Small Effort: Rescue Dogs Save Animals at Ukrainian Border

Small Effort: Rescue Dogs Save Animals at Ukrainian Border

Medyka, Poland – It is already dark when Sascha Winkler drives his white minibus into the yard of an abandoned farmhouse in Medyka, eastern Poland. Loud barks, anxious cries and pleading moans emanate from the cargo hold. “I am 23 dogsquite a few puppies,” says Winkler.

A girl holds a dog and a cat in a convoy of 15 buses that traveled from Mariupol to evacuate Ukrainians. © IMAGO/Ukrinform

Before dawn, the animal rights activist sets out to rescue abandoned dogs from war-torn Ukraine. Now he is finally back in Poland – and the animals are safe.

For now, the rescues are taking place at a makeshift animal shelter set up by the Polish foundation. Centaur on the unused Medyka farm.

Human dramas unfold less than a kilometer from the stables of the abandoned farmhouse. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees arrive daily at the Medyka-Schehyni crossing on the Polish-Ukrainian border, fleeing ongoing Russian missiles and bombs destroying their homes.

“When people have to flee, many leave their pets behind,” Winkler said. This is already the twelfth animal rescue trip to Ukraine for the 35-year-old German businessman. He says there is often no room for dogs and cats on the crowded trains carrying refugees, and many families have to make heartbreaking decisions. “Taking mother dogs with puppies is next to impossible.”

Local animal shelters in Ukraine took in abandoned four-legged friends, Winkler says, but they became overwhelmed.

The journey to a new home

A refugee from Mariupol traveling with her dogs to Lviv train station, where they will hopefully leave Ukraine soon.

A refugee from Mariupol traveling with her dogs to Lviv train station, where they will hopefully leave Ukraine soon. © IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

In an effort to help, Winkler and two other drivers embarked on their twelfth trip to deliver donated pet food to Ukraine and pick up dogs in the towns of Brody and Radechiv, near Lviv – often risking their own lives in the process.

Winkler is not afraid of war himself. As he says, “I was in Afghanistan…I’ve seen worse.”

Another volunteer, Dominik Nawa, brought five dogs in his blue van from the town of Stryj in western Ukraine. “Four puppies and their mother. A woman found them tied up in front of the church in Stryj,” said the 46-year-old, who runs a sanctuary for horses, donkeys and goats in Silesia.

A dozen volunteers from the United States, Poland, Ukraine and Germany help unload the cages of the rescued animals, covered with woolen blankets, from the vans. Animal welfare workers transport them in heated containers.

The improvised refuge of Medyka is only a temporary station for the many dogs and cats welcomed. The volunteers then try to take as many as they can from their cars and distribute them to shelters across Europe.

Hopefully soon pets will be back in homes, with new owners who will give them love and a warm welcome after being caught in the throes of war.

Cover photo: Collage: IMAGO/Ukrinform & ZUMA Wire

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