Rescuing animals during disasters – Europesave human lives by saving animals before, during and after disasters
Four lion cubs and a black leopard cub survived recent drone attacks and sporadic bombings in Kyiv followed by the journey to Poland from their war-torn birthplace in Ukraine. The four lion cubs then completed the final leg of their journey, arriving at their forever home —The Wildcat Sanctuary (TWS) in the United States. IFAW was proud to fund the rescue, transport and care for these soon-to-be big cats.
According to their permits, all of the cubs were born at breeding facilities in Ukraine and surrendered to animal rescue organizations, Vet Crew in Odesa and Wild Animal Rescue in Kyiv, after local officials started to enforce laws on the exotic pet trade in Ukraine.
“An estimated 200 lions live in private homes and as the war rages on, they face increasingly grim outcomes,” says Meredith Whitney, Wildlife Rescue Program Manager at IFAW.
IFAW is on the ground helping animals threatened by the intense conflict in Ukraine since March, and these tiny lion cubs have been on a long journey to safety. Thanks to overwhelming support from people around the world, IFAW’s work and that of our partners continues to make a difference for the animals and people impacted by the war in Ukraine and around the world.
October 11, 2022
When the war began in Ukraine, rescued bats quietly hibernated at the Ukrainian Independent Ecology Institute’s Bat Rehabilitation Center in Kharkiv. Despite shelling and heavy artillery, the dedicated biologists and veterinarians at the Institute managed to rehabilitate and release more than 3,000 bats belonging to nine species between February and April, with support from IFAW.
The Institute has rescued injured and orphaned bats in Ukraine for over 20 years, and the war hasn’t stopped them.
Due to the presence of Russian troops and shelling near the Institute’s usual release site this year, staff decided to release the bats near a river at sunset—that would allow the bats to use the river to help them navigate to nearby forests. All 3,287 bats were released safely back to the wild.
The staff at the Institute fully understood the risks involved in remaining in Kharkiv during the war. They decided to continue to rescue and care for bats as long as utilities were running, and stores stayed open.
Bats play an essential role in pest control, plant pollination and seed dispersal. They eat more than 70% of their weight in insects each night, making them a natural pesticide for agricultural crops. They are also an important prey species for other animals such as owls and snakes. With the alarming decline in biological diversity, bats need to be protected so they can help other flora and fauna survive and flourish.
As part of its multi-year commitment to animals in Ukraine, IFAW started a project in partnership with the Ukrainian Small Animals Veterinary Association to support veterinary services for pet owners in Ukraine. The project aims to vaccinate and chip 20,000 and sterilize 4,000 pets from displaced and resident families at veterinary posts in four key cities—Kyiv, Lviv, Kharkiv and Odessa. These services will be provided for free to meet the needs of many pet owners who do not have sufficient means.
October 3, 2022
Veronika Herasymenko, a veterinary surgeon who treated thousands of pets of refugees from Ukraine arriving in Poland this year, is now joining IFAW as our new Rescue Operations Coordinator in Ukraine.
With experience in primary emergency and surgical care of domestic animals, from 2014 until the start of the war in Ukraine, Veronika co-owned and co-managed a veterinary clinic called Darsolina in Kharkiv. When the city of Kharkiv and her mother’s house were shelled, she was forced to move her family to Lviv, where they continue to reside.
Read her full story here.
September 26, 2022
As IFAW passes the six-month mark of giving aid to animals and people in Ukraine, we are actively expanding our efforts. To date, we have issued 63 grants worth a total of over US$1M to local organizations. That money has helped more than 75,000 companion and wild animals. Here are a few examples of what local grantees have done with funds from IFAW:
Feed 6,000 pets. U-Hearts Foundation was one of IFAW’s first grant recipients in Ukraine. With the funds, U-Hearts purchased 20 tons of pet food, which they’ve been distributing across the country.
September 9, 2022
Transport 3,873 animals and 9,057 people. Enjoying Life is a humanitarian organization that works with suppliers to ensure fuel will be available for evacuation routes amid fuel shortages in Ukraine. When some transporters were unable to evacuate pets along with their families, Enjoying Life organized transport that could include animals and provided people in need with carriers and animal food. IFAW gave the organization funding to cover the cost of fuel and supplies.
Buy animal carriers and pet food. Save the Dogs has been helping animals impacted by the Ukraine war in various ways. Earlier in the year, the organization had staff posted at the Isaccea border crossing handing out pet food, leashes, and collars to refugees arriving from Ukraine—many of whom carried their cats and dogs in their arms or tucked into their jackets. Funding from IFAW helped the organization buy animal carriers, along with 223 tons food, which they have distributed to refugees struggling to feed their pets.
Care for ill and senior dogs. Shelter Sotnitskoe cares for many chronically ill and senior dogs that were abandoned in Ukraine. With the help of an IFAW grant, the shelter was able to hire refugee workers who had lost their homes and means of survival during the war. The funding also supported the purchase of animal food, supplies and veterinary care.
July 8, 2022
Veterinarian Andrew Kushnir recently returned from IFAW’s “blue tent” at the Ukraine-Poland border where he volunteered for several weeks. Andrew is of Ukrainian heritage—his father’s family fled Ukraine during World War II. When the devastating war began this past February, he thought of his father and all the people of Ukraine. And as a vet, he thought of the animals.
Teaming up with IFAW’s responders, Andrew provided much-needed vet care to cats, dogs and other animals crossing into Poland with their owners. As Andrew explains, “We’re helping people through animals. That’s what we’re doing.”
See more of Andrew’s story below.
Helping people through animals: Veterinarian Andrew Kushnir at the Ukraine-Poland border
May 31, 2022
Our time at the so-called “blue tent” came to an end on Sunday 15 May. For two months, we’ve had the honor of helping thousands of animals, and their people, who crossed the border from Ukraine into Poland. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a steady decline in the number of people and animals crossing the border, and we already see some people returning to Ukraine.
IFAW continues to send food and supplies to relief workers and other organizations going into Ukraine, and to grant emergency funds to support animals in need. Our two IFAW-supported Ukrainian veterinarians also continue to assist refugees and their pets entering Poland via the Przemyśl train station. Moreover, we have outlined a multi-year project plan focused on our continued support of current and ongoing emergency needs, as well as recovery and rebuilding efforts.
We are able to do all this thanks to the enormous generosity we received during the Ukraine crisis.
May 10, 2022
IFAW’s Shannon Walajtys recently appeared on CNN International’s “First Move with Julia Chatterley” to discuss IFAW’s work helping refugees and animals impacted by the war in Ukraine.
April 27, 2022
At IFAW's "blue tent" we recently met a refugee named Viktoria who was touched by the care she received from our team. After fleeing from the Kharkiv region with her daughter Sofia and their three dogs, she arrived at the IFAW tent after a day of traveling. To our surprise, one of her dogs, two-year-old Jessie, was pregnant with her first litter of puppies—and just 10 days away from giving birth. After Jessie was examined and found in good condition, we provided the family with carriers to comfortably transport Jessie, along with new leashes, harnesses and water for the journey ahead.
A Ukrainian refugee and her dogs find care and support at the IFAW tent
April 26, 2022
For nearly a month, IFAW has managed the only animal service tent at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland. The tent, nicknamed the “blue tent,” is bright blue and located a few meters from where refugees, fleeing the war in Ukraine, enter Poland.
Our responders, veterinarians and volunteers at the tent continue to work nonstop to help refugees and their pets. In 8 to 12-hour shifts, they provide 24/7 access to pet food, triage veterinary care and animal supplies. The work is serious and at times hard, but the atmosphere in the tent and along the footpath is also positive, as everyone is working together to help.
A tour of the "blue tent" at the border crossing in Medyka, Poland
As Diane Treadwell, IFAW responder for over 10 years, says: “We’ve had varying weather conditions, but often it is cold, windy and/or rainy. As a result, we see animals come in wet and cold, so we dry them and warm them up, get them some wet pet food and water, and new carriers for the next part of their journey. It’s really great to be able to take care of these animals and to help the people of Ukraine. We just continue each day and do the best we can!”
Our teams report seeing hundreds of refugees per day and have helped an estimated 1,400 animals at the blue tent since late March. Many people tell us how grateful they are to be received with such empathy and compassion, and that we alleviate some of the worry about their furry friends. And we have met so many of them: cats, dogs, rats, hamsters and more.
Over the past few weeks, the number of refugees and animals crossing the Medyka border had decreased, but in recent days we are again seeing a steady increase. Authorities have also added back a third train from Lviv to Przemyśl to accommodate the increase they are also seeing. Therefore, we have extended our management period of the tent, to ensure that we can keep helping those in need.
April 13, 2022
IFAW has provided an emergency grant to the Ukrainian Independent Ecology Institute to support food, veterinary and staff costs. For over 20 years, the institute’s bat rehabilitation center has surveyed and protected bats in Ukraine. Despite the ongoing war, brave rescuers continue to rescue, rehabilitate and release bats. Many of their bats were in hibernation when the war started and, amazingly, undisturbed by shelling and heavy artillery. The team said nearly all the bats hibernated perfectly and woke up ready to be released.
Due to conflict near the center, the team released the bats next to the nearest river at sunset, where the bats could use the river to locate nearby forests.
We are cheering on all the released bats and wish them a happy and wild life!
IFAW has also issued grants to the following wildlife facilities.
April 6, 2022
April 1, 2022
There is an overwhelming need for pet supplies and basic veterinary care at the main border crossing near Medyka, where an estimated 80 % of refugees and their pets cross into Poland. Our teams have assumed management of the only animal service station there—a large blue tent—helping the hundreds of animals arriving. Two German NGOs, Deutscher Tierschutzbund (DTSchB) and Bundesverband Gemeinschaft Deutscher Tierrettungsdienste (GTD), initially set up the animal service station at the beginning of the war. Now, trained IFAW responders, veterinarians and local volunteers rotate in 12-hour shifts to provide 24/7 access to pet food, triage veterinary care and supplies for refugees with their pets.
Animals that arrive for care are traumatized from the war and stressed from long days of travel to the border crossing. The most common health issues documented by our veterinarians at the station are malnutrition, dehydration, hypothermia and stiff joints from being carried in cardboard boxes, coats and plastic bags.
Another key transit location for refugees and their pets is the Przemyśl train station. With the help of your donations, we are able to have two IFAW-supported veterinarians from Ukraine working alongside Polish veterinarians operating the animal border control. In 24-hour shifts, the veterinarians assess the animals’ health, provide vaccinations and microchipping, and help with the paperwork required to ensure pets can travel into Poland and other EU countries. The owners are also provided with items such as carriers, leashes, harnesses and muzzles, and pet food to bring with them on their journey.
Tomasz Dzimira, Head Veterinarian of the Przemyski District, told us that there was one dog in particular that he remembered: “One of the dogs that came in was not well. He was supposed to have surgery in Ukraine on the day that its owners were forced to flee. So the minute the dog came into Poland, a veterinary colleague and I operated on the dog to remove some kidney stones. I am happy to say that the dog is doing well!”
March 25, 2022
At several border crossing points along the Ukrainian-Polish border, refugee welcome centers have been set up. Every day, thousands of refugees come in who need a place to stay overnight, before continuing their journey into Poland and from there other neighboring countries. Our team has visited several of these border crossings, supporting the local veterinary teams and distributing water, pet food, harnesses and carriers to refugees who have fled Ukraine with their pets. Here are some of their stories.
In Korczowa, we meet Iuliia as she sits on a cot in the refugee center. She tells us that she escaped the bombing in Kyiv and is hoping to bring her eight-year-old Pomeranian, Hugo Boss to the United States, where she has family. IFAW emergency responders Jennifer and Shannon help advise her on the process for getting Hugo Boss the correct vaccinations and paperwork for an “owned dog” importation permit.
At the border crossing in Medyka, our team finds Tania sitting outside in the cold. Tania left the war-torn Kyiv region with her 10-year-old daughter and one-and-a-half-year-old Pomeranian, Mikaela, who she calls her “best friend.” While talking to us, Tania is overcome with emotion trying to explain why she had to leave Ukraine. We stay with her for a while, give her some dog food for Mikaela and wish her well on her way to Germany.
Making a difference for Ukrainian refugees and their pets
At another location, we meet a family with a little dog called Lala, sporting a small ponytail and sitting wrapped in a pink blanket. The family is at the border crossing trying to figure out how to get to a pet-friendly shelter. Apart from Lala, they have two other dogs with them and at least three cats. Part of the family has stayed with the animals, while the others are looking for a place to stay for the night.
And then there was Bono, who our team met while taking the train from Przemyśl to Kraków. Bono’s owner is from Kyiv and on her way to Kraków to stay with family. She left her home because of the war, and her husband stayed behind to fight. She is understandably very sad and luckily has Bono with her to provide some comfort. The team sees that she doesn’t want to put him down on the seat beside her because Bono is a bit dirty from the travel, and she explains that someone else might want to sit down. One of our team members gives her an old black t-shirt so that Bono has a little bed for the duration of the train ride. He falls asleep soon after, while his owner tells us that he’s been very nervous from all the bombs going off and hasn’t been sleeping well. We feel that this train is probably the first quiet place they’ve gotten to in quite some time.
There are many, many more stories like these. All people and families trying to get to a safe place, together with their loved ones—including of the furry kind. We are so thankful to be able to make even the slightest difference for some of these animals and people in their time of need.
March 19, 2022
IFAW’s emergency response team has met with organizations and authorities in Poland working on the frontlines of the crisis. Staff and volunteers we have met are tired, anxious and very emotional about the situation facing Ukraine citizens and animals. There are still so many needs, for people and animals.
In Warsaw, IFAW’s team met with Polish veterinary authorities to discuss how they are processing refugees and their pets from Ukraine. There is estimated to be around 80,000 refugees coming into Poland on a daily basis, many are bringing their pets with them. Polish veterinary teams are processing 500 to 600 animals per day, and have vaccinated and microchipped over 12,000 animals since the war began. Some families hide their pets for fear they will be confiscated, so clear communication at the border crossing points is crucial.
Helping Ukrainian refugees and animals in Poland
The train station in Przemyśl in the Subkarpaten province has thousands of refugees coming and going daily, everyone trying to get to a safe destination in Europe. It is bitter cold at night (at times freezing and below) and families are queuing for trains all day long. They have their animals and families with them and just want to remain together. When we arrived at Przemyśl train station earlier this week, we found that the veterinarians working at the station were completely exhausted. Every day their team of three people processes up to 200 dogs and cats, coming in on trains from Ukraine. The animals have traveled miles with their families and are often dehydrated and showing signs of hypothermia, so wet food and other items such as cat carriers, leashes and harnesses are continuously needed. We are delivering daily supplies to the station team, so refugees have critically needed support for their journey onward. As the situation in Ukraine intensifies, there is expected to be an influx of animals in crisis.
Our shelter partner, ARKA Animal Protection Association is also located in Przemyśl, about 15 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Before the conflict started, they made the tough decision to transport dogs and cats in their care to neighboring countries, to make room for animals arriving from Ukraine. When we visited ARKA the other day, we met Pavo, the shelter manager, and learned that they are expecting a new influx of dogs and cats to come in any day now. They are working closely with volunteers who bring over animals from Ukraine, and with their veterinary inspector to process the animals. IFAW’s support covers veterinary expenses for exams, microchips and vaccinations prior to placement. Pavo and the entire ARKA team work tirelessly to care for animals in need and we are proud to support their mission to save lives of Ukraine’s dogs and cats.
Emergency grants were recently issued to Feldman Ecopark in Lisne, Kharkiv and XII Months Park in Demydiv, Kyiv for food, vet supplies and operational expenses.
We are very grateful for your ongoing and generous donations that make all this work possible. And we will continue to stand with dedicated and selfless shelter staff in Ukraine, Poland and all countries supporting those most in need.
March 17, 2022
It is impossible to tell the story of our shelter partner in Berdyansk, Ukraine, without telling the great losses this horrible war has cost them. Their facility has remained at the center of terrible conflict and attacks. Yet, the team remains onsite and committed to caring for the animals. Some animals have died from explosions or gunshots, while others have run away after an explosion opened a hole in the shelter’s walls. For the first five days of the invasion, we were not able to reach the facility. Since that time, connectivity has been restored and we have been able to communicate and send emergency funds.
In the last couple of days, the shelter team sent us an update that they used some of the emergency funds to purchase two tons of grains and dog and cat food.
The shelter director sent a heartfelt thanks, saying, “Your help at the moment is invaluable.”
Our thoughts are with the team and their dogs during this incredibly difficult time. We cannot say thank you enough to our supporters, who make it possible for emergency aid to reach those who need it most.
In the midst of all the chaos, we wanted to share a small story of goodness and hope. Shortly after the conflict in Ukraine began, one of our shelter partners rescued Dashenka, a small one-eyed dog. She was well taken care of and clearly from a good home. Right away, the search began for her family. It took about a week before the team finally connected with her family, who had been searching for her the entire time. We are happy to report Dashenka has been reunited with her loved ones and we wish them all the best.
March 13, 2022
Since the conflict started, IFAW has supported multiple partners helping animals and people in Ukraine and the surrounding countries. Our team has now deployed to Poland and will continue to work with local shelters and government authorities. Our first priority on the ground is to understand the scale of unmet needs for shelters, animals, and people and their pets. Because of you, we are able to provide immediate support where it is needed most. We will be sharing stories and updates from our field team in the coming days. Thank you to everyone who has supported us so generously to help save lives and keep families together!
March 8, 2022
IFAW continues to expand our support to local partners in Ukraine who are helping animals amidst ongoing and violent attacks from Russia. Our team also awarded an emergency grant to Save Wild’s White Rock Bear Shelter, a bear rehabilitation center in Chubyns’ke outside of Kyiv. Staff and volunteers sheltered in place to care for their animals after armed conflict near the city intensified. With our grant funding, the center was able to purchase much-needed food and supplies for the bears under their care. Since then, the bears have been evacuated and relocated to the Four Paws’ Bear Sanctuary Domazhyr in the Lviv region, Ukraine.
Our shelter partners in Ukraine have received additional wire transfers of emergency funds to support the purchase of dog and cat food and veterinary supplies. Tragically, we received reports today from local partners of more shelling resulting in damage to facilities and loss of life, both human and animal. We send our condolences to the survivors and continue to stand in solidarity with all victims of this war.
March 4, 2022
IFAW has partnered with the Poznań Zoo in Poland to provide temporary shelter and care for wildlife rescued from the conflict in Ukraine. We are thankful for zoo director Ewa Zgrabczyńska, her incredible team and those who risked their lives transporting these animals to safety.
Ewa sent this emotional message after IFAW reached out to offer our support.
“Dear Colleagues, thank you very much for your great readiness to help in this horrible situation! At the moment, I am staying on the border, waiting for the transfer of lions and tigers. Animals still alive, but I am crying, the road is full of escaping cars and people, a dramatic situation, time is so important to help them. You can't imagine the tragedy of the war here, animals in Kyiv—killed. No food. I feel powerless, but we will try to organize more transfers and will bring food for them.”
The nail-biting rescue began when local authorities in Poznań approved the zoo’s request to provide a safe place for wildlife evacuated from a sanctuary in Kyiv. Ewa, her team, and sanctuary staff made preparations for a massive relocation operation. But the journey was not without its perils.
The reality of how challenging this move would be started when the team first departed for the Polish border. Immediately, the convoy came under fire and had to return to the sanctuary. The following morning, they tried again, but were stopped and surrounded by Russian tanks.
Ewa and her team feared the worst and waited all night for updates on the convoy. The following morning, they finally received the good news: “Kiev defenders carried out transport through the occupation line. They're on their way!”
The convoy moved slowly and deliberately, avoiding bombs and Russian troops, and finally arrived at the border safely. Though the team and animals were exhausted, everyone was alive.
The animals were unloaded at the zoo and have been in recovery ever since. Each animal is dealing with the trauma of war in different ways—the animals are resting, eating and sleeping away the stress of their precarious rescue.
Special thanks the Authorities of the City of Poznań, Mr. President Jack Jaśkowiak and his Deputy Mr. Jędrzej Solarski for saving and helping free Ukraine. We send special thanks to the Chief Veterinarian Doctor Paweł Niemczuk and his Deputy Dr. Krzysztof Jazdżeewski and the Borderline Veterinarians of Korczowa. Without them nothing would have been possible.
March 3, 2022
Amid this terrible conflict, people and organizations are stepping up to help people and animals displaced by the violence. We have issued a $50,000 grant to World Central Kitchen (WCK), an organization IFAW has worked with on multiple crisis events. We previously partnered with WCK to provide relief to families at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and several disasters around the globe.
We are grateful for the dedication and compassion WCK and chef José Andrés have shown to people and communities impacted by the crisis in Ukraine. As of today, over a million refugees have left Ukraine, and there is a clear need to help as people seek safety. WCK recently helped a woman named Shatabdi as she entered Poland from Ukraine. Shatabdi fled Ukraine with her cat, Crimsee (zipped in her coat), walked over 37 miles with no food or water and waited in line for 12 hours before crossing into Poland. WCK was there to give her a place to sit and a hot meal to eat.
WCK teams will continue to serve meals in five cities in Ukraine, including Odessa and Lviv. They have set up teams at eight border crossings in Poland and are onsite in Romania and Moldova. Soon, they plan to expand relief efforts to Slovakia and Hungary.
March 1, 2022
Both of our partner shelters in Ukraine confirmed that they have received initial emergency funds from us. This first grant will cover pet food, veterinary supplies and wages for daily care staff. They are still able to purchase supplies locally, but we know that will not last. We continue to collaborate with our partners in an effort to source supplies within the country and from neighboring countries.
A message from our shelter partner: “Our dogs are very scared. Many do not leave [their dog houses]. [Indoor] dogs do not go outside. We are without rest and breaks at the shelter. It's very difficult for us right now. We are grateful to everyone. We really want peace. We are extremely tired mentally and physically. You are there and we feel it. THANKS! 10,000 times THANK YOU to everyone!”
We are overwhelmed with gratitude for your generosity and concern. Thank you for your support and encouragement as we continue to help where we are needed most during this crisis.
February 27, 2022
We are devastated to share that our partner shelter in Gorlovka sustained damage and, unfortunately, one dog was killed after a shell hit the facility. Staff remain in place and have continued to care for their dogs. We are working with the team to assess damage and help as much as we can. They are in our thoughts and we will keep you updated.
We are standing by to deploy our trained responders to assist local partners with the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Our goal would be to help where we are needed most and to keep families together as they flee Ukraine in search of safety. In the coming weeks and months, families, including their pets, fleeing Ukraine will need each other more than ever. IFAW has no intention to enter Ukraine, but will work with our local partners in countries that surround Ukraine. We, and our partners, are so thankful for all your support and will continue to share updates during this crisis.
February 24, 2022
Russia has invaded Ukraine following days of gathering its forces along Ukraine’s border.
We are preparing to rush emergency aid to our local animal shelter partners in Donetsk and Gorlovka, who report a very dire situation for their staff, volunteers and the 1,100 dogs in their care.
In Gorlovka, staff are not allowed to cook hot food for dogs in care because the fire could draw unnecessary attention to the shelter. They desperately need to buy dry dog food.
In Donetsk, the streets are deserted and one car continues to drive through the city, playing a message via loudspeaker urging residents to evacuate immediately.
IFAW is committed to providing several months of animal food and veterinary supplies, and our emergency grant will also support operational costs for staff and volunteers as they continue to care for their shelter dogs.
IFAW first developed close partnerships with these shelters in 2014 when Russian troops invaded the eastern region of the country. We partnered with each shelter to provide critical support as they slowly rebuilt their homes, shelters and lives.
All too often, animals are the voiceless victims of conflict, and these shelters need our support now more than ever.
2015 footage: IFAW supports Shelter Pif in Donetsk
Rescuing animals during disasters – Europesave human lives by saving animals before, during and after disasters