A Ukrainian family in war-torn Kharkiv is racing against the clock to get six newborn puppies to safety as bombs continue to rain down on the city.
The family, who have asked not to be named because of the growing danger in Ukraine’s second city, adopted a heavily pregnant dog they found wandering in the ruins of Kharkiv in the middle of March.
The mother said: “I like animals a lot. Of course, I saw that she was pregnant, this just played a major role. I couldn’t let her give birth on the street. When she came to us the temperature was -10C [14F]. We took her home and she gave birth three days later.”
The litter of six puppies was born on 16 March.
While food supplies in the city are uncertain and more buildings are being destroyed by Russian bombs the family are sharing their home and their food with the seven canine guests. The family live in a suburb of Kharkiv where shelling continues to be particularly heavy.
The mother hopes a way can be found to safely evacuate the puppies and resettle them in loving and peaceful homes in the UK or elsewhere. The family will be unable to keep them for much longer because they are all growing fast.
UK-based Ukrainian academic Nataliya Rumyantseva is trying to do everything she can to help. She is in contact with the family and is researching ways to help get the puppies to safety.
She said she was particularly struck by the juxtaposition of the kindness and generosity of the family under siege from Russian bombs doing what they can under the most difficult circumstances to nurture new life while the shelling is killing so many in the city and elsewhere in Ukraine.
“It is an amazing example of compassion and generosity of spirit the way this family opened their hearts to the dog and her puppies when they themselves have very little to live on,” she said. “New life, whether in animals or people, is a source of joy. I admire this family’s stamina to give these new lives a chance.
“At the same time my heart bleeds for all the babies and children, the inspiration for human innocence, who have died or been injured in the war to date.”
Many Ukrainians are fleeing their country with their pets and more than a million are thought to have fled to neighbouring countries with their pets.
But depending on the vaccination status of the animal the process of bringing a Ukrainian pet to the UK may be neither quick nor straightforward.
Defra has suspended the commercial importation of dogs, cats and ferrets to 14 May if the animals originate from or have been dispatched from Ukraine, Belarus, Poland or Romania. This includes rescue animals. The suspension does not apply to pets, which are defined as “non-commercial”.
The department said the reason for this was because of the serious health risks posed by animals whose owners had not fully complied with health and documentation requirements.
Defra has admitted that quarantine space in the UK is limited but says Ukrainian pets will be prioritised. The Animal and Plant Health Agency is endeavouring to provide quick approvals for these pets to come to the UK. The government is covering quarantine costs and new blood tests to detect rabies vaccinations will reduce quarantine time. The government is also covering the cost of vaccinations and microchipping for Ukrainian pets.
Defra reported that one shipment of 19 animals imported by a rescue charity travelled illegally on falsified rabies documentation, something that “presents serious risks to biosecurity and public health”.
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