Animals are considered to be part of the family, providing emotional support, happiness, and joy, as well as economic value for communities. The invasion by Russia not only separated people from their families but also separated animals from their loved ones. Since the war began, Ukrainians have been forced to leave their beloved pets behind in order to survive without being able to provide for them. Like humans, animals suffer mentally and physically from the war, experiencing high levels of stress, malnutrition, instability, and prolonged distress that can lead to illness and disease. Unprotected animals on the streets face the danger of landmines and airstrikes, resulting in injuries or death. When people return home after temporary evacuation, they discover that their basic living conditions have been destroyed, along with the well-being of their animals. While there are volunteers and temporary shelters that care for abandoned animals, resources are limited and rescues are not always safe.
What the data tells us:
According to the report, the Chornobayiv poultry farm, the largest in Europe, experienced a significant loss of 4 million chickens, with 700,000 birds dying due to power outages and a lack of employee access to care for them. Additionally around 300 dogs died from hunger and thirst in a shelter during Russia’s occupation. Numerous other animal shelters also faced challenging conditions, placing the majority of animal rescue efforts on the shoulders of volunteers.
Data provided by Ukraine's Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food, as of June 16, 2022, reported estimates of animal deaths since Russia's invasion: 42,000 sheep, 92,000 cattle, 258,000 pigs, and over 5.7 million poultry have been lost. However, it is highly likely that these numbers are much higher, given the difficulties in collecting data during active hostilities. Ongoing conflicts, limited physical access to farms, and challenges in acquiring feed and veterinary services are the primary factors contributing to the loss of animal life.
How domestic animals are treated during the war
There have been documented cases of animal killings on various farms. In the Chernihiv region, Russian occupiers engaged in the sport of shooting and killing 110 cows on a farm. Animal shelters have also come under attack, resulting in the loss of animal lives. Additionally, volunteers have faced challenges in operating shelters and providing food and water to the animals. For example, in Hostomel, just north of Kyiv, Russian soldiers allegedly burned down stables, leading to the tragic death of all but two out of 32 horses. Similarly, in Gostomel, around 20 horses perished in a fire, with charred remains discovered at the stables. Other barns have been destroyed due to munitions explosions.
Intentional physical abuse of animals has also been reported. A well-known story involves a dog named Lys, who was beaten and injured by a mine near Makarov. The dog was unable to walk and lay in a garbage pit until local people found and called rescuers to provide rehabilitation. Another dog was found with the word "Fool" painted on its body. It was rescued by Ukrainian Armed Forces soldiers and handed over for treatment. There are also disturbing reports of Russia being involved in or accused of hanging animals alive on trees as a form of cruel entertainment. In Gorenka, located in the Bucha region that has experienced constant artillery fire, a wounded dog with severe burns was discovered. The animal had been nearly blinded by the shelling carried out by the invaders.
While these episodes are horrific, it is likely that the largest number of animal deaths resulting from the war have occurred in factory farms. The Agromol dairy farm near Kharkiv, which housed 3,000 cows, was bombed by Russian forces. The Russian’s occupation severed the supply of animal feed, which is crucial for Ukraine’s food production for the population.
This cruelty extends not only to domestic animals but also to wildlife.
Wild animals also experience significant suffering during times of war. While various injuries are admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centers, only a fraction of the animals are found and brought to veterinary clinics. Wildlife faces numerous threats, including missile strikes, artillery fire, landmines, entanglement in grenade tripwires, fires, internal organ damage caused by explosive blast waves, and disturbances from loud noises.
In the Black Sea, there has been an increase in dolphin strandings and entanglements in fishing nets. While the cause of death is being investigated, these incidents may be linked to the use of powerful acoustic devices and destruction of explosions by military boats. Marine mammals are at direct risk of explosions that lead to acoustic trauma, starvation, or disorientation.
In the beginning of the war, the 12 Months Zoo in the Kyiv region was occupied, leading to dire circumstances for the animals. With Russian occupation, provision of proper nourishment, suitable environments, and even evaluation have been impossible. Similarly, the Feldman Ecopark near Kharkiv suffered shelling resulting in its complete destruction and six individuals lost their lives while attempting to feed or evacuate the animals. In the Kyiv region, a private ecopark endured heavy damage from intense bombardments, becoming a frequent target for the invaders' shells and bullets. The animal park has been partially destroyed, and many animals fell victim to the invaders. Best Friends animal shelter was one of the victims targeted by a bomb dropped by the Russian invaders. The shelter's staff had no choice but to open the cages, providing the animals with a slim chance of survival.
Efforts to rescue and heal animals
Every day, thousands of livestock on farms, domestic pets, and homeless animals require care, food, and water. They endure pain, fear, hunger, and thirst, with some unable to fend for themselves or find sustenance. Despite the ongoing perilous conditions, Ukrainian volunteers and charitable organizations have managed to evacuate animals to safer shelters and provide partial care for some of them. The Armed Forces of Ukraine soldiers and State Emergency Service rescuers are also actively involved in animal rescues. Additionally, numerous animal-based organizations have established food stations, shelters, and veterinary clinics. They have extended their support to homeless animals, even deploying veterinarians to refugee camps in Poland and providing vital humanitarian assistance.
In order to pave the way for the future and post-war reconstruction, it is crucial to establish a widespread network of state shelters and rehabilitation centers for animals throughout all regions of Ukraine. The initiative has already been undertaken by a group of courageous volunteers, but there is an even greater need for additional helping hands and monetary support. With the comprehensive aid, it is possible to provide veterinary clinics, specialized animal rescue services, well-organized evaluation protocols and data, and learning opportunities regarding animal protection and rehabilitation.
Helping War Victims wholeheartedly supports these humanitarian efforts dedicated to assisting animals in need.
THIS ARTICLE WAS CREATED BY STELLA BALDWIN