In memory of the 222 dogs - Ukraine
In memory of the 222 dogs who perished in the Borodyanka shelter and the impassioned rescuers who risked their lives to help the survivors
By Robin Dorman
Illustration by Albina Kolesnichenki
Last month marked one year since Russia invaded Ukraine. Right after war broke out, animals were seen everywhere, on railway platforms, throughout the trains, at border crossings, walking with their families, sitting in bomb shelters and evacuation convoys. Many were being carried, some wounded, others in carriers. It was reported that a man risked his life to rescue a van of kangaroos; a veterinarian, Jakun Kotowicz, rescued over 200 cats, 60 dogs, and a pygmy goat with deformed legs called Sasha. Stories were told about various Ukrainian citizens staying behind to care for the suddenly abandoned cats and dogs, for the vast number of strays, as well as all manner of other species, in ruined buildings and on the streets while missiles rained down indiscriminately, and often. There were the anguished Ukrainians who fled their homes in a split-second leaving behind their beloved companions. In this war, perhaps more than any other, indelible images were captured of so many animals, both in elation-bringing moments, and the more horrific, harrowing, and deadly.
Tenzin Thosam, one of Arukah Animal International’s board members, traveled to Ukraine last May, to help both humans and other animals. “Enormous suffering was everywhere,” he said. Soon after he arrived, he met with the extraordinary volunteer rescuer, Marina Budko, of Tailed Banda Charity Fund for Homeless Animals, who was the first person to enter an animal shelter in a recently occupied town right after its liberation, but the situation was still not without considerable risk. The name of the shelter, Borodyanka, is now, a year later, seared into people’s brains as a place of utter horror.
When the Russian invasion took place, the head of the Borodyanka shelter along with a volunteer entrusted to care for hundreds of dogs both fled the scene leaving behind cages and cages filled with dogs who spent a month without food or water and no way out. Before the war, there were 485 dogs. When Marina arrived at the shelter, 263 were alive, 222 dead. It took months for Marina to be able to speak about the utterly gut-wrenching scene she witnessed when entering the shelter’s darkened and grim rooms. “We want the world to know how wrong this was, how much suffering there was,” she said, visibly shaken, during a conversation on Zoom. She and other rescuers were distraught that those in charge of the shelter, who had deserted the dogs, had given out incorrect information, and the rescuers had to wait until the Russians were gone on April 1st. They had pleaded for a green safe passage, but it was denied.
Driving to Borodyanka in early April, Marina, whose job it was to oversee the evacuation of the dogs, along with the other volunteers, drove on roads with land mines, unaware of how many were removed or hidden. At the time, the Russian soldiers were hiding in forests. Once the rescuers arrived, the dogs who were in the most critical condition and required medical care were removed immediately. On the first day, 100 dogs were taken. The following day the Ukrainian military showed up to accompany Marina and the others and helped negotiate the land mines. “Many of the dogs were traumatized,” Marina said. In trying to help the survivors, she and the other rescuers sought to find adopters outside Ukraine, and many of the dogs landed in homes throughout Europe, as the nightmare of the Borodyanka shelter spread like wildfire. Without the heroic efforts of the inexhaustibly unwavering Marina Budko and her allies, surely there would have been even more victims from this calamitous situation.
Arukah Animal International is providing support through our collaboration with Save The Dogs and other Animals, with tons of dog and cat food, blankets and jackets, dog houses, and helping over a thousand refugees to stay with their companions.