Animals also victims of war in Ukraine

Thousands of animals evacuated, others remain in danger within Ukraine

People evacuating Ukraine have brought along thousands of pets, many in need of veterinary care.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare reported March 19 that veterinary teams in Poland were tending to 500-600 animals arriving in the country daily from Ukraine, and the teams had vaccinated and microchipped more than 12,000 animals since the invasion began. IFAW’s emergency team in Poland traveled to the southeastern city of Przemysl, near the Ukraine border, where thousands of refugees waited for trains—sometimes in freezing weather and often carrying animals—and one small team of veterinarians was handling a substantial portion of the country’s animal intake.

“When we arrived at the Przemysl train station earlier this week, we found that the veterinarians working at the station were completely exhausted,” the organization reported. “Every day, their team of three people processes up to 200 dogs and cats, coming in on trains from Ukraine.

“The animals have traveled miles with their families and are often dehydrated and showing signs of hypothermia, so wet food and other items such as cat carriers, leashes, and harnesses are continuously needed.”

Stray dog
A stray dog stands in front of the containment structure at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. (Courtesy of the Clean Futures Fund)

Before the war, the pet food company Kormotech estimated 8 million domestic cats and dogs lived in Ukraine.

IFAW spokesperson Melanie Mahoney and Kelly Johnston, IFAW senior program officer for disaster response and risk reduction, shared in a statement that IFAW teams were working with veterinary authorities in Poland to address the critical needs of animals following difficult and traumatic journeys with their families.

“As transportation becomes stalled or dangerous, families (and their pets) have been forced to walk for days in near freezing temperatures to reach the Polish border,” they said.

Veterinary authorities in Poland expect conditions for animals will worsen and their teams will receive animals with increasingly severe injuries or health conditions, Mahoney and Johnston said.

Animal aid difficult in Ukraine

Within Ukraine, dozens of animals have been killed or have escaped when artillery or other weapons fire hit animal shelters, Mahoney and Johnston noted. Other animal welfare organizations relayed that animal shelters within Ukraine also have had difficulty obtaining supplies.

Dogs in shelters panic from sirens and the sounds of bombs, and some have had seizures or otherwise been injured during that panic, Mahoney and Johnson said.

CBS News reported March 14 that volunteers were gathering aid in Poland to bring food and other supplies for animals into Ukraine. At least three people were killed March 4 while trying to deliver dog food to a shelter in Ukraine, the report states.

The Dogs of Chernobyl program of the Clean Futures Fund had been providing food and medical care to hundreds of stray dogs that lived near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Dr. Jennifer Betz, veterinary medical director for the Dogs of Chernobyl program and board member of the Clean Futures Fund, said that, since the start of the invasion of Ukraine, workers were able to feed only about 70 of the dogs in mid-March.

“The food has run out,” Dr. Betz said. “We have no way of getting food to them. It’s just way too dangerous. The roads are blocked, the bridges are blown up, and it’s just insanely dangerous.”

Dr. Betz said many of the dogs are good at foraging, but the environment is cold and harsh at this time of year, and the dogs have access to only makeshift dog houses in the area around the plant. She expressed doubt Russian soldiers were feeding the dogs considering the widely reported stories of shortages of food for soldiers.

“I can imagine that, if this goes on much longer, unfortunately, these dogs are going to starve to death,” she said.

Stray dogs
Stray dogs at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant eat food provided through the Dogs of Chernobyl program. (Courtesy of the Clean Futures Fund)

As for how veterinarians in the U.S. can help, Dr. Betz said “monetary help is the best way” because other supplies are unlikely to arrive on target. She noted that other organizations are providing veterinary care along Ukraine’s borders, and they, too, can apply financial aid toward helping animals.

On March 15, the Romanian Red Cross and Humane Society International announced plans to provide pet food along with other humanitarian aid. And a few other animal welfare–focused organizations outside Ukraine indicated that they and partners within Ukraine were giving money and pet food to animal shelters, giving pet food to pet owners, and helping evacuate animals to Poland.

Zoo animals also threatened

On March 6, the Washington Post reported that animals in the zoo in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, were panicking from the sounds of explosions and cowering from air raid sirens; animals at another zoo in Karkiv, Ukraine, were killed or injured in fighting; and a sanctuary moved wild animals, including lions and tigers, to Poland. The UK-based Independent reported March 19 that animals were dying of hunger and cold at Park XII Months zoo in Demydiv, Ukraine, to the north of Kyiv.

The European Association of Zoos and Aquariums has been collecting money to support colleagues in Ukrainian zoos. On March 18, the EAZA said in an update, “The situation for Ukrainian zoos continues to be extremely challenging.”

Officials from a few zoos had asked for help relocating animals, but Ukrainian zoos were generally not asking for help to evacuate animals from high-risk areas. In a previous update, EAZA officials cited the dangers to people and animals of attempting to secure and transport animals across conflict zones.

The EAZA and member institutions have also worked with zoos in Ukraine to develop plans in case they decide to evacuate and assess what EAZA members could do to house and care for the animals if such evacuations occur.

FAO to help maintain livestock

Figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate Ukraine had about 5.8 million pigs and about 3.5 million cattle as of 2020. Department figures also indicate about 60% of the country’s pigs are raised on large-scale commercial farms, whereas two-thirds of the country’s cattle population is distributed among small households.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations launched a rapid response plan for March through May to help 240,000 vulnerable people in rural Ukraine, and the FAO continued work with Ukrainian authorities to identify emerging needs. The rapid response plan included aid to give food security and support for farmers who plan to remain in their communities, save their livestock and crops, and plant their fields.

“Ukraine’s agricultural season is starting now, and the next begins in May, making funding urgently needed,” the plan states.

A version of this article appears in the May 2022 print issue of JAVMA.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation is collecting donations in support of veterinary and animal welfare groups in Ukraine and surrounding areas. The AVMF has directed a $100,000 donation from Merck Animal Health toward these efforts and is matching the Merck grant with its own $100,000 donation. Individuals are invited to add their contributions.