Ukrainian refugees seeking sanctuary in the UK face being separated from their much-loved pets because of complex rules about bringing them into the country.
It is estimated that over half of the more than 2.5 million Ukrainian refugees who have fled their country have brought pets with them, according to the pet travel specialists PBS Pet Travel.
There are fears that some pets may have to be put down if arrangements cannot be made for owners to travel with them to countries such as the UK.
While the government is expediting the process of getting Ukrainian refugees’ pets to the UK and paying for vaccination, quarantining and microchipping for them, the pets could still spend up to four months in quarantine facilities.
As a result of the war, many Ukrainians are struggling to obtain the blood tests they need for pets who have had anti-rabies jabs, in order to prove that they have developed rabies antibodies, since laboratories are either closed or not processing animal blood tests.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said on Friday he had arranged to take in a family of Ukrainian refugees: a six-year-old boy, his mother, grandmother – and the family dog, Max. He will also support them with the dog’s vaccination status, as the family left the necessary documentation behind when fleeing Ukraine.
Yevheniia Soldatenko and her nine-year-old son, Yaroslav, found a UK sponsor through their shared love and ownership of miniature schnauzer dogs. Jackie Thom was put in touch with the pair via a Ukrainian Facebook group for miniature schnauzer dog owners and agreed to sponsor them.
“Me, my nine-year-old son and our miniature schnauzer covered more than 2,500km in three days,” said Soldatenko. “We drove through Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and came to Poland. Now we are located in Szczecin and volunteers helped us find accommodation. The people in Poland are great and they provide a lot of support.
“On 18 March, we applied for the visa and we are waiting for it to be processed. But the whole story is overshadowed by the fact that our dog needs to be quarantined when we come to Britain. This dog is like a child to me. I plan all my business and trips taking into account its needs. She loves us very much, and we love her very much. My son is very worried that he will have to leave her. I don’t know how she’s going to make it through the breakup.”
Thom, from Lincolnshire, said: “I felt strongly that I should host somebody with a dog. The only laboratory in Ukraine that does blood tests after pets have had rabies jabs to confirm they have antibodies is now closed due to the war. The laboratory facilities in Poland where many people have fled to are also not processing pet blood tests at the moment. Until visa applications have been completed, pets can’t be booked into quarantine facilities here.
“It’s a nightmare for anyone coming into the country. I couldn’t give up my dogs. I have four miniature schnauzers – three are rescue dogs – so know how it must feel for Ukrainians to be separated from their pets by the quarantine process. We were brought together by our love of miniature schnauzers. We send each other photos of our dogs sunbathing – typical schnauzer behaviour.”
Robin Jax, a musician, is now in the UK with his Ukrainian wife, Miroslava, and his mother-in-law, Hanna Tkachenko, who uses a wheelchair. However, their beloved cat Peter is still in Poland because of quarantine procedures. The family fears that the cat might have to spend an extended period separated from them.
“Poland waived certain requirements for non-EU pets when we came over the border,” said Jax. “Peter the cat had full vaccinations in Kyiv before the war. We called Heathrow airport to get some advice and they said that Ukraine was not a ‘listed country’ for Defra’s [the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] purposes. I can’t imagine what months in quarantine will do to Peter, who is 11.”
The cat is currently staying with the family’s hosts in Poland. “I hope the cat can hang on. We know he’s in loving care, but it’s a very tense and difficult time.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “We have put in place a new streamlined process for people bringing their pets from Ukraine. The Animal and Plant Health Agency will provide quick approvals and relevant quarantine arrangements, for which we will cover the costs.”