“Had to build up a rolling shelter:” How IDP from Donetsk gave home to a hundred of animals
The problem of homeless animals worsened significantly in the 1990s due to the economic crisis, uncontrolled breeding, and irresponsible keeping of cats and dogs. Any financial difficulties prompted careless pet owners to get rid of their former favorites. Dogs and cats were slipped into the yards of private premises, taken away to the wood lines, waterfronts, and other places. "Someone will take it home unable to resist such a cutie." Spaying was not even considered an option. The number of "cuties" started growing drastically. Most animals living in the streets of big cities today are former house pets or their offspring.
Placing stray animals in special shelters is the most humane solution to this problem. Yet, the government is not too eager to allocate funds for maintaining these shelters as they do it at the legislative level in civilized countries. Having smiled in the most charming way, Ukrainian lawmakers delegated this responsibility to the local authorities. This way, they hoped, the issue would resolve itself.
To calculate the amount of the required funding, let us look at the case of European countries: they issue €100 to 150,000 from the state budget annually to support animal shelters. These "reserves" are replenished with a rather high tax on the maintenance of animals, which goes into the local budgets. In Ukraine, a few specialized funds, volunteers, and sympathetic citizens mainly sponsor shelters. Fund by crowd is the rule that works for many initiatives, but very often, these "funds" are barely enough to satisfy the most essential needs.
– Good morning to you from Zhuravka!
That is the way how Natalia Tymoshenko, animal rights activist, starts her each day on Facebook.
If you wake up thinking that life has finally hit rock bottom, check Natalia's page to see the rays of sun on a wooden windowsill, simple wildflowers, ingenuous steppe landscapes and many cute, darling little faces of happy cats and dogs.
Natalia, an internally displaced person, comes from eastern Ukraine. She is a well-known animal rights activist. In 2014, she was forced to leave her home in Donetsk, but she managed to take the most valuable thing she had in the occupied city. That is an animal shelter she created 37 years ago single-handedly.
"Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of having many pets," Natalia recalls, "but I couldn't, because my grandma had asthma. Many of my classmates had pets, cats, dogs, hamsters, parrots. I had to settle for stray animals. I guess it was then that I realized how much these defenseless creatures needed our sympathy and involvement."
In Natalia's adult life, lady-cat Nika was the first pet in her Donetsk home. Nika gave birth to kittens in the entrance hallway, and Natalia took all of them back to her apartment. Later, kittens found new homes, but Nika stayed with Natalia. After a while, she had about two dozens of cats and some dogs living with her.
"I just couldn't pass by them. I might be walking down the street, see some box. Judging from my experience, I know that there might be someone. And there it is. A cat, two, three of them, or a puppy looking at me. Leave them to the mercy of fate to die there? No, that's not how I see it. I took them all – run over by cars, thrown into landfills like trash, frozen, starving, crying out loud. My friends thought I was crazy, but I couldn't do it any other way.
When it started feeling crowded, we exchanged the apartment for a house, registered the Donetsk city center for protecting animals "Zoozashchyta." I have never really thought of it as a SHELTER, it was our common home, I was always bringing animals HOME."
War and Rolling Shelter
They lived quite well in Donetsk, worked there, raised their son and took care of the pets with her husband. The war came unawares. They couldn't believe what was happening – strangers in military uniforms, explosions, shootings. Natalia's husband, Serhii, was working as a guard at the sadly remembered "Metro." He witnessed the demolition and plunder of the supermarket. When shrapnel broke the roof of the house, it became clear that they had to move to big Ukraine.
They were moving to Zhuravka, a village 10 km from Donetsk, for three days. They borrowed $600 and rented a GAZelle vehicle which helped them make trips to transport 60 dogs and 40 cats. Coops mounted upon each other, their humble belongings above them. Along with the family came their assistant Ihor, previously, a homeless person. Thanks to Natalia and her husband, Ihor found a home, work, and family.
As they arrived at the new place, they did not sleep at all, for they had to clear the yard, put up some kind of fence, equip crates on level ground. It was incredibly hard, but, nevertheless, every morning Natalia kept saying in her own special way: "Good morning!"
Morning in Zhuravka does not start with coffee, still. They get up at 5 a.m., start cleaning around, feeding the animals. They later go shopping for products and necessary things, do the washing and work around the house till late in the evening.
At night, Serhii cooks food in large saucepans. But even these do not always suffice. "We have recently bought a new saucepan," Natalia says, "I am just so happy, as one little dream of mine came true."
"Sometimes it even scares me," Natalia admits, "all of my dreams are connected with animals. I come from a well-off family, but I never wanted clothes and jewelry or wished for fancy furniture and gadgets. In the '90s, to feed my minors, my mother and I sold our clothes at the marketplace. One time it turned out that we had one dress for two, and we took turns to wear it, but that was fine. We survived and kept our animals."
Fighting for Animals Every Day
The shelter still has to fight for existence. Today, "Zoozashchita" cares for 130 dogs and 70 cats. They need large amounts of food daily: meat for cats and dogs, grains, vegetables. About 10 kg of crushed wheat, 5 kg of manna groats, 7 kg of pasta, big cabbage, a kilo of carrots and beets, and 13 kg of meat products make up a menu for a day. For dogs, Tymoshenko buys shackles, udders, lungs at ₴15 per kg on the market in Pokrovske; for cats, chicken liver or minced meat, and also dry food, 10 kg for 5 days. They constantly need coal and firewood (there is no gas in the house), cat litter and a lot of bedding as blankets, rags, old clothes.
"Before the war, we regularly took help to three orphanages and one nursing home," Natalia says, "grannies with disabilities live there. However, now we need to ask for help ourselves, constantly. I can't imagine how we would make it without the support of kind people. There is no work in Zhuravka, we don't get a pension, and we were denied payments for the internally displaced persons. Caring people from social networks help a lot, as do volunteer veterinarians. Recently, a German foundation for the protection of animals made a transfer. Our friends, animal rights activists, come from Kramatorsk and Kharkov to help us mend the fence, take out the trash. Some time ago, we built new crates for feral cats together.
Nonetheless, there is never enough money for the urgent needs. I assume that I should write more pitiful posts, but I don't know how: my morning is always good! Even if I sometimes want to howl in despair and fatigue, I am optimistic by nature. I believe that everything can be fixed and we can overcome any difficulties."
Natalia believes that every person has a mission. Her mission, obviously, is to provide home, protection, and care for homeless animals. The latter are like people: some are thankful for help, others do not want to lick the hand, still others might even bite. Natalia looks at it philosophically:
"Yes, they might bite leaving the marks, but they still need help. They do not understand that you are the one saving them. One of our dogs, Ryzhik, was picked up in an utterly emaciated state at the bus stop. He now bites everyone, fights other dogs, has a wretched temper, but we still love him because he has sunk into our hearts. There are dogs like him. Another example. Bonia, my first dog, was operated on four times. At night, we made deals with doctors in "human hospitals," as veterinary help was poorly developed then. Or Funtik, a little pincher that was kicked out on the street after his owner's death. It was a tragedy when he was gone."
"There is one story that always makes me cry. Once, a woman came carrying a dog in a nice bag. That dog lived with her in comfort for 8 years. She asked me to take care of it, as her "daughter-in-law and the dog did not like each other." And then she left. The dog did not eat or drink for five days, it was depressed. I didn't even manage to get her out of the bag and buried her in it. The woman came back a month later… for the bag. It blows my mind, I feel so sorry for them, they are like children to us. Animals bring joy. I think that if people had a pet when they were kids, they would be kinder."
…There is this famous joke about a man who lived an unremarkable, boring life. One day he came to the gates of Heaven and asked Saint Peter: So, what was the point of my existence? And the Apostle replied: Do you remember riding the train Kyiv-Zhmerynka? Someone asked you to pass the salt. That was your mission.
So, perhaps, your personal mission is much larger than passing the salt? And there won't be just a disappointed Apostle waiting for you, but also the soul of the thankful animal you once rescued.
Anyone can help "Zoozashchita" shelter. With money, old clothes, wood, household stuff. Every month, five brooms are used up!
You can join by transferring the money to:
PrivatBank card number 5168 7422 1483 5914 Tymoshenko Nataliia
Or contact Natalia via Facebook and offer any other help you can provide.