Exhausted by their long journey, the young Ukrainian couple entrust their cat Martin to the expert hands of a Californian veterinarian. At the Polish-Ukrainian border, volunteers from all over the world help refugees by caring for their animals.
Named in honor of the king of Latin pop Ricky Martin, the two-year-old gray cat is not in great shape.
“It was very stressful for him,” explains his owner Anastasiia Herasymchuk, recounting the 30-hour journey to flee the fighting which was getting ever closer to their village in the Donetsk region. “He ate nothing and drank nothing.”
The volunteers of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) give the feline an unsavory meal and place it in a cage which they cover with blankets to bring it a little serenity. And allow the young couple to eat and breathe too.
– “Helping people through their animals” –
“You know, we don’t just help animals here,” says Andrew Yaroslaw Kushnir. “We help people through their animals”.
Himself the son of a Ukrainian refugee who, as a child, fled the Second World War for the United States, the 34-year-old veterinarian claims to have felt compelled to leave the comfort of his Californian life to help his neighbors — and their domestic companions– in the rusticity of a tent at Medyka, an important crossing point between Ukraine and Poland.
Here, we assess the health of the animals and we distribute, free of charge, everything necessary: harnesses, leashes, muzzles, cages, food.
Stress, dehydration, wounds, fleas and worms… Dogs, cats, rodents, parrots, ferrets and other reptiles also bear the scars of the war started by Russia on February 24.
“Some have experienced the sounds and smells of war and their owners tell us that now, as soon as there is noise, they react,” said Jennifer Gardner, program manager of Ifaw.
“That is why it is important that in our supplies there are suitable harnesses for the animals and cages so that they do not escape if they should suddenly be stressed”, adds- she.
– A bit special menagerie –
Every day, the tent welcomes about sixty animals. A somewhat special menagerie that also saw four snails, each the size of a fist, transported in a pierced Tupperware.
It is out of the question for their owner to let the war separate them.
“We cleaned them, put them in a new box, fed them lettuce and she was delighted,” said Diane Treedwell, another volunteer.
The refugees “would leave all their belongings behind to make sure their best friend gets out of there,” she says.
A cage is one hand less for carrying a suitcase.
– “Lucky” animals –
“In reality”, points out Andrew Yaroslaw Kushnir, “the animals that we see here, on this side of the border, are lucky: they are the ones who managed to cross”.
“While on the other side, the animals were abandoned by owners who could no longer take care of them,” he says.
Those are taken care of by Jakub Kotowicz. In Przemysl, about ten kilometers from Medyka, this 32-year-old Polish veterinarian, co-founder of the ADA foundation, devotes part of his clinic to animals left behind in Ukraine.
Together with other organisations, it organizes convoys to bring back from Lviv dogs and cats found in combat zones.
With his team, he works to get them back on their feet before offering them up for adoption.
“The transport is very long,” he observes. “From the east of Ukraine, it’s one or two days in small cages in which the Ukrainians have crammed three or four cats. So it’s very stressful for them.”
Around him, a room in his clinic lined with boxes – spacious – stacked on top of each other, in which around forty cats, including two young mothers, are awaiting the end of their health quarantine. Two young women provide them with food, fresh water and hugs.
In three weeks, Jakub Kotowicz claims to have examined 900 Ukrainian dogs and cats. As well as a small injured white goat and a stork with a broken beak.
“The situation for animals in Ukraine was already very bad in times of peace,” he says. “So since the war started, it became tragic.”