Saving Ukrainian Horses

Ukraine is well known for its vibrant horse culture, and lik...


Help for Ukraine's Pets

The people of Ukraine are not the only ones reeling under th...

Everyday people helping people...and their pets

Ann JamiesonMay 6, 2022 (0)

Humans dogs and cats rescued from Kherson
Rescued Ukrainian cat

It isn't only vets and other professionals that are providing aid to Ukrainian refugees and their pets. Not so ordinary people are consistently stepping up to the plate as well.

Hungary and Romania are helping care for pets coming from Ukraine while countries throughout Europe are opening their doors to allow evacuees with pets to stay in their homes, or adopting pets whose owners are forced to give them up.

One man in Poland, who offered rooms to refugees, said the rooms were only available for those traveling with pets! Poland and Romania appear to be taking the majority of the horses that have been able to get out of Ukraine, with, again, farm owners offering rooms to refugees and barns for their horses.

With a vibrant horse culture, rescuing the horses of Ukraine is yet one more need to be addressed during Putin's war of terror.

On the ground in Hungary, Kay Wesley currently is caring for 25 rescued cats, typical of individuals who have taken it upon themselves to do everything they can to help Ukrainian pets.

She reports, "It's really bad here. All surrounding countries are struggling with endless homeless pets. Shelters are overflowing."

Kay is also helping to locate missing horses. Tragically, she recalls, "I have seen some horrific sights."

Kay has volunteered with the refugees as well. The work is so stressful that counseling is offered not only to the evacuees streaming over the border, but to volunteers as well. Some volunteers have worked almost non-stop since the war began.

So many have crossed the border into Hungary, which is relatively small, that since the middle of April an estimated 600,000 people have come in.

Initially, says Kay, "All refugee reception and aid was handled entirely by volunteers at the border and in Budapest. Three weeks after the start of the crisis, the Hungarian government took over and opened a sport stadium for refugee arrivals in Budapest.

"Volunteer organizations are still assisting and there are a couple of shelters in Budapest housing many refugee families. Many Hungarian students have offered accommodation, transport, and aid to refugees and also to pets."

There are non stop instances of personal heroism as people rescue animals from a variety of dangerous situations. One Ukrainian cat was rescued from the seventh floor of a bombed house, a treacherous place to climb into. With potential mines, as well as the chance of the house collapsing, rescuers are risking their lives.

But each animal saved is another victory for the Ukrainian people. The cat is alive but needing veterinary attention, and is headed to the clinic.

Animals are among the surviving residents of the Mariupol steel plant, bringing some joy and comfort to the trapped patriots there.

Ukrainian Facebook posts are full of abandoned animals seeking homes or even food and water. Sometimes the families fled so fast they had no time to grab them; other times they knew they were going somewhere pets would not be welcome and had to leave them behind. While rescue groups are doing all they can, they are overwhelmed by the need for support.

There are happy posts when animals are reunited with families, or find adopters, but more often moderators are begging others to take the animals. It is beyond heart wrenching.

Stories of courage and close calls abound. One family relates their escape from Ukraine, driving along icy roads while Russian bombs exploded around them.

In Great Britain, a new service has started, Homes for Ukraine, which allow the Brits to offer homes for displaced Ukrainians under certain conditions. These sponsors do not have to be relatives of those seeking shelter; simply having a spare room and meeting the right conditions will do. In the first few days of its launch, 150,000 people signed up.

Two enterprising Harvard freshmen developed a site, Ukraine Take Shelter, to match refugees with those in safer countries offering to take them in. Marco Burstein and Avi Schiffman teamed up to create the site using their coding skills in just three days. It has generated offers of help from around the world.

The founders live on opposite sides of the country, and have found hosts in nearly every country. With over 18,000 (!) hosts signed up, refugees are free to find the country and the hosts which best suit them, giving them the independence to not have to rely on governments and rescue groups, but instead to create their future on their own.

In one day alone, there were 800,000 log-ins to the site!

Designed especially for combat refugees, the site is designed to make it as easy and quick as possible to use. It also has protocols in place to prevent human trafficking, which unfortunately seems to be a byproduct of war, with many instances being reported at the borders.

Marco and Avi are also working on meeting with the U.N. about their project, and partnering with Airbnb and VRBO.

Facebook groups are another means of connecting Ukrainians with those who want to help. Host Ukrainian Refugees in Your Home (I wish I had a spare room!) connects those who have room with those who urgently need it, with potential homeowners citing what kind of people they are (including pets and lifestyle) and who they would be comfortable having in their home. Those looking for a place to live provide information on the size and composition of their family, and the skills they could contribute to a transition home.

Drivers who will take Ukrainians to safer areas or to the border, people adopting, or helping care for, pets left behind, and people who are helping rescue animals in dangerous situations can all be found on Facebook. Two men drove non-stop for 30 hours to rescue a very sick horse trapped in a danger zone. The horse would have died if they hadn't reached him on time, but is now safe and under a veterinarian's care.  

Along the way, they rescued three beautiful dogs who were so traumatized from the constant bombings they took refuge on the men's laps as they drove.

The men continue driving all night on other rescue missions without any break. They can't rest while so many animals are awaiting their help. Rescue groups receive constant reports of more and more animals in desperate need, and help as many as they possibly can.

Pawel Jasinski, a Polish horseback tour operator who leads groups in Ukraine during peacetime, shared some interesting facts on the love of Ukrainians for their country. There are actually more men willing to fight in Ukraine than there are currently units to fight in, he says, and Ukrainians living elsewhere have returned home to fight as well.

Pawel speaks Ukrainian due to his business ties, and is helping people and horses from his home in Poland. His intention is to "supply them with whatever they need," from warm winter clothes to medicine to power generators. Most of the supply lines run through Poland, so Pawel helps coordinate deliveries of supplies and get them to the border where his Ukrainian partner receives them and takes them to destinations within the country. He stays in touch with many people from Norway, Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands, where people are collecting money and supplies for Ukraine or to Poland for the refugees in country.

Poland already counts 1.3 million refugees within its borders and expects many more. Most refugees prefer to stay in Poland or Romania or other border countries, where the languages and customs are more similar to their own than say in Germany or Italy. Nearly 100,000 people a day are crossing the Polish border. Some are going back and forth, bringing supplies across the border to Ukraine, and then returning back to Poland with refugees.

As a horse tour operator, one of Pawel's focuses is rescuing horses and getting them safely out of the country. "There are a lot of horses in Ukraine!" he says. They need food, they need safety from bombing, and they need shelter. Many have perished when stables were bombed. Horse owners have taken to freeing their horses to give them their best chance of survival. To the forests, to the fields ... Some horses have made it safely over the Polish border, but Pawel says, compared to the number in the country, "It's a drop in the ocean." 

"For the people who own the horses, it's a huge tragedy. For the owners it's a bigger tragedy than their own death, because horses are like family, it's like a child."

"While it's heartbreaking when you see it," says Pawel, "on the other hand the amount of help is unbelievable."

How can you help? "Donate to the organizations you trust." advises Pawel. There are scams out there so be careful. Just like in any challenging situation, scammers arrive to take advantage. Because of their riding tours, and all the customers they've worked with, Pawel is well-trusted. If you'd like to help Ukrainians, and want to choose a site that helps people and animals, and is well vetted, check out this website 

Ann Jamieson was writing stories when she was in grade school. In high school she wrote for the school paper. A college professor urged her to go professional.

After following her teacher's advice, she graduated with a degree in English and began writing scripts for educational films. This was followed by a weekly column for a newspaper, along with writing for equestrian and travel magazines (combining her two loves).

Ann's For the Love of the Horse series followed beginning in 2005, all collections of true stories about horses. She now has four volumes available, with a fifth in progress. In addition, Ann moved her stories online for those who prefer to read electronically, starting a subscription series called A Horse in Your Inbox.



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