A British animal lover’s ‘surreal’ trip to the Ukrainian border after hearing a news broadcast


When I heard on the news that desperate people in Ukraine were running back to their animals and being shot, I got up from the sofa one night, turned to my husband Bill and said, “I have to do something.”

Although we were deeply shocked by the news that a 26-year-old Ukrainian volunteer, Anastasiia Yalanskaya, had been killed after giving away food at an animal shelter near Kyiv, I refused to let this deter me from the mission that I knew I needed Company.

I’m a doer, not a talker, and I knew animals in Ukraine would suffer just as much as civilians do now. The thought that they were hungry and homeless tugged at my heart.

At home in Norfolk I have three dogs, two horses and a rescued pig. I have loved and worked with animals my entire life. I have no idea how I would cope if I had to run for my life and leave my animals behind. I don’t think I could.

Lisa with her husband Bill



Lisa with her van full of relief supplies for Ukraine

I don’t judge people who do this because thankfully I’ve never been in a situation like this. But I knew I had to do something.

Bill, 56, who is a caretaker, loves animals as much as I do, so he had my wholeheartedly behind me as I traveled to the Ukrainian border with pet supplies and helped transport animals in need.

I contacted Juliet Gellatley, the founder of UK-based vegan charity Viva!, as they have an office in Poland. “Can I help with that?” I asked. She immediately agreed.

Frightened Pet Owners

My intention was to take my van and help people who came across the border but couldn’t find a place to stay because they had their pets with them. You are stuck and have nowhere to go.

I didn’t want to take an empty van – it made sense to take supplies there. In my head I pictured myself as Melissa McCarthy bridesmaids, push all the puppies into the van and drive off. I knew I wasn’t going to cross Ukraine myself, there are collection points before the border that I headed for. I felt the risks involved were worth it to ensure the pet supplies got straight to the animals – and their terrified owners – in need.

So almost four weeks ago I asked for pet food donations on Facebook and asked local businesses to set up donation boxes for customers who helped. The campaign snowballed and soon we were inundated with so many kind donations that we had to keep repacking the van. Every time an Amazon delivery arrived, I felt a lump in my throat from people’s generosity.

There was dog food, cat food, blankets, tote bags, water bottles for animals traveling in cages… I tried to imagine what not to take with you in the desperate situation these people are in.” What would they need most? ‘ was my focus.

Dori got a transport box and food for her dog

Lisa helps diligently

People gave me things that belonged to their own beloved pets. One lady said it was hard to part with a special blanket her beloved dog slept with as he recently passed away. But as she handed me the precious, freshly laundered garment to take away, she said, “I can’t think of a better use for it.” It meant so much.

I’ve even had to turn down offers of pet food from manufacturers because I just didn’t have the space. I’m planning a return trip soon.

I left Norfolk on Sunday and drove via France and Germany – with uplifting Earth, Wind & Fire songs in the van – arriving in Poland on Tuesday.


Arriving in Warsaw felt absolutely surreal. I’ve seen TV footage but nothing prepares you for reality. Some people are out for days. You are hungry, thirsty, exhausted. They arrive with nothing and have no idea what lies ahead. All they knew was that they had to flee.

With Google Translate on my phone, I asked people how they were doing. What can I do to help?

I think I expected the refugees to get hysterical and panicky, but in fact most of them get off the train after they get through that stage. Now they are dazed and overwhelmed – in a state of shock is how I would describe it.

I was so emotional meeting her and then I feel terribly guilty. I have no right to cry unless I suffer as they do. But the volunteers here are amazing, it’s very organized and people get water, food and phone chips so they can contact loved ones.

Ukrainians and their dog rest in Warszawa Centralna railway station after fleeing war


SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The viva! Workers are busy from morning to night helping others – many of them were friends of Anastasiia.

I met a little girl, Dori, who was carrying her dog. She was so grateful when we produced the stretcher. Her smile melted all of our hearts.

Of course I feel vulnerable because I’m outside of my comfort zone. I am a 51 year old menopausal woman traveling alone to a war zone. And I’m not sure where I’ll sleep or wash – but I’m not a princess. How could I care compared to these people?

Because the vehicle was so crammed with pet supplies, I only took a change of clothes and a kettle with some vegan pot noodles for the van. I wasn’t obsessed with all the details, thought I’d work it out once there.

I almost died last October and it gave me a different perspective on life.

Ukrainian national flag and a picture of Anastasiia Yalanskaya, a young Ukrainian volunteer killed during the Russian invasion


Photo only via Getty Images)

A local farmer asked me to keep an eye on a calf at birth. I had to pull out the calf and hold it upside down to clear the mucus from the lungs as it wasn’t breathing.

But the protective mummy cow became aggressive and turned on me and head-butted me into a corner. I fractured my shoulder, sternum, ribs and sustained a head injury on one side.

I somehow managed to call an ambulance with my eyes streaming with blood and was flown directly by helicopter to the hospital, where I lay in intensive care for days. I was lucky that I survived.

Luckily I made a full recovery, but four weeks ago I found it difficult to leave the house.

A picture of Anastasiia Yalanskay in the window of the Juliusz Slowacki Theater in Kraków, Poland


Photo only via Getty Images)

horror of war

This mission breathed new life into me. After all, I’m not dead, I can drive the van, and I have some really nice people supporting me who can’t do enough to help.

I don’t suffer from war myself, I just drive a van. It’s nothing compared to what Ukrainians are suffering. A lot of help is needed and I’m happy to play a small role.

Despite the horrors of war, planning this mission restored my faith in humanity. It was nice to see everyone pulling together.

Lisa donates the fee for this article to the Viva! If you would like to support visit viva.org.uk/appeals/viva-poland-ukraine-animal-rescue

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