Some of the pets rescued from Mariupol have been either reunited with their original owners or adopted by new ones. Others, however, still remain in the shelter.
While the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has ruined the lives of thousands of civilians who live in areas ravaged by the fighting, it also affected numerous pets, whose owners were killed or who were abandoned in the ensuing chaos.
Enter Tatiana, owner of the “Forgotten Hearts” animal shelter in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, who has managed to save dozens of pets from the conflict zone.
Tatiana and her colleague from the shelter have made three trips to Mariupol during the past six months, in order to rescue pets who became trapped in the city that became the site of one of the most intense battles of the ongoing conflict.
The efforts of the two women have resulted in the rescue of some 120 pets – 40 dogs and 80 cats – whose owners either fled the city in a hurry amid the fighting or were killed.
“Finding the animals wasn’t difficult, they were everywhere,” Tatiana recalled. “They were crawling out of the ruins because they were hungry… Soldiers and those locals who chose to remain in the city directed us to areas where the animals were hiding.”
Some of the pets had become trapped by their owners, locked into hastily abandoned apartments.
“Sometimes, people locked their pets inside at their homes when they left, thinking that they would be back in a couple of days,” said Tatiana. “These pets often ended up dead because we learned about them only a month later. Birds, pet rabbits and chinchillas died that way. Many cats survived but they were very emaciated; dogs too.”
She also noted that, while their primary goal was to rescue animals, she and her colleague also sought to help the civilians who remained in the city and who were very grateful for the aid.
“We brought pet food for cats and dogs, anti-parasitic drugs, and food for people. We pre-packaged everything in plastic bags – hygienic supplies, canned food, food that’s ready to eat – people there cook on open fires; there’s no water or gas,” she said. “We also brought candles, matches, coloring books and sweets for children, and a lot of water.”
As it turned out, a number of Russian soldiers deployed in the city shared their own rations with the animals stranded in the city and were eager to help the women with their rescue mission.
These soldiers escorted Tatiana and her colleague during their stay in the city and protected them when things got dangerous.
“We were being fired upon deliberately, because there wasn’t anyone but us there at that time,” Tatiana said. “It was right next to Azovstal, where we were trying to dig out animals trapped in the ruins. There were no people there, no one to feed those animals or to dig them out. There were two- and three-story buildings there; older structures. And when those buildings were destroyed, the animals who remained in the apartments escaped and hid in the basements there.”
About 38 of the pets Tatiana rescued from Mariupol have been reunited with their owners. Many others, however, remain in the shelter as their owners were either killed or simply turned their backs on their animals.
“The last time, I went there with a list of addresses, as owners from Russia and Ukraine asked me specifically to find their pets,” she said. “Some of the pets we managed to find, some we could not. All of the owners thanked us. For other ‘animal refugees’, we found new owners.”
At this time, Tatiana does not intend to return to Mariupol because her shelter has limited funds that are already stretched to the limit due to the need to care for the 126 cats and 200 dogs that currently stay at the shelter.