'They're incredibly traumatised': The lives of Ukraine's war-zone dogs

Dogs lining up at a feeding station in Kramatorsk, easten Ukraine Credit: Nate Mook

By ITV News multimedia producer Khadija Kothia.

Donations for a pet feeding station increased "ten-fold" in under 24 hours after a photo showing dogs calmly waiting for food in a neat line went viral, the organiser says.

The viral photo posted on October 21 was taken by feeding station organiser Nate Mook in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine.

He says he was also "blown away" when he noticed the pack of dogs line up together.

"It's incredible to me, I was blown away," Mr Mook told ITV News.

"I've never seen anything this this. It is amazing."

Within minutes, the photo went viral on Twitter, prompting people to comment on how well-behaved the dogs looked and asking about how they could donate to the feeding station.

But the collars on the dogs indicate a grim probability - that these well-behaved dogs may have been domesticated and trained by owners who had since been forced to flee Ukraine without them.

The dogs are just a handful of the thousands of abandoned pets now aimlessly inhabiting the war-ridden Ukrainian streets where their owners once took them on walks.

While it is difficult to put a number on just how many pets have been abandoned, British charity Blue Cross, which provides food for animals in Ukraine, has imported around 200 tons of pet food into Ukraine since the invasion in February.

"That gives you an idea of the scale of the problem," Becky Thwaites, head of public affairs at Blue Cross, said.

Many airlines didn't allow pets to travel at the time of invasion, forcing hundreds of Ukrainian refugees with no choice but to leave behind their pets.

Other owners died in the attacks, leaving their pets alone. Several animal shelters were bombed in Russian attacks.

The pets left behind have been involuntarily forced to live within the harsh conditions of a deserted war-zone. The experience has left them malnourished, physically injured and mentally traumatised.

Nate Mook feeding cats in Izium, a city in eastern Ukraine Credit: Nate Mook

Mr Mook was visiting some friends in Ukraine's eastern region when he noticed that while there is support for stray pets in some areas of Ukraine, there was little support for abandoned animals in Kramatrosk.

Then, missiles struck a train station in the region just one hour after Mr Mook himself had left the region.

The attack killed at least 50 civilians, and left many pets abandoned and unsettled.

"It's very difficult to approach the (animals) because are incredibly traumatised," says Mr Mook, who has been working with local Ukrainian projects on the ground since the invasion began.

"They've just had to endure, in some cases, months and months of occupation or constant shelling and explosions."

Mr Mook says his feeding stations allow the traumatised animals to access food and resources of their own accord, without force.

Within a day of setting up the station, he noticed more than 20 animals discover the food he provided for them.

"It was incredible to witness," he says.

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Mr Mook also says he is "really pleased" by the online response to the photo, and the donations raised from the viral photo will support the team to supply food, support pet evacuations and provide veterinary support to injured pets.

The viral photo even attracted a local Ukrainian pet food production company to donate sustenance to the cause.

Mr Mook hopes that the continuation of funds will also allow his team to expand in numbers and more regions.

Ukrainian dogs after receiving food at a feeding station by an organisation in Ukraine Credit: Nate Mook

Other obstacles aside, the UK government does allow Ukrainian refugees to bring their pets to the UK.

But pets must be quarantined for three months in kennels because of a rabies risk, before they can reunite with their owners.

Charities like Blue Cross have provided thousands of kennels.

The number of quarantined pets has reduced in recent months after early 2022's mass exodus slowed down and some refugees returned to liberated areas.

But Blue Cross' head of public affairs warned their numbers are only set to increase as the war continues.

"In recent weeks, there's been more attacks in places like Kyiv," Ms Thwaites said.

The sheer trauma the animals arrive with mean that mental health support is also a high priority for dogs quarantining in the kennels, she added.

"There was one dog who couldn't even walk because he was too terrified to walk from his kennel to the place where they were exercising him.

"it took months of intensive behaviour work to be able to get him to a point where he's actually back to the dog he was before the war."

Donate to Nate Mook's fund to support local Ukrainian animals here

You can also help by donating to the Blue Cross Ukraine Pet Welfare Fund

All the money donated by supporters to the Blue Cross Ukraine Pet Welfare Fund will be shared between several charity partners including:

  • Save the Dogs and other animals which currently has a team on the Ukraine-Romania border, providing aid to refugees with pets

  • The Animal Care Society, called TOZ, which is providing aid to Ukrainian pets and their owners as they arrive in Poland

  • (Transylvania Animal Care), based in Romania, which is providing medical treatment to Ukrainian pets