We are animals

Her name is Olga Chevganjuk and she is one of the leaders of UAnimals. I know her because this animal rights organization is also a member of FFA (Fur Free Alliance) like Loomus is. In these days Olga is staying in Bali. She went on vacation with her child and then war started.

In the beginning of our conversation I suddenly mix up the meaning of the name of the group and ask if UAnimals means – united animals. No idea why, because I have known so well that it means Ukrainian Animals. Olga laughs and says it is an interesting mix up indeed because she has thought so many times that the name means also United, because we are united with other species – we all are animals.

I am quite happy that we start with this note because most of the things during these days are almost impossible to think or talk about. Painful.

She is from Odessa and her parents are still living there, even going to work, so it is easier there than in Kiev where Olga ordinarily lives. “Closer to the politicians and decision makers as I am an activist and have to do lobby there.” The other leader, founder of UAnimals, Alexander, went to the army.      

If possible, Olga sleeps from 5 am to 10 am and sits in front of computer with phone in her hand the rest of the time. She coordinates activists and all the donors and together they do everything to help animals in Ukraine.

Looking to the screen she counts that in these days UAnimals has 12 activists working every day, 25 volunteers working 5-12 hours a day and about 30 people who do smaller tasks every day. UAnimals has a network in 30 cities because they used to organize animal rights march in these cities. In Kiev, 6000 people took part of this march. “People need to help, they can’t only go on with their normal activities, they need to save lives as we do. And we have lot of new people involved, in a way we save them too,”, says Olga.

So they have a call centre from which they answer all kinds of questions all day. Something new comes up every minute. They buy food, cages for evacuation of animal refugees, medications etc. They help all kind of animals, horses, also wild animals because many private zoos need help with evacuation. “Couple of months ago we tried to find a place somewhere abroad for one tiger and we even didn’t get answer. In these days everybody helps, we get the best support and information.” I ask about one example – Borodjanka Shelter, in which the dogs were without water and food for one month. 222 of them died, not over 300 as was first announced. There is no difference, these deaths were horrible in any case, one by one. Olga tells that they work a lot with other animal organizations and they help these activists who went in the shelter to rescue dogs after Russian army withdraw. “These dogs need a special food now. Most of them are in veterinary clinics. We actually tried to pay a lot to someone who could go and open the doors and gates of this shelter to let the starving dogs out. But we didn’t find anyone.”

UAnimals also made a storage and temporary shelter to Lviv, to take care of some animals for some time before they could evacuate. Olga says that they have received so much support but there is more and more to do. Many big projects are also starting, like sterilisation project. With mentioning this, she reminds me Ukrainian librarians who in the beginning of the war sent out letters to postpone their conference telling participants that they first have to take care of one other problem. But – as we know sterilisation is also life saving, especially now.

There is one more thing we talk about with Olga. And I think that this is something only long time AR activists understand. We hope that maybe now, looking at these extremely horrible pictures of dead children and mutilated bodies, other people will understand what we feel if we look the same kind of pictures of animals. Maybe they now can make the connection? But it is too soon to talk about it more widely. And too painful. “People are in so much pain. We can’t make their pain bigger”.

“I had no clue that war is going to happen. A genocide. Nobody predicted this. There are people who say that this is going to end in May. I don’t have this feeling. But I have to believe to something to stay sane, I hope to go home soon and absolutely everybody of us believes in victory.”

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