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These groups are working to help the animals affected by the war in Ukraine

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The six-month war that Russia is waging against Ukraine affects all parts of life. Thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley brings us this story of how some people are trying to help animals caught in the war.

PETYA PETROVA: We are on the way home from the city of Mykolaiv in the south of Ukraine. We just picked up seven cats.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Petya Petrova, a 34-year-old Bulgarian with wavy brown hair and nerves of steel, leaves a message from one of her missions. She quit her job with animal rights group PETA in Germany to move to Ukraine and devote herself full-time to rescuing animals caught in the conflict. Petrova drives in and out of places under attack, cities in the Donbass, Kharkiv, trying to treat or rescue animals in peril. And not just domestic pets - cows, horses and other farm animals have been killed or injured in targeted attacks against farmers. Wildlife is suffering, too.

PETROVA: Hey, Eleanor. Good morning. I don't have much time. So I'm going to record you this message. We are going to this location I just send you. There is the fox cub. We're going to bring the baby to Kyiv to a wildlife sanctuary there.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

PETROVA: Hello.

BEARDSLEY: The day I meet up with Petrova, she's evacuating several frightened dogs and a 4-week-old kitten who wandered into a Ukrainian military camp on the front lines near Kramatorsk. Petrova brings them to a family further west that's hosting stricken animals. In her work, Petrova coordinates with individuals, NGOs and soldiers.

PETROVA: You're in a good place now. You're in a good place.

BEARDSLEY: She says, as a Bulgarian, a country once dominated by the Soviet Union, she feels a great solidarity with the Ukrainian people in their fight against Russia. Helping Ukraine's animals is her way of doing her part in this war.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

BEARDSLEY: An animal shelter in the central eastern city of Dnipro is doing its part for people forced to flee their homes. These days, most of the 350 dogs they keep are not strays but have families who were forced to abandon them. Irina Ponomarenko is the shelter director.

IRINA PONOMARENKO: (Speaking non-English language).

BEARDSLEY: She names the towns the dogs are from, all places under intense Russian shelling. She says people often have only minutes to evacuate.

PONOMARENKO: It is very difficult to find transport, a car to carry a dog, and many people stay till the end because they can't leave their pets.

BEARDSLEY: Ponomarenko says people arrive terribly shaken in cars that have sometimes been shot at. Their pets are frightened and sometimes sick or injured because there are no more animal clinics in the east. She says her shelter is committed to keeping these animals safe until their owners can return for them.

SVETLANA VISHNEVETSKAYA: (Speaking non-English language).

BEARDSLEY: Svetlana Vishnevetskaya is the head zookeeper at the Ecopark in Kharkiv. She says when the war started, she got down on her knees and told the animals she was sorry. Despite being under constant fire, over a two-month period they were able to get some 5,000 animals out, including lions and tigers.

VISHNEVETSKAYA: (Through interpreter) After every trip to the park, I said I would not go again. But I went anyway. Ten years of work in the park - they were all groomed and fed. They were our family. And when you see the broken cages and the destruction, it is all so very hard.

BEARDSLEY: Six zoo workers were killed carrying out the evacuations, including the 15-year-old son of two zoo employees who had wanted to come along and help save the animals. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Dnipro, Ukraine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.