In about a week’s time, the referee will blow the whistle for the first kickoff at the UEFA European football championship being held jointly by the Ukraine and Poland, the first nations in east Europe to do so. While footie fans from all over Europe celebrate their team’s goals and victories, the stray dogs of Ukraine will not be celebrating. Government and municipal authorities in the nation of 45 million, desperate to beautify their streets and improve the Ukraine’s much-maligned image abroad, are declaring a war. A war on the 500,000 estimated unowned and unwanted canines who call the grey streets and abandoned Soviet-era factories home. A war which has seen 12,000 dogs killed last year alone in Kiev (Kyiv), the capital.
The dogs, many of which are abandoned by their owners who can no longer afford them, are a common sight in Ukraine’s cities. They wander about aimlessly, feeding on rubbish or handouts from sympathetic passers-by. Most urban Ukrainians aren’t too bothered by them; they are part of the fabric of city life, a minor inconvenience, in the same way as pigeons are in London. Politicians however, concerned over the spread of rabies and other diseases from strays, have begun rounding up and slaughtering them.
Reports from local animal activists obtained by the London Evening Standard newspaper claim that dogs are being systematically shot, poisoned and even hung like condemned criminals by ‘street cleaning squads’, paid for out of city and national funds. Tamara Tarnavska, a representative of the charity SOS Animals reports that “in Kiev they are poisoning them, and some are even shot…The poison can take up to six hours to kill the animals so we believe some are very possibly taken to crematoriums and burnt while not yet dead“.
Despite official assurances to end this sickening and barbaric slaughter of man’s best friend, the massacre had reached almost mechanical levels. Ms. Tranavska also told the Evening Standard’s Oliver Poole that mobile incinerators were roaming the streets of Lisichansk town, scooping up the corpses of slain strays and reducing them to ash. Other shot dogs were gutted and skinned to be turned into fur coats and hats, or even animal feed.
Even those dogs lucky to escape the gun or the oven have been delivered to shelters where they are thrown into dirty ramshackle cages exposed to the elements.
After worldwide condemnation, Ukraine’s environment minister called a halt to the slaughter and proffered a £2.5 million aid package to charities to open 200 new shelters for strays as well as for a nationwide sterilisation programme. The money has not been forthcoming however, even though several new stadiums have been constructed in the four cities helping to host Euro 2012 matches.
Despite the minister’s failed promise, there is some hope. An organisation specialising in assisting stray dogs around the world has stepped in to do what it can. Four Paws have sent a team of activists and veterinarians in an 11-vehicle convoy which will travel all over the Ukraine, neutering and treating dogs using funds from donations. These mobile clinics are also offering on-the-spot health checks, vaccinations and de-fleaing/de-worming.
Stray dogs may be popularly seen as scruffy flea-bitten mutts, but they are still animals with feelings. It is because of modern consumerist throw-away culture and people biting more than they can chew, that populations of stray pets exist in the first place. Wholesale cruel butchering of strays, as has been happening in the Ukraine, is something that many right-thinking people have condemned. It is something that will boil the blood and raise the pressure of any animal lover. Yet many would say that,as cruel as it is, such exterminations are necessary to keep down the likelihood of maladies such as rabies transmitting from stray animals and possibly causing human deaths. Ironically, the beleagured stray dogs of Kiev were sentenced to death to improve Ukraine’s image abroad, but blood on the hands is never a good look.
To find out more and/or support the charities mentioned in the article, please visit the websites below:
SOS Animals Ukraina – http://www.sos-animals.info/
Postal address for donations (dog foods, medical supplies, cleaning chemicals and freezers)
Krasnoznamennaya Street, Pirogovo village, Kyiv. Telephone: +38 (050) 447-61-07; +38 (044) 569-33-46. Donations can be made at: account ¹ 26004301242846, Prominvest Bank, Kyiv office
Four Paws Organisation – http://www.vier-pfoten.eu/