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Animal Shelters After the Occupation: How They Managed to Survive

By Tailed Banda

“We all try to stand up for ourselves,” writes Ukrainian historian and writer Olena Stiazhkina (“New York Times,” Feb. 19, 2024). “It means different things to different people. For some, it’s holding the front line. It’s weaving kilometers-long camouflage nets, tirelessly evacuating the wounded, donating every bit of money to the military. For others, it’s teaching children, baking bread, taking care of abandoned animals, telling jokes. Whatever we do, we are all standing up for ourselves right now, when we have a chance to escape from the occupier’s boot forever. To be free, to be alive. Now, when our chance to exist as a political nation, as a community, as a state, is equal to victory in war.”

Tailed Banda, to whom Arukah Animal International has lent its support, is made up of extraordinary warriors on behalf of abandoned animals, saving as many as they possibly can. The following stories from Tailed Banda focus upon Sirius, Ukraine’s largest shelter under occupation, which exists because of the generosity of donors and currently is home to approximately 3,300 dogs and cats, and House of Tails, a private shelter-hospice.


Sirius has been under occupation since the beginning of the full-scale invasion and has been blocked for over a month. From the first day, the shelter had no electricity supply, no water supply, and no heating. It was also not possible to bring aid because the humanitarian corridors were not working. The evacuated employees of the shelter sent letters to international animal-protection organizations and told European and American journalists about the critical situation in the occupied shelters in Ukraine. They contacted the largest animal-protection organizations in Russia and Belarus. They communicated with the local governors and searched for routes and rescue options for their colleagues, as well as for all the dogs and cats. The employees did this on their own.

The shelter held more than 3,000 individuals that required a lot of food to feed them all. After the food supplies ended, the shelter’s founder, Oleksandra Mesinova, left the shelter by car in search of food. When the fuel ran out, she walked to the nearest villages, where she purchased products in stores and asked for help, all the while having to pass Russian military checkpoints. Periodically, the military searched the shelter. Once, the phones of the shelter staff were shotted by occupants. There was also a problem with water because there was no electricity in this region and the workers had to carry water on a wheelbarrow from the lake, which was 200 meters away from the shelter. They also had to carry water many times a day, because at least three tons were needed.

Always in the background, there was constant gunfire and explosions because of the presence of many Russians near the shelter. The dog and cats were frightened of sounds, tried to get out of the aviaries, and injured themselves. Some had to be injected with a sedative.

Every day, the food became scarcer, and staff wasted no time and started to cook soups with whole grains, but some of the dogs became sick and others lost weight, yet not a single dog in the shelter died of hunger. Twice during the occupation, volunteers managed to deliver aid to the shelter by the Kyiv Sea. The first time, the Russians shot the driver of the boat.

Photo Facebook/ Shelter for homeless animals Sirius

“I had three fears during the occupation. First, I worried about the animals at the shelter, as we don’t have a veterinarian, and it meant that we could be powerless if the animals became seriously ill or injured. I was also very afraid of a direct hit or bombing the shelter. There were the Russian military checkpoints near us and a lot of their equipment. If there was a fight, we would surely suffer. Thirdly, my fear was a long occupation, and that in time there might be a complete lack of food. I was afraid that I could bury animals," said shelter founder, Oleksandra Mesinova

The main challenges faced by the shelter:

  • Occupation of the territory where the shelter was located.

  • Shelling near the shelter, which scared both workers and animals.

  • Absence of a veterinarian in the shelter.

  • Forced constant communication with the Russian military at checkpoints.

  • Lack of electricity supply, communication channels, and access to the Internet.

  • Lack of food and water supplies for animals.

  • Risk for the lives of animal protectors who saved and evacuated animals and delivered food, water, medicine, electricity generators, among other necessities.

Photo Facebook/ Shelter for homeless animals Sirius


It was possible to save the animals thanks to seventeen dedicated employees and volunteers who stayed with the dogs despite every calamity that had befallen them. Every day they faced the Russian military while looking for food, but they never gave up. After the occupation, Oleksandra Mezinova began to cooperate with international and Ukrainian animal-protection organizations and volunteers to feed the dogs and cats, find them new homes, and repair the aviaries in the shelter that were damaged.

"The war taught us to always have a supply of food for at least one month, and the shelter should only be a temporary place for animals until they are adopted by responsible families. Because there were thousands of animals in our shelter, and two bridges near us were blown up, we were not able to evacuate. I am also convinced that if I had left the shelter, the people who were there in the beginning would also have left. Every day, I told my team that we would be liberated soon." Oleksandra Mezinova.


Hundreds of animals from the shelter were adopted by families after the liberation of the territory but, sadly, their place was taken by new ones, who were abandoned during the evacuation. Approximately 600 animals in the shelter were accepted from the de-occupied territories. Every day, the management of the shelter is looking for resources to feed and treat all the individuals living there, as well as to find families for them.


House of Tails is a private shelter-hospice. Today, there are approximately 70 animals in the shelter.

House of Tails is a shelter in Irpen, Kyiv region, which was founded by veterinarian and animal volunteer, Anastasia Tykha, together with her husband. They take care specifically of animals with disabilities, elderly dogs, and dogs afflicted with cancer. During the evacuation, they were able to take out fifteen dogs on their own (unfortunately, four dogs escaped), five cats, a chameleon, a turtle, a hamster, and even a spider. They walked three kilometers with their entire flock for more than three hours and received help during their evacuation from a passer-by and representatives of the territorial defense, who met the volunteers on the bridge. When they left the city, a car was waiting for them, which was provided by the Charitable Foundation, Plyushka. Nastya, her husband, and all their animals were able to evacuate to Kyiv. After the remarkable and indelible photo of Nastya with the dogs on the bridge was published, she began to get offers of help. Miraculously, all the dogs in the photo found their way to new families!

Photo by Christopher Occhicone

The main challenges faced by the shelter:

● Occupation of the territory where the shelter was located.

● The unpredictable need to evacuate.

● Lack of volunteers for evacuation of a number of animals.


Currently, more than seventy animals live in the shelter. Nastya tells the story of each of them on social media networks to find wonderful families. The shelter also cooperates with volunteers and soldiers at the front line and assists injured animals.

Photo Facebook/House of Tails

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