Rescuing animals during disasters – Europesave human lives by saving animals before, during and after disasters
In a nation under attack, people in Ukraine struggle to find food and care for their animals or ways to transport them when forced to flee. The stress of flight can leave animals traumatised and in need of care once they have reached safety. For those left behind, such as horses or wild animals, food and protection can be hard to come by. IFAW has established an animal rescue team for Ukraine, which has been working for the past year toward the rescue and safety of animals caught in the human conflict.
In observation of International Women’s Day, we spoke with four women who are part of IFAW’s Ukraine rescue team about their work:
- Veronika Herasymenko (VH) is a veterinary surgeon still living in Ukraine. After the shelling of Kharhov, where she co-owned a veterinary clinic, she joined IFAW in Poland in support of incoming refugees. She then became IFAW’s operations coordinator focused on implementing emergency activities with IFAW partners.
- Kateryna Kyrsta (KK), who previously worked on World Bank Group projects in Ukraine in support of finance for small farmers, joined the team as project manager. She oversees all project activities and works on efforts to buffer animals against the effects of war and support them through recovery.
- Maryna Erlemgidze (ME) is the project’s advocacy officer, focused on raising animal welfare standards in the region through partnerships with key stakeholders.
- Natalia Gozak (NG), based in Kyiv, is the project’s wildlife rescue field officer. Bringing a background in ecology, environmental science, and wildlife management, she heads up efforts to mitigate the effects of the war on wildlife.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
how did you become part of the Ukraine rescue team?
VH: I remember that time very well. My family and I were in the western part of Ukraine when I saw an announcement that veterinarians were needed at the border. I called without thinking, as I knew that I had to do something. Several months later, I joined IFAW as operations coordinator.
ME: Because of the war, I left my home in Kyiv and moved to Brussels [and] started looking for a job in the field of advocacy. And a miracle happened: I came across an IFAW vacancy that combined what I know and love—advocacy in Ukraine and helping animals.
how have you been helping animals/people impacted by the war over the past year?
VH: After the outbreak of war, our clinic continued to operate despite all the difficulties. During shelling and air raids, in times of acute need, even at night.
KK: Like millions of other Ukrainians, my family and I have been sending donations to volunteers supporting Ukrainian army, families, and kids in need.
ME: At the outbreak of war and even before the war, I helped at some small dog shelters, periodically [donating] money for the treatment of animals.
NG: The very least I could do: I gave a home to a cat, which soldiers found in December 2022 near Bakhmut. The soldiers had named him Private Ryan. It was obvious that he used to live in a high-income family—[he is] used to riding in the car, knows how to use the cat carrier—but had spent months and months starving.
how are you currently helping animals/people impacted by the war?
VH: I am in 24-hour contact with Ukrainian volunteers from whom I receive information about incidents, and in contact with animal shelters that we help and charities that we cooperate with. I also do a lot of consultations on veterinary issues. A main focus for us is the evacuation of wild animals from hot spots, from de-occupied cities. A recent evacuation was of a lion from the Sumy region. The lion could not walk and was very emaciated and frightened.
KK: Our team issues emergency grants to pet and wildlife shelters, [and] we cooperate with local animal welfare organisations in delivering food and care to animals across Ukraine, especially targeting areas in a close proximity to the front line. We also work with a national association of veterinary clinics on vaccinating and sterilising animals. Together with our local partners, we also rescue and take care of captive wildlife.
what has been your greatest challenge in the past year?
VH: My sister and her family, my aunt, and some friends now live in Kharkiv. The situation in the city continues to be very dangerous. Daily shelling of residential areas, destroying the infrastructure of the city, killing people and animals. It is very important for animals in Ukraine right now to get enough food, vaccines, and to be able to keep warm.
ME: Forced emigration from Ukraine with one small suitcase, moving 2,000 km across Europe by bus with my sick dog and starting a new life from scratch in Brussels.
NG: To continue working and supporting others while hearing bombing, air attack alarms, [along with] electricity and water supply cut offs.
what are you most proud of?
VH: I am very grateful to IFAW for the opportunity to work and help. It was important to do something and not think about what was going on—it helped me not to go crazy. It was hard to see frightened people and animals who didn’t know what to do. We had to talk to them and try to calm them down. We chipped and vaccinated the animals. We also issued permits for movement within the European Union.
NG: To be able each time to adapt to the new challenges: air attacks—we equipped a shelter. Electricity cut off—we equipped an alternative power supply. I was not driving a car for 10 years but had to [do so], and I did it.
what’s next for you?
KK: The Ukraine rescue activities are truly designed to meet both immediate and strategic needs of the animal welfare in Ukraine. At the same time, IFAW works on a recovery plan, and we all hope that soon, peace will return to Ukraine and our team will help nature and wildlife to recover after the man-made cruel disaster it is going through today.