In Hostomel near Kiev, several hundred dogs and cats are being cared for in a shelter of 77-year-old Asia Serpinska. The center also functioned during the Russian occupation, when the Russians committed crimes against the civilian population. – I told the Russians that if they want to stay here, they can sleep in dog kennels – said Serpinska, risking her life and constantly taking care of the animals.
When a seemingly fragile Russian bomb began to fall on the cities of Ukraine, an elderly woman from Kiev quickly dressed and drove the first bus she took to Hostomel, more than 20 kilometers away. – I had to come here to my dogs and cats – said 77-year-old Asia Serpinska.
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The woman has been running an animal shelter in Hostoml for over 20 years. The building, which is several tens of meters long, currently houses more than 500 homeless dogs and 100 cats. According to Serpinska, there were at least 700 dogs before the war, but some of the animals escaped and some were killed by the Russians. – Russian vehicles have stopped in front of our gate. Several soldiers broke into the building. And dogs, like dogs, started barking. Then they shot them with automatic machines. You get it I yelled “don’t shoot”. But it was too late, the woman reported.
She admitted that she was not afraid of herself, but of the animals. – I asked one of them why he was shooting. And he said the dogs barked at him, and it was war, and he hadn’t killed anyone yet. It killed the dogs. He was so brave – he remembers. She added that the Russians wanted to spend the night in the shelter. – I told them that if they wanted, they could sleep in dog kennels – says Serpinska.
Destroyed roof of the hostel in Hostoml
The hostel in Hostoml, like many of the buildings in this city, did not survive the Russian occupation unscathed. The city was a site of fierce fighting and was also under Russian control for more than 30 days. After the withdrawal of Russian troops in Hostomel, neighboring Bucza and Irpień, the bodies of murdered civilians were discovered in the streets, mass graves and hundreds of destroyed buildings. Bullet cartridges and shrapnel can still be found in the yard of the shelter.
As Masha, Serpinska’s granddaughter, who helps run the center, said the shelter’s roof was damaged due to Russian shelling. The renovation was valued at several tens of thousands of dollars. The girl added that money is desperately needed, but hands for work are also important. – We currently have five employees. But that is not enough. It is not easy to find people who want to do this work. It’s a tough job. We start at 7 in the morning and work intermittently until the evening. In addition, working with animals is difficult and often unfair – she said.
When asked if pet food was still needed, she replied that aid organizations and volunteers had provided adequate care for her, but that the center provided in case the war returned to Hostomla.
“To them, killing a dog is like killing a fly – and so is a human.”
Serpinska’s chalet is simply furnished, but one of the best-preserved chalets in the region. The plot on which the center is located is divided into sectors. Some dogs have their kennel directly in the open air, others live in a building several tens of meters long. There, cats find shelter in heated rooms with cozy pens and access to the garden.
New animals are constantly coming to the shelter. These are mainly dogs and cats that were lost during hostilities. Many of them also escaped under the stress of the shelling, others were found trapped in houses and apartments. The center is supported by volunteers, individuals and organizations, but the needs of the shelter are enormous. That is why an online fundraiser was organised, which at least partially supports the functioning of the center.
During the month when Hostomel was under Russian occupation, Serpinska and three workers looked after the animals. The big problem at that time was the lack of electricity, which powers water pumps, among other things. In turn, water was needed to feed the animals. Fortunately, we managed to obtain a power generator. Now there are three in the shelter. One day, the woman said, the Russians locked her and her colleagues in one of the rooms in the shelter and banned her from going outside. – They said we shouldn’t go out, because it ended badly – she reported. As she added, the Russians suggested that the door had been mined.
Another time, voracious Russian soldiers came to the shelter to demand food. – They heard the chickens and wanted some soup. Did I give them? I did, they had guns and I didn’t. To them, killing a dog is like killing a fly — and a man too, the woman judged.
Serpinska: I’m not worried about the future
Despite her advanced age, Serpinska is not yet retiring. It proudly displays numerous diplomas of appreciation that adorn the wall for many years of running the shelter. Among them is the “Miracle Worker” medal presented to the woman by Ukraine’s first president, Łeonid Kravchuk.
The woman assured that she was not worried about the future. He knows that the shelter and the animals will be in good hands. “My granddaughter Masha will take care of him,” she added with a smile.
Main photo source: STRINGER / Reuters / FORUM