LVIV, Ukraine — At an animal shelter in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, Natalia Horobets bid an emotional farewell to her beloved pet cat Charly on Monday.
Horobets and her husband had fled their home in the eastern city of Kramatorsk as Ukrainian troops fought Russian invaders.
But after a difficult journey west on a packed train they finally decided to let their pet go, concluding that setting up a new life hundreds of miles from home would be hard enough without a hyperactive cat to care for.
“Our trip by train lasted for 40 hours,” Natalia Horobets said in Lviv, which along with the rest of Ukraine’s west has so far been largely untouched by the conflict. “There were many people and we were afraid that he would be trampled.”
Rasma Krecia, a Latvian volunteer, is the rescuer hoping to take Charly and dozens of other pets across the border into Poland until the war is over.
“We’re going to try to take as many animals as we can out, back to Latvia, back to Europe, back to safety,” Krecia said at the Home for Rescued Animals in Lviv, where she was loading up three vans with the first batch of dogs and cats.
She couldn’t have remained in Latvia and done nothing, she told Reuters. “If I have an opportunity, if I have a large van, if I can bring food here and take some animals back to safety, I can’t stay at home.”
The Lviv sanctuary previously dealt with wild animals and strays, but since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24 it has taken in more animals from people fleeing the violence.
Now dogs, cats and even a pet rat jostle for attention alongside foxes and storks.
While Reuters was at the centre, a Lviv resident brought in half a dozen puppies that her friend had found in a box at the train station three days before, where thousands of internally displaced people pass through on a daily basis.
As Krecia prepared to fit cages to her vans, the Horobets family said their final farewells to their cat.
“Charly, my little one, you will come back home, but you need to stay in a different place for now, you will be good there,” said Natalia Horobets.
Her husband Volodymir said they did not know what their future held: “We hope that Ukraine will endure and win and we will come back home.”