Veterinarian Stays Behind to Help Pets in Ukraine

He works in extreme conditions, performing surgeries on the kitchen table.

Veterinarian Vladyslav Matviichuk helps a dog in Ukraine

Vladyslav Matviichuk

More than 3.4 million refugees have fled Ukraine since the Russian invasion and many have departed with their pets, while others have left their animals behind.

Animal rescue workers are assisting in many ways, including treating animals that remain in Ukraine, as well as those that have crossed into safer countries, such as Poland.

Veterinarian Vladyslav Matviichuk was forced to flee his home and practice. He and his wife Iryna and their two rescue cats found refuge with his parents in another part of Ukraine. He now treats pets for free in the kitchen of his parents’ home.

“Many animals suffer from explosions, missiles, and tanks. Many animals became homeless. Veterinary clinics are destroyed or closed. It is a very big problem to buy food and medicine for animals today,” Matviichuk said. “I try to help everyone. I treat and operate at home, take calls, consult online, by phone, by video, if it is not possible to help animals offline. Unfortunately my resources are currently running out.”

Because they are so short of supplies, Iryna has had to cut up bedsheets to make bandages for the animals for post-operative care.

"Today is a very difficult day for us," Matviichuk tells Treehugger via email. "There were more than seven air danger sirens in the region, where we are temporarily living. And most of the time we had to spend in the bomb shelter. Thanks God all my family, friends and patients are alive and well."

Matviichuk answered a few questions about what he is doing and why he is staying in Ukraine.

Treehugger: What has your experience been like, leaving your home and now staying with your parents?

Vladyslav Matviichuk: My experience as a veterinarian is more than 6 years in Kyiv. Before the war, I worked in a private veterinary clinic as a surgeon and therapist. I had comfortable working conditions and everything necessary for work: ultrasound machine, X-ray, laboratory, medicines, etc. My family was forced to temporarily move to a safer place for my parents. I took everything I had with me to work, and also bought a diathermocoagulator from my own savings to perform surgery. Now I help stray animals, refugees and everyone else who needs help. I treat animals in my parents' house, as well as go on calls, consult online, by phone, by video. Now I work in extreme conditions: I perform surgical operations in the kitchen, provide assistance on the street, as well as provide temporary shelter for stray animals.

But uncomfortable working conditions are not a problem now. The biggest problem is the danger of war and the inability to make necessary diagnostics to make a definitive diagnosis. For example, in case of injuries it is not possible to do an X-ray. Also today I had a patient who complains of frequent vomiting and I am forced to prescribe treatment symptomatically as there is no lab here. I love animals and my work very much and I’ll do all my best to help them.

Why did you and your family choose to stay?

We are Ukrainians and there is our Motherland, which needs help, protection and support nowadays. All Ukrainians are very peaceful, kind and friendly people, but in the same time we are very brave and ready to save and protect our country. Me, my family, my friends and millions of other Ukrainians make everything possible as well as impossible to help our native Ukraine. Glory to Ukraine!

Who are the patients you are treating? What sorts of injuries/conditions have you been treating?

I treat and help all animals that need it. These are stray animals, people who have stayed with their pets, people leaving with their pets to a safer place.

For example, recently a family from Bucha spent the night in my parents' house. Despite the difficult situation, they did not leave their 8 cats and took animals with them. Not only refugees, but also their animals need help. Refugees from the war are also victims of the war. We help them and their animals find shelter, provide veterinary care and feed. We distribute information about assistance provided in different regions. Advise how to calm animals during explosions. I treat, operate and consult for free. I take part in the accommodation or temporary keeping of animals left by their owners. In addition, diseases, viruses, injuries to animals need treatment during the war also, all of these I have been treating. Of course, we are living in a war, but problems of animals didn’t disappear in Ukraine. The number of stray animals has been and remains a big problem in Ukraine, so I helped volunteers with free castrations to solve this problem.

I also want to mention about the numerous cases when animals were left and locked in apartments. People left their homes in panic and left the animals there, hoping to come back quickly. Some animals were locked for more than 7 days. People rescued and adopted them. We provided first aid to the animals. Thank God, many animals have been saved and they already have new owners.

What are the greatest needs for veterinarians and rescue groups treating pets in Ukraine and those who have fled to nearby countries?

The biggest problems that animals face now in Ukraine:

  • Lack of feed and food
  • Lack of diagnostic facilities in some regions
  • Shortage of medicines and resources for their treatment
  • Closed clinics and pet stores
  • Animals and people [that] stay without food and water in some places
  • Increasing the number of stray animals because their owners left them, fleeing the war
  • People [without] enough money to treat animals

In some cases, assistance has been collected, but it is not possible to provide it. I would like to mention the volunteers who were shot dead by Russian army while they were transporting animal feed to Bucha. The Sirius shelter in Dymer has also been blocked to this day. The occupiers do not agree to any conditions to help or evacuate the animals. The same situation is in Hostomel shelter.

As I know people who have fled to nearby countries haven’t [had] problems and difficulties of getting help and treatment for animals. European countries allow crossing the border even without animal documents for Ukrainians. Animals are examined by veterinarians and governments provide the necessary assistance and shelter.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Vladyslav Matviichuk operates on a cat in Ukraine

Vladyslav Matviichuk

Sending Help

In Defense of Animals, an international animal protection organization, provided $5,000 to Matviichuk to help with medicine and equipment. The group is raising funds for Ukrainians helping animals. (You can donate to help Matviichuk and animals in Ukraine through the group.)

The group has a list of supplies that veterinarians like Matviichuk need, including antibiotics and antiseptics, syringes, and surgical instruments.

“Brave Ukrainian people who are suffering tremendously right now are showing the world how important animals are to them, and that they are also a huge and important part of this humanitarian crisis,” said Fleur Dawes, communications director for In Defense of Animals.

“We’re grateful to our supporters whose generosity is enabling us to offer aid at such an important time and hope Dr. Matviichuk’s story inspires more people to continue to give.” 

Offering Help on Many Levels

Vladyslav Matviichuk helps an injured dog in Ukraine

Vladyslav Matviichuk

Veterinarian and animal welfare groups around the world have also been mobilizing to help refugee animals, veterinarians, and pets left behind.

The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE), a nonprofit umbrella group for veterinary organizations from 39 European countries, has called on countries to relax veterinary requirements for people entering other nations with pets in tow.

The group has also created Vets4Ukraine, a website to help coordinate aid from European veterinarians for their Ukrainian counterparts and their families. That includes offering shelter in their homes to vets fleeing the country and providing informational links for people who wish to donate to relief agencies targeting animals and pets.

The American Veterinary Medical Association’s charitable foundation is directing $100,000 from Merck Animal Health to support veterinary and animal welfare groups providing relief. The foundation matched the grant with its own $100,000 donation.

“Many organizations, including veterinary medical facilities, animal shelters, and animal rescue groups in Ukraine and neighboring countries, are courageously providing care to people and animals affected by the crisis,” said AVMA president, veterinarian José Arce. “But they can’t do it alone.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Refugees from Other Wars See Themselves in Fleeing Ukrainians." NPR, 2022.

  2. Fleur Dawes, communications director for In Defense of Animals

  3. "Ukraine Crisis – What Can We Do as a Veterinary Profession?" Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, 2022.

  4. "AVMF, Merck Pledge $200,000 for Ukraine Relief." American Veterinary Medical Association, 2022.