Cases 16:21 15 Mar 2023

A new home for rescued animals: the story of the Kharkiv shelter

The city of Kharkiv has suffered from the constant terror of russian invaders since the first days of its large-scale invasion of Ukraine. russian troops have been constantly attacking the city with missiles for a year, destroying its infrastructure and residential buildings, killing and injuring people. Animals also become victims of the war, often injured and frightened by the violence around them. russia is taking away their home, health, and life. Read about one of the Kharkiv shelters that rescues animals and finds them new homes in Rubryka's piece.

What is the problem?

Despite the ongoing war, Kharkiv residents, like the rest of Ukraine, continue to live,work, and support each other — including those who cannot ask for help. The Kharkiv Center for the Treatment of Animals provides shelter to homeless animals, finds them a new home, and treats severely injured animals brought from the de-occupied Kharkiv region.

"Missiles and projectiles were flying right over our heads"


притулок для тварин

In 2022 the Center for the treatment of animals had begun running charity events for those who decided to take home an animal from the shelter. Dogs from the shelter took part in races at the Winter Dog Fest 2022. On Valentine's Day, schoolchildren and animal lovers in Kharkiv brought valentines to the shelter's pets.

After being closed for almost two years due to COVID restrictions,the shelter was delighted to be again crowded with guests — volunteers, schoolchildren, and those who want to spend their time with homeless animals to share attention and love with their four-legged friends. At the time no one in the shelter expected that russians would launch a full-scale invasion. 

On February 24, the normal life of the Kharkiv animal shelter was shattered. From that moment, the shelter has been trying to not only survive but continue its work.

безпритульні тварини

According to Olha Holubeva, the shelter's spokeswoman, the first month after the beginning of the invasion was the most difficult. The Center for the Treatment of Animals is located on the city's outskirts near the airport, which the russians constantly tried to attack.

"Missiles and projectiles were flying directly over our heads, and we had no basements and nowhere to hide," remembers Holubeva.

At that time, the shelter ceased operation. The vet clinic, hotel, and funeral services for animals did not work. But it was still necessary to feed, treat and clean almost 600 animals in the shelter. At that time, the center operated on minimal staffing.

"It is difficult to get used to this. Someone got used to it and didn't even pay attention when the missiles flew 200-300 meters from the shelter. Our animal care specialists came to feed the animals and clean the enclosures even when battles were 100 meters from the shelter in February — Ukrainian defenders attacked a convoy of enemy vehicles, stopping and defeating it.

"An enemy tank was burning right in front of our gate. But we could not leave our animals because their lives depend on our work," recalls Olha Holubeva.

What is the solution?
Each "Shard" has the right to life

March 2022 was the scariest month for all Kharkiv residents. The russians were mercilessly shelling Kharkiv's northern Saltivka, Zhukovsky and P'yatykhatky districts. Before the war, more than 460,000 people lived in Saltivka alone – more than the entire population of the city of Mariupol. Of course, not only Kharkiv residents lived there, but also their pets. Not everyone had the opportunity to evacuate their animals. The Center for the Treatment of Animals provided a home for many four-legged friends from these areas whose owners could not take them with them when the evacuated.

At the same time, specialists of the animal capture service searched the streets for wounded dogs and cats and brought them to the shelter.


Shrapnel wounds in animals are not uncommon. Those animals that were found and brought to the shelter were simply lucky, Olha Holubeva believes.

"I don't even want to think how many cats and dogs died from hunger, injuries, cold," Holubeva says.

A dog named Shard is one of the saved animals. In April 2022, caring people brought him to the Kharkiv city shelter for homeless animals. They found the dog in Saltivka, one of the city's most dangerous areas. 

The dog had a badly injured front paw. During the examination, it became clear that doctors had to amputate the limb.

тварини і війна

This is Shard with amputated limb.

"Shard is a friendly and calm dog. He does not resemble a typical stray dog. He loves people and does not show aggression," says Holubeva.

Kharkiv veterinary surgeons saved Shard's life, and he has already found ahappy new life in Lviv, where volunteers found  him a new home.

After the de-occupation of settlements in the Kharkiv region, animals with severe injuries began to be brought to the shelter more often, and the need for a second operating room arose."Sometimes there may be seven or eight operations per day. Sometimes there may be two, but complicated ones. While the complex operation is taking place, other animals are waiting for help. We realized that another operating room is needed, where other animals will be saved simultaneously," Holubeva explains.

Центр поводження з тваринами, Харків

This is the laboratory of the Kharkiv shelter for homeless animals.

Thanks to the help of sponsors, volunteers, and patrons, the Kharkiv shelter managed to build and equip an additional operating room  equipped with everything doctors need: new surgical tables, shadowless lamps, and equipment for instrument sterilization. The hospital can now accommodate 14 animals at the same time enabling the Kharkiv city shelter for homeless animals to treat more dogs and cats that are in need.

допомога тваринам

"We learned to receive help and help others"

Because of the war, the shelter had to ask for help from caring people worldwide for the first time in more than ten years of operation. Fortunately, they were heard. The shelter for homeless animals receives support from patrons from Ukraine, Poland, Germany, and the USA. 

Donations of food, medicine, old carpets for insulation of animal cages, as well as cash are welcome because the shelter has to pay utilities and buy fuel for the company's cars and generators. The shelter houses half a thousand cats and dogs. Before the war, there were 600 animals, but in the spring, volunteers managed to evacuate some of the dogs and cats to Dnipro, where, at that time, it was much safer than in Kharkiv.

Around the end of the summer, volunteers from Poland and Germany transported animals to Europe.

"We tried to establish cooperation with shelters in Europe, but let's look at this issue cold-mindedly. Europe's shelters have limits and cannot accept animals above their capacity. Since the beginning of the war, thousands of animals from all cities of Ukraine have been evacuated to European countries. That's why patrons from Europe came to us, and their conclusion was: 'You don't need evacuation; you need help to keep the animals in your shelter'," says Olha Holubeva.

The shelter itself has not only learned to receive help, but also to help others. Shelter employees also worked in the city, cleaning the streets of debris after shelling, and boarding up windows in destroyed apartments of Kharkiv residents. The enterprise took the initiative of making trench candles for the military — the shelter accepts empty cans and gives them to volunteers to make trench candles.

The shelter also shares food and medicine for animals with guardians who feed homeless cats in Kharkiv. During the hardest time, the animal shelter even gave medicines suitable for people to one of Kharkiv's hospitals. In this way, homeless animals helped people.

Even more useful solutions!
How to find a new home for four-legged friends in need

Центр поводження з тваринами

Many animals in the city were abandoned. Of course, the shelter team doesn't judge people who abandoned a cat or a dog, understanding that everyone has their own reasons, especially given the fear and panic that prevailed in the first days of full-scale war. From the very beginning, the shelter has been helping IDPs from the occupied territories by keeping their animals in the shelter and returning home pets found by their owners who had to flee from the occupied territories of the Kharkiv region. They also search for new owners for cats and dogs that were left alone.

The shelter has become a halfway house for animals made homeless by the war on the way to a new life in Europe. Volunteers from Poland and Germany took dogs and cats away from the shelling and transported them to European countries.

Центр поводження з тваринами

Martin the cat made a transatlantic journey to America. 

Maryna, a Ukrainian who has been living in the USA for a long time, has been helping the shelter for a long time: she looked for sponsors in the US, transferred money to the shelter's charity account, and even sent a special wheelchair for a dog with a spinal injury. 

While looking through options, Maryna saw a cat from Northern Saltivka with an orange heart on its nose. Martin the cat miraculously survived Saltivka and made it to a new home in the United States. It was love at first sight. Thanks to shelter workers and volunteers from several countries, Martin found a new home overseas.

The Kharkiv shelter for homeless animals uses Facebook and Instagram and marketplaces to find new families for their pets. There is also an official site with a database of animals looking for a home.

In peacetime, the shelter had held an Open Door Day, when the public could come to the shelter, spend time with cats, walk the dogs, and choose to adopt a new family member. The shelter team is confident that this tradition will soon be renewed as soon as the war is over.

допомога притулкам Харкова

But even now, the shelter continues to work to find dozens of animals to find a new home. The Kharkiv shelter regularly publishes photos of happy "tails" and their new guardians on social networks. Asked what is the secret to the result of so many happy stories, Holubeva answers:

"There is no secret. We simply believe that all animals at the shelter are temporarily homeless. And sooner or later, they will all find new owners."


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