VWB Partner Spotlight: Meet the courageous animal health champions helping Ukraine's animals
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VWB Partner Spotlight: Meet the courageous animal health champions helping Ukraine's animals

Since the start of the full-scale war in Ukraine, Veterinarians Without Borders North America (VWB) has been working with on-the-ground partners to provide urgent response efforts, including emergency veterinary care, spay/neuters, life-saving vaccinations, evacuations, and more. This week, we're placing the spotlight on one of our incredible partners — 12 Guards.

12 guards dogs, veronica velichko

Across Ukraine’s frontlines, one extraordinary group of animal health experts are risking their lives to bring urgently needed care to animals that have been caught in the crosshairs of the war. Some of their nimals like dogs, cats, and more – some of which have tragically lost their human families due to bombings and other attacks.

12 Guards, a Ukrainian non-profit that was founded at the start of the full-scale war, is one of VWB's on-the-ground partners in Ukraine. They’re currently focused on providing veterinary care to homeless and abandoned animals, particularly across Ukraine’s frontline regions. So far, they’ve provided emergency evacuation and care to 280 animals that have been affected by the ongoing conflict.

“Before the full-scale war, there were a lot of homeless animals in Ukraine – about 100,000,” said Veronica Velichko, the founder/director of 12 Guards. “Since the start of the war, the situation has become a disaster,” she added, noting that the birth rate for homeless animals has spiraled out of control and that animal mortality due to shelling has become a significant issue.

Since 2022, 12 Guards has grown from supplying pet food and medicine to animals in de-occupied regions, to providing spay/neuter clinics, animal rescues and emergency response services, and adoption programs focused on areas that have experienced significant attacks.

“By helping cats and dogs we’re also helping people,” said Velichko, adding that 12 Guards is fundamentally “helping people remain human.” 

And, considering that Velichko estimates the organization is receiving about one hundred evacuation requests per day to help animals in these frontline regions, the need for animal-focused emergency response efforts is growing. “Each day, the front is growing closer and closer,” she says.

Due to the ongoing conflict, the number of animals in Ukraine's shelters has grown significantly; in fact, in one of the shelters supported by VWB, Sirius Animal Shelter, which is Ukraine's largest pet shelter, now houses more than 3,000 dogs along with hundreds of cats.  

12 guards

"We are so proud to have partners like 12 Guards whose courageous team members are taking a stand for Ukraine's animals," said Daria Kuznetsova, VWB's Ukraine Program Manager. "With the help of our donors, we can continue to respond to urgent evacuations across Ukraine, which is becoming increasingly important as the war continues," she added.

Currently, 12 Guards is focused on the regions of Donetsk, Kherson, Kharkiv, and Sumy, which are on the frontlines. It’s comprised of veterinarians, animal handlers, administrative team members, and volunteers who are passionate about making a difference for animals that, otherwise, would have almost no access to care. Velichko notes that during their missions, teams range from about 12 to 16 people.  

While the stark and terrible realities of war can be daunting, there is hope in those, like Velichko and other local organizations supported by VWB.

“Over the past two years we have performed over 12,000 spay/neuter surgeries, 30 evacuation raids, and over 1,500 animal rescues – including in Kherson following the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam last June. 12 Guards have also been able to help about 350 animals find their forever families since May 2023.

As the war goes on, Velichko says the organization would love to open an adoption centre and shelter to help even more homeless animals across Ukraine.  




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