Each and every day in war-torn Ukraine, we see a poignant truth that we have seen at other times in other places. In their most desperate moments, at the risk of their own lives and without hesitation, those who love and care about animals will show it by their actions. We see it in the stories and photos of Ukrainians trying to address the needs of animals still trapped in the crucible of conflict. We witness it as Ukrainians flee into neighboring nations with their pets and little else but a suitcase or two.

We too want our actions to speak, specifically the actions of Humane Society International country directors and other colleagues leading a broad animal relief effort. We’re supporting in-country efforts through grants to animal organizations based in Ukraine and a pioneering partnership with the Romanian Red Cross, whose convoys into Ukraine are carrying pet food and other supplies we’ve provided.

We’re also helping to meet the needs of refugees and their pets in the countries that have taken them in, in part through the distribution of 100,000 pet relief packs in Ukraine, Poland and neighboring countries. The packs—with pet food, ID tags, waterproof pouches for paperwork and more—were funded by family-owned Mars, Incorporated, a partner in our relief efforts.

These supplies go to pets like Ludvig, a cat who left his home in Ukraine with his caretaker the day Russia invaded. They traveled for 10 long days before arriving in Italy, where HSI welcomed Ludvig with pet food, cat litter and toys—simple comforts after such a harrowing journey. Later, they continued on their way to reunite with relatives.

After a harrowing journey, Ludvig enjoys a break to play with a scratch mat.
Giovanni Tesei

Thankfully Ludvig was able to travel with his family, but some people seeking transport with their animals are not as fortunate. Many airlines and bus companies do not accept animals, a serious impediment to keeping people and their pets together—an impediment we’re working urgently to resolve. We’ve contacted 74 transport companies, asking them to change their policy and allow pets. We’re also finalizing an agreement with LOT Polish airlines, the flag carrier of Poland, to offer free transportation crates to refugees—60% of whom are entering Poland on their way to other countries—and waive fees for pets on board. Easing the way for smooth transit of people with pets will strengthen outcomes for our five partner organizations in Poland, all of which are scrambling to distribute supplies, arrange sheltering and fostering options, and ensure access to veterinary care.

The sudden dispersal of millions of Ukraine’s citizens into other European nations has created a host of challenges for international response agencies. Having seen the high percentage of those leaving with their pets, our HSI team was determined to keep veterinary care off that list. In response, we’ve created a program that enables Ukrainian refugees who have fled the war to secure veterinary treatment for their pets in 38 European countries. Vets for Ukrainian Pets, funded and launched by HSI in collaboration with the Federation of Veterinarians in Europe and the Federation of European Companion Animal Veterinary Associations, will help to cover the costs of critical care and medication, rabies and other vaccinations, as well as microchipping and medical examinations required for safe passage of animals through the EU.

So many people have been forced to flee with only a few belongings and little to no time to gather their pets’ supplies or medications. Vets for Ukrainian Pets provides an essential safety net, ensuring easy access to the veterinary services they need to care for their beloved companions.

The complexities of providing support and relief to those afflicted by the violence, chaos and displacement of war are searingly evident in Ukraine. We are focused on integrating animal-related concerns into the wider humanitarian relief effort and meeting the immediate practical needs of pets and their caregivers. The brave individuals still in Ukraine helping animals and the countless numbers who have fled with their pets have shown us what—and who—they care about, and we are doing our best to show that we care too.