the same time, they published photos of abandoned animals. Some of them managed to find new owners.
For example, for a long time the organization tried to place a Jack Russell named Bonya. She changed families three times and each time - unsuccessfully. In the end, Bonya was placed with a girl from Mykolaiv. The family evacuated and they took the dog with them. Iryna is still sent photos of Bonya spending time with her real family. For them, the dog has become a true friend who gives the family so much warmth and joy.
In April - May, when active shelling began to take place in the city. At the time, there were almost 170 dogs to care for and not enough food and medicine. There were great difficulties not only in buying dog food, but also even just finding it. In Sloviansk at that time almost all pet stores were closed, and products were mainly bought with cash which was harder and harder to find in ATMs.
Over time, the shelling became more intense, and the city became more dangerous. At the same time, Iryna decided to stay.
As a last resort, Iryna considered the option of leaving. Then the enclosures would have to be opened and the dogs released. Because it was a matter of their survival as well.
During these months, there were terrible moments. A Russian projectile landed near one of the houses where a large dog was resting. The dog was covered with glass, the house was damaged, but fortunately, neither the people nor the dog were injured. Rockets landed several times near the shelter. And in the fall there was a fire there but they managed to react in time. Had they not caught it fast enough, the fire could have spread to the enclosures. There were material losses, but again, everyone remained unharmed.
In autumn, after the liberation of Izium and Sviatohirsk, and a little later Lyman, the situation in Sloviansk began to improve. Shelling has decreased significantly, and people have begun to return.
One day, Olena, Iryna's friend, suggested that Iryna go with her to one of the liberated villages where the woman had a summerhouse to feed her animals. The animals that lived there flocked to the sound of the car from all over the village. It was hard to look at them - hungry, abandoned, lonely. After the first few trips, it became clear that the route should be expanded. The number of lonely and hungry cats and dogs was simply astounding. They wanted to help.
"One woman wrote to me that her heart was breaking because when they left, they didn't take the cat with them. She wrote for Tatyanivka. Her cat got lost. Then the second girl wrote for her dog. My friend and I decided to do something we enjoyed that happened to be helpful for others. I wanted to go to Lavra. We will go to Pryshyb again, stop in Tatyanivka and on the way we will stop at Lavra. How we drove... I was upset. So many animals. We saw one dog, it stopped, and it was running around. How do they feel? They run out from all sides. I felt so sorry for them."
Iryna and Olena take dry feed and meat with them on the trip. They have a plan where they are going, but along the way they stop at every place where they see animals. The soldiers at the checkpoints already know them and help with the routes. From time to time they have to drive under Russian fire. On one of the trips to Lyman, Iryna and Olena only narrowly avoided a Russian rocket attack. They drove in silence all the way back.
"When we got to Dovgenke, I sobbed. There is not a single surviving house there. Not only that everything is mined... Several families returned there and all the animals began to flock to them. And not only animals, but the people have nothing to eat there. And we were informed about it. We went. There, 14 people returned to their broken homes and are living in basements. These people had everything. They are strong workers. And they sheltered one cow that survived there. When we arrived, I was sobbing. There is a wounded bull, a bunch of hungry animals from the whole village."
On the next trip to Dovgenke, Iryna, in addition to feeding the animals, also took food for the families: bread, butter, sausage, cheese, mayonnaise, cookies and everything else that is not given out as humanitarian aid. They bought a can of gasoline, three kilograms of nails, and 6 bags of cement. They also left food for the villagers there to give to the animals.
The trips are not cheap. About 25 euros per day are spent on fuel alone. In addition, meat for animals is purchased. It is easier with dry food - money is allocated for it by various organizations that have been helping "Give a chance" for a long time. Usually, caring townspeople or Ukrainians worried about the animals help with money.
Each time, the two volunteers choose a different route. With the escalation in fighting at the front, it became even more dangerous. Due to the Russian offensive in the direction of Lyman, Iryna decided to take one of the dogs which lived alone in the ruins along the road. The dog got used to the women over 1.5 months as they came to feed him. On one of the trips, during the shelling, he almost jumped into the volunteer’s car himself out of fear from the loud noises. Now he lives in Sloviansk, and Iryna calls him "Son".
Iryna says that animals are very intelligent. They know where they need to be to survive. In Bogorodychny, for example, most of the animals run around near the church. As soon as they see cars, they immediately run to them, realizing that they are people and hoping they’ve brought food.
"The general outlook for the animals is very sad. Just the sight of it makes you want to cry. The animals do not leave there at all. We drive up, put food out and they come. They don't approach us from home. And there are two dogs... They see our car from somewhere and fly to meet us, wagging their tails. Well, how do they understand that it is us? It’s a car, just an ordinary car. And in Bogorodychny, when you arrive, they all run together: both dogs and cats. They understand that people have arrived. And some cats don't even run so much for food as for being petted. They miss people a lot."
Now Iryna devotes most of her time to these trips to the liberated territories. Fortunately, many international organizations have been monitoring the activities of animal rights activists and are helping with food. So that people know where the money is going, Iryna posts photos and videos every day from her trips or of the shelter where she shows the conditions in which she cares for the animals.
"You do it for your soul. We love animals very much. When you do this, your soul is filled," Iryna admits, and assures that she will continue to help animals for as long as possible.