What is the problem?
According to the Ministry of Health, at least 60% of Ukrainians need psychological support due to Russia's aggression. But people who have been under constant stress for over a year and a half are not the only ones who need help. Along with people, animals also suffer from war.
What is the solution?
The NGO Animal Rescue Kharkiv, which has been evacuating animals from the front-line areas since the beginning of the large-scale invasion, noticed that it was not enough to take the animals out of the combat zone, feed them, treat them, and shelter them. Most rescued animals need a home. In turn, people often find inner balance by interacting with animals. After all, it has long been known that pets can have a therapeutic effect on people and be a source for restoring internal resources.
Kharkiv volunteers, on the basis of the rehabilitation center for animals, have created a special area where those willing can communicate with animals. In the Little Prince contact room, more than 200 cats from Bakhmut, Chasovyi Yar, Kherson, and other front-line cities and about 600 refugee fish from Kostyantynivka await new friends.
How does it work?
Saving Private Four-Legged
NGO Animal Rescue Kharkiv has provided emergency assistance to homeless animals in Kharkiv and the region since 2016. The organization's team remained in the city even during the full-scale invasion.
Russian missiles destroyed the shelter of the organization in March 2022. At that time, animal volunteers had already started rescuing animals from closed apartments in the Saltivka district and tried to protect their old wards. Since that moment, the work of the NGO has changed its scope, tasks, geography, and conditions for the fulfillment of tasks, but in essence, it has remained the same. Animal Rescue Kharkiv has saved animals from hotspots and front lines in the Kharkiv, Kherson, and Donetsk regions for over a year.
Most often, volunteers of the NGO Animal Rescue Kharkiv form requests and go out to collect animals based on reports from the military. On the front line, in destroyed settlements, and in those places where the majority of residents evacuated, looking for shelter, animals come to the military themselves. Yaryna Vintoniuk, a representative of the Animal Rescue Kharkiv organization, says that Ukrainian defenders treat animals with love, give them food, share warmth, and always worry about the future fate of the animal.
"A vivid example was in the village of Serebryanka, located on the border of Donetsk and Luhansk regions," Vintoniuk recalls. The Ukrainian army held positions there a few months ago. The village is broken, every street is visible to the enemy, no people are there, and the Russian positions are two kilometers away. You can't stand on the street, and it's better not to sit in a car because you can be fired at.
"We enter this village at high speed. It is impossible to go further because there is a clay mass instead of a road. Suddenly, we see a soldier running towards us from a distance, beaming with a smile. This is Olexander, who gladly leads us to their base," Vintoniuk told Rubryka about one of the team's visits. The soldiers waiting in the yard were surprised as they thought the volunteers wouldn't come. "They start bringing us cats. I take one in my hands, touch its belly, and ask: 'Is this a pregnant cat?'. In response, laughter: 'No, it's a he, we just fed him really well.' Following the adult cats, several weeks-old kittens were carefully carried to us in the caring palms of the soldiers' hands."The military hand over rescued animals to animal volunteers. Photo: Animal Rescue Kharkiv
From the beginning of the full-scale war until the fall of 2023, volunteers made 367 trips and saved 11,735 animals.
"We, like everyone else, adapted to the realities of war, and we work in the usual intensive mode," continues Vintoniuk. "We realize that Kharkiv is the first city in the eastern direction, where they can turn for help from the front, so we are always ready to help animals." In Kharkiv, the NGO rents premises and creates the necessary conditions where animals can receive quality treatment, temporary shelter, and care. This is a kind of logistics hub for animals in the east, which operates in the mode of readiness of the Ministry of Emergency Situations, that is, 24/7.
Currently, the organization cares for more than 1,340 animals. These are 362 cats, 641 dogs, 200 puppies, and 116 kittens. In 2022, a multidisciplinary clinic was opened here, where all rescued animals are treated, and a unique rehabilitation center for cats, Little Prince, was created with a contact room with cats and fish, where both people and animals receive psychological recovery.
Calm down and reboot
According to Vintoniuk, the idea of such a space where people can spend time communicating with furry animals was proposed by the military, who often visit the shelter when they are on vacation or undergoing treatment.
"The military came to us. They saw how many cats there were, and they said: 'God, every time we come to the position, we are looking for cats. Can we come to you?'. We realized a place where people could spend time with animals was necessary. After all, animals are with them at the front in the most difficult moments," says Vintoniuk.
The animal volunteer adds that the Little Prince welcomes children as well. After all, many families today do not have the necessary conditions to have a pet.
Rescued cats also really need communication with people. The volunteers' experience showed that it is not enough for the animals they took out of the war zone to be fed and cared for. Communication with people is essential for them. Only then do they really recover from the experienced stress.
The team tried to create a homely atmosphere where visitors and cats would feel comfortable. There are sofas for relaxation, and there are many soft areas for cats, climbing frames, scratching posts, houses, and shelves where every cat can find its place. All this seems to calm down by itself, diverting attention from what fills Ukrainian air daily so people can reload and relax. "In addition, we are located in the basement, and you can spend time with the cats at our place even during air raid alert times," Vintoniuk shared with Rubryka.
The Little Prince Cat Rehabilitation Center is 280 square meters of space divided into rooms where volunteers place cats after treatment and quarantine. There are separate rooms for kittens, pregnant and lactating cats, and a "senior home" for older cats. Now, there are about 200 cats here, but not only. The rehabilitation center has ten aquariums with ornamental fish rescued from Kostyantynivka in the Donetsk region. Their story deserves special attention.
"When we received a request to evacuate 500 fish, we agreed immediately but thought about how to do it for a long time. We took out the first small fish in ordinary bags with water used in pet stores. At the same time, we were looking for new aquariums for them in Kharkiv. It was a real step-by-step special operation," Vintoniuk recalls.
The most difficult thing was to transport large fish. The NGO found a solution for them — they used summer shower tanks. They were pumped with water and oxygen and delivered to Kharkiv as quickly as possible. Although the shelling of Kostyantynivka was not so intense then, the nearby and low-quality road did not guarantee that the evacuation would be successful.
Despite the volunteers' fears, every fish arrived alive. Everyone recovered from the stress and now helps the cats rehabilitate visitors of the contact room. By the way, the owners of the fish resettlers also became part of the center's team.
Does it really work?
Not only military personnel but also families with children, schoolchildren, teachers, groups from kindergartens, young couples, and adults come here to relax with cats and fish. Recently, children from the 2nd specialized school and the liberated territories of the Kharkiv region visited the Little Prince contact room within the framework of the Caritas Kharkiv charity fund project.
"We were amazed when we saw how an autistic boy changed his attitude towards cats during this visit. At first, he was afraid of cats and didn't even touch them. That was the first reaction. Then he watched them, started to play little by little, and in the end, he completely relaxed — he sat with the cat on the sofa and stroked her. It was a real victory for us," Vintoniuk shares.
Employees of the center observe the same reciprocal effect of the influence of people on animals. After evacuation, many cats are depressed, do not wash themselves, and sit for a long time with their heads bowed, but when visitors come, they revive, become more cheerful, and show interest in life.
One of them is the cat Jusya, who was also brought to the center by the military. After treatment at the clinic, the vets recommended placing Jusya in a room with older cats because she was still very stressed and needed peace. In the rehabilitation center, they took a risk and tried to leave the cat in the room where visitors come. In a week, Jusya socialized. She likes communicating with people and is now always looking forward to new visitors. Also, thanks to the visitors to the contact room, more than 40 four-legged animals have already found a new family.
The center is working on making real cat therapy work in Little Prince. Some of the ideas:
- Coffee (tea) with a cat. This is a special event when a person can relax with a favorite drink in the company of a furry friend who has a habit of sitting on a person's lap or beside them.
- Therapeutic sleep with cats. You can lie down and nap with the cats for 30 minutes.
- Photo session with cats. Vintoniuk says that among cats, some love to take pictures. You can take beautiful photos with charismatic animals. Besides, such photos posted on social networks will help animals find a new home and a loving family.
Even more useful solutions!
The NGO Rescue Animals Kharkiv still has a lot of plans. Currently, the organization dreams of building a rehabilitation center for dogs as well. It would also have a special place for puppies and a hospice for animals that need constant lifelong care.
"We do not engage in euthanasia and have successful experience caring for disadvantaged animals," explains Vintoniuk. The hospice will be intended for old dogs, dogs with disabilities, and those with incurable diseases. The team would like to create such conditions for them in which they can feel needed and happy. The NGO is looking for patrons, partners, and veterinarians and would be happy to receive any support from anyone who cares about the fate of animals injured during the war.
The contact room in the Little Prince rehabilitation center is open to visitors four days a week — on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 12 to 18, by prior appointment. Its address is Kharkiv, Yesenina Street, 7 (near Botanic Garden metro station).
If you are ready to help Kharkiv animal volunteers realize their dream, write to the organization at [email protected] or send a private message on the pages of the NGO Rescue Animals Kharkiv on Facebook or Instagram.
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