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Ukraine's cities of abandoned dogs – and the people rescuing them‌

Ken Browne in Madrid


War in Ukraine has shattered many lives, some of them uncounted – like the animals left behind.

In abandoned, bombed-out cities in the south and near the front line, hundreds of dogs roam the streets in packs just trying to survive.

But there are some determined people who risk their lives to save the ones they can, transporting them to safe havens in Spain and beyond.

Take Varuna, for example – the happiest dog on two wheels you'll ever meet. Varuna nearly didn't make it when she was shot in Ukraine, a bullet lodging in her spine.‌ Rescued by animal lover Victoria Shevchuk, Varuna now lives happily in Madrid.

"The problem is that we have lots of homeless dogs – so this man decided to shoot her," Shevchuk tells CGTN. "She stayed five days in the street, without food, without water, she was crying and the neighbors started to call."


Animals abandoned in war zones

‌"They told us a puppy had been hurt and she couldn't walk, she was in a bad way when we found her," says Shevchuk. "The problem is that in the south of Ukraine we have thousands of dogs because people are traveling, people are leaving their homes and of course most of the dogs stay there, so it's a big problem."

An operation removed part of the bullet but left Varuna paralyzed. She and three other disabled dogs - Vaya, Buddy and Patito - were trapped 15 kilometers from a military base in Yavoriv village near the Polish border, an obvious target for Russian attacks.

That's when Shevchuk and other animal protectors contacted Bichosraros ('Wonderful Creatures'), a Spanish animal shelter run by María and Macu an hour from central Madrid.


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After a 5,000-kilometer journey with some brave volunteers who risk their lives to rescue animals, Varuna is now safe in Spain with Shevchuk – and, with her own specially fitted wheelchair, mobile again.

Meanwhile, Vaya, Buddy and Patito live happily at the shelter with María and Macu, also running around freely with the help of their wheelchairs. When CGTN visits Bichosraros, there are more than 150 dogs – almost 50 of which are paraplegic, the rest with other disabilities and special needs – plus cats… in another enclosure.

María and Macu look after more than 150 dogs with varying disabilities. /CGTN
María and Macu look after more than 150 dogs with varying disabilities. /CGTN

María and Macu look after more than 150 dogs with varying disabilities. /CGTN

Dogs mill about well-kept and clean kennels and yard areas. They're friendly and want to meet the new visitors, curious about the camera equipment – which doesn't make the camera operator's job very easy.‌

"Wonderful Creatures is an association that takes in disabled or chronically ill dogs and cats," Bichosraros co-founder Macu tells CGTN. ‌"We try to rehabilitate them and put them up for adoption so that they can live a dignified life."

A community of kind souls

"When an animal comes here with us it's guaranteed to be happy," adds fellow co-founder María. "If someone wants to adopt them they are free to go, and we are delighted – but if not, they will always have a home here. 

"We always say we do what we love. We both have jobs – Macu is a lawyer and I'm a nurse. We started Bichosraros with our own money, we maintained it ourselves and over time people started to join us and help and it grew and grew. Thousands of people have helped in some way over the years, from people who help with a bag of sweets to a van to transport an injured dog, or the material to build a dog house, or vets who don't charge us."

CGTN's Ken Browne makes some new friends at Bichosraros. /CGTN
CGTN's Ken Browne makes some new friends at Bichosraros. /CGTN

CGTN's Ken Browne makes some new friends at Bichosraros. /CGTN

Publishing the stories of the disabled dogs in need on social media platforms, they get frequent offers of help and donations.

"For us the most beautiful thing that can happen is to see an animal come here sad – a dog just arrived that someone just threw in a rubbish bin for example, it was rescued by firefighters and didn't want to be anywhere near humans. Today I recorded a video of the same dog looking so happy, following me around, opening its mouth and just being happy. That's the greatest reward."

'Dogs don't hold grudges'

‌That dog's name is 'Guapo' - meaning handsome – and a few days after CGTN's visit, Maria and Macu receive a donation for his rehabilitation and medicine.

‌"Dogs don't hold grudges," says Maria. "For us seeing our animals happy, that's our happiness, that's the reason behind everything we do."

‌Victoria Shevchuk says that many animals died in Ukrainian shelters that were hit by bombs; now there are many dogs and other animals roaming empty towns and cities.

Animals are often the forgotten victims of conflict but Varuna, Vaya, Buddy and Patito are some of the lucky ones, rescued and cared for by a community of kind souls.

‌You can donate to the Ukrainians helping to rescue dogs and other animals from conflict zones here, and to Bichosraros here.

Ukraine's cities of abandoned dogs – and the people rescuing them‌

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