Pet lovers’ dilemma amid Russia-Ukraine war: ‘Can’t leave them behind, no matter what happens’

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered a refugee crisis, with many people rushing to flee the country and many others seeking shelter in bunkers and underground subways. The unfolding humanitarian crisis has not just wreaked havoc on livelihoods and lives, but also on numerous pets and pet owners, who are finding it increasingly difficult to escape with their furry friends due to strict regulations or even provide them with food and other necessities.

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As such, numerous pet owners continue to hold on to their pets despite the looming threat to their own lives. One such pet parent is Indian student Rishabh Kaushik who refused to return to India without his pet dog Maliboo.

A third year software engineering student at the Kharkiv National University of Radio Electronics, Rishabh was stuck in Kyiv as he was unable to obtain an NOC certificate from the Indian government to bring his dog to the country. “I had a visa for Dubai long before the bombing happened. The only reason I couldn’t go was that the Indian government was really non-cooperative. Even in a war-like situation, they are asking for documents to bring Maliboo to India. I supplied them with all the documents I had, but they kept asking for more and it got quite difficult. The only reason I’m stuck in Ukraine is that India didn’t give me the NOC on time. I would have been in India on February 20 itself had I got it on time,” he told indianexpress.com

Rishabh, who recently crossed the Ukraine-Hungarian border with his dog from where he will fly back to the country, was staying in Kyiv with an Indian family along with 10 other Indian students. “The situation is really bad here. there’s water and food shortage with long queues of people scouting for basic necessities,” he had shared.

But, despite the worsening situation, leaving his pet behind was out of question. “If I wanted to leave him here, I could have left long back. I can’t leave him like this and will take care of him no matter what happens,” he said.

For Tanuja Patel, a final year MBBS student in Poltava, the situation is no different. She managed to reach Romania with her pet dog but refuses to board the flight to India till her pet is given permission, too. “I will board the flight only if my pet gets to travel with me too. Otherwise, I’ll stay here for now,” Tanuja told indianexpress.com

People, who are unable to flee the country, are seeking a hiding place in bomb shelters, metros and subways. However, many stuck to their pets as several pictures of people hiding with their pets made it to social media, serving lessons on compassion and humanity to the world.

While these people refused to let go of their four legged companions, many were forced to give them to shelters before moving out, Kaushik informed. Native Ukrainians, too, are faced with the dilemma of leaving behind their pets as they seek shelter in neighboring countries.

Arina, 19, took to Twitter to share her ordeal as she had to leave her country, leaving behind her family, belongings and pets.

Explaining why she couldn’t take her pets along, she told indianexpress.com“Your pet must have a passport with mandatory vaccinations† But my pets don’t have the opportunity to get it now, considering the situation in Ukraine. That’s why I couldn’t take them.”

Further, she called for relaxation of travel rules for pets in the current situation as many pets are being abandoned on the streets. “There are a lot of families who don’t have the opportunity to leave them somewhere safe. They just abandon them in the streets or free them on the border,” she said.

As a result, thousands of pet animals are left behind on the streets of Ukraine and animal shelters are overcrowded with limited food supplies. due to, several animal welfare organizations are working round the clock to provide food and shelter to them.

“It is a terrible tragedy for animals, particularly cats and dogs because the people had to flee very unexpectedly. Most weren’t allowed to take their animals with them. So, they had no choice but to abandon these poor creatures on the streets. These animals, who are not used to fending for themselves, now find themselves on the streets as victims of bombs, bullets. They are completely forlorn and helpless. They have very little chance of survival if we don’t pay attention to them,” David Barritt, director, Network for Animals, an international animal welfare organization crusading for animals around the world, told indianexpress.com

Elucidating the sorry state of animal shelters in Ukraine, he added, “There are a handful of animal welfare organizations trying to help but it is very difficult. One of the dog shelters that we support has 300 dogs already and they have no space for anymore. The problem is that all the shelters are absolutely full in Ukraine. There’s no place for pets anymore.”

Arranging food for these animals is the next biggest challenge, Barrit said, in a conversation with indianexpress.com

“One of the biggest challenges is finding dog food in a country like Ukraine where the infrastructure is collapsing. Many of the factories have closed down because men have gone to the war or have fled the country. We have managed to somehow find supplies for dog food in the relatively safer side of the country. My team is trying to get dog food into Ukraine through the Polish border. The problem there is getting our team out of Ukraine because there are queues of refugees and distressed people stretched back for miles.”

“While I can’t comment on the scale of the abandonment as my shelter is now cut off from most areas due to the current crisis, I do see several good breed dogs on the streets, which I assume were left behind. The biggest issue is the lack of dog food for more than 450 dogs present in my shelter. Our stock will run out after 10 days and we are getting no support from the Ukrainian authorities. The constant bombarding towards our area is an added problem which is risking our lives as well lives of these animals,” Maxim Skripnik, Manager, Gostomel shelter, Ukraine told indianexpress.com.

“Our heart goes out to these animals as they are not getting the help their human owners would like them to get,” Barritt concluded, as he got back to arranging supplies for animals in Ukraine.

As the calls for relaxed entry rules for pets grew louder, several neighboring countries allowed people crossing the border to enter with their pets without strict regulations and requirements. India, too, has relaxed the rules for pets coming from Ukraine as a “one-time relaxation measure”.

In response to an appeal by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Parshottam Rupala, Minister for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying, issued an office memorandum stating that “considering unique and extraordinary situations in war-hit Ukraine wherein pre-export requisite formalities for the export of pets into India may not be fulfilled, the import of pet dogs and/or pet cats along with stranded Indians being rescued by the Government of India is being facilitated as a one-time relaxation measure.”

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