I took away from Mariupol what was the most precious for me – my 12 dogs

The whole country stretched out hands to welcome the people of Mariupol. I’mMariupol support centers for displaced people opened in Lviv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, Vinnytsia, Kyiv, Odesa, Kropyvnytskyi, Khmelnytskyi, Ivano-Frankivsk, and Kalush.

Mariupol School of Entrepreneurship will open in Zaporizhzhia. During 4 weeks, students will receive necessary knowledge and skills for running successful businesses. The best project will receive micro financing in the amount of €1,500 from the international organization Finance in Motion.

Mariupol city website 0629 writes that teachers of Mariupol School 56, who did not agree to work for the occupants, have created their own online school in Kyiv. Not all the teachers were able to save their laptops and tablets from Mariupol. A volunteer initiative came to their aid. Former graduates of the Mariupol Technical Lyceum have united in a public organization to provide assistance to Mariupol teachers.

They left with one goal – to stay alive and save what each person considers most important to themselves.

Anna Pratskova, a resident of Mariupol, took 12 dogs out of the shelling. Currently, she is in Poland with her pets, renting a house, looking for a job. Here’s a first-hand account of her rescue and life after the outbreak of the war.

Before the war, I worked as a journalist. Dogs were my hobby. I loved shows, loved to pick up breeding pairs, loved little puppies. That was why I bought a house in Mariupol in the fall of 2020 – so that my pets could live comfortably.

When the war broke out on February 24, I was on the train from Kyiv to Mariupol. I was taking home a dog that had just undergone a complex operation. I remember being woken up by a call: “Ania, Mariupol is being bombed, the war has started.” I looked, and saw that the train was standing in an open field. The conductor said we would go back because Mariupol was being shelled. But I couldn’t go back because there were 11 other dogs at home.

In an extreme situation, the head begins to work differently. I started thinking about how to get back to Mariupol, where to find transport. But I was lucky – the train decided to take the original route, and I arrived in Mariupol at 1:00 p.m.

At that time, you could still find a taxi, although the price was already very high. But then it didn’t matter much. I remember long lines at ATMs, shops, and panic among people.

Back home, my boyfriend and I decided that we wouldn’t go anywhere. Then it seemed that the war would end quickly. Besides, my house was on the opposite side of the demarcation line. We were sure they would not get here. I began preparing a small three-square-meter cellar. I sent my boyfriend to the store to get food and water.

I took my valuables, documents and dogs to the cellar. I also took food and some water there. And the cellar became our home for 23 days. Sometimes it seemed like our salvation, sometimes – a grave.

For the first five days we had electricity, internet, water and gas. It was warm and light at home and the shelling could only be heard in the distance. I could still walk my dogs, first two at a time, then one at a time. But soon everything changed. First, electricity disappeared, and then water, internet and gas. It became very cold in the house. But it was warm in the cellar. It sounds strange, but the dogs really warmed us. From the seventh day of the war, we spent most of our time in the basement. The shelling didn’t stop, and sometimes it was scary to go to the bathroom.

Luckily, the dogs had food, although the ration had to be cut in half. There was also food and water for us. That is why we never left the house, although many neighbors hid in the basement of the hospital, where there was a generator. But I couldn’t leave the dogs in the house and hide in the hospital myself. If anything had happened, the animals would have died of thirst and hunger. So I chose to sleep with my legs up, because it was impossible to stretch out.

But the hardest thing for me was the lack of communication when you don’t know what’s going on in the next street. And it seems to you that the heaviest shelling is near your house, while the rest of Mariupol is calm and safe. One day we caught a signal of Radio Respublika, a propaganda radio of the “DPR”. They talked about anything but Mariupol. No one said that the city was being wiped off the face of the earth.

The shelling only intensified. Sometimes I covered myself and the dogs with a blanket and prayed loudly. I thought that if something were to fall, I could protect them that way. I remember asking God that the next shell would not hit my house, and then I recalled that there were seven little children in the house next door. Then I asked for the shell to fall in an open field.

Once I woke up at 5 a.m. to the shelling from the Grad. I remember the sound of glass shattering and the feeling as if an iron giant was driving metal spikes into the ground behind you. I thought it was the end.

But we were lucky. The house survived. Only the outbuildings and the windshield of the car were damaged. The car itself was intact. And thanks to this, I was able to take 12 dogs out of Mariupol.


On March 18, a neighbor dropped in and told us that people were going by cars with an inscription “Children” to the village of Melekine 20 kilometers away from Mariupol, and there was no shooting there. I didn’t think, I just started packing blankets, warm things, water and food into the car. Last of all, I put the dogs into the car, which surprised my neighbors. They didn’t understand why I was taking them with me. But my dogs were my most prized treasure

When we came out of the side street, I saw a terrible picture: ruined houses with people walking by; a kid on a bicycle; cheerful teenagers calmly walking along a bombed-out street. It was as if life and death were intertwined.

There was a huge line of cars on the outskirts of the city, so we passed a checkpoint at 6:00 p.m., when it was already dark and the curfew began.

At that time a mobile connection appeared, and we realized that we could reach not only the occupied village of Melekine, but also Ukrainian Zaporizhzhia. That evening we decided to travel towards Berdyansk for overnight, but we couldn’t manage. We were waiting in line at the checkpoint at the entrance to the city until morning.

It took us more than a day to get to Zaporizhzhia. We had to pass over 20 checkpoints. But we were lucky. Most Russian soldiers smiled when they saw dogs in our car and did not conduct in-depth checks.

However, on the way, they did take away water and my boyfriend’s cigarettes – “for the needs of the Donetsk People’s Republic.” We also met volunteers who gave us pancakes, homegrown eggs and hot tea. All my dogs also tasted the pancakes.

How to find housing with 12 dogs

To be honest, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to find a home with 12 dogs. I understood that many people would not want to provide us with housing. But, as it turned out, dog lovers are a very powerful force. Our first shelter was in Dnipro at the house of my older dog’s breeder. We lived there for three weeks.

I remember the first time I washed my hair after Mariupol. It seemed to me that I would have to get a bald haircut because I couldn’t comb my hair. But shampoo saved the situation. However, the exhibition dogs’ coat suffered a lot. But then it didn’t matter, the main thing was that we were alive.

My psychological state was very complicated. I didn’t know if my relatives were alive. I did not understand where to find strength to live on. Then I realized for the first time that being a dog breeder was the same as being a mother of 12 children. With one but – children are always helped by the state, and dogs can only be helped by ordinary people.

At that time, breeders from Ukraine and Europe helped a lot. Many offers of help came. We didn’t have a home. Renting an apartment with so many dogs seemed very difficult. And I was very afraid of shelling. Even if the explosions sounded far away, I panicked. It seemed to me that Mariupol could happen again. And that’s why I decided to take the dogs out of Ukraine.

I put 12 dogs and 4 puppies born in Dnipro into a small Peugeot 206 car and set off on a trip. My boyfriend stayed in Ukraine. I had never driven long distances before, but in this case there were no options.

The road was very difficult and took more than three days. On the first day, I managed to reach the city of Khmelnytskyi, where I stopped for the night. I spent the next night at the border, where I stood for 30 hours. The problem was that I was taking 12 dogs, and according to the rules, one person can bring up to 5 animals. I made a commercial import to Poland, paid customs duties and officially had to undergo quarantine. The problem arose when they found out that I was from Mariupol. On the eve of my arrival, the European Commission banned the import of goods from Mariupol, because it was considered an occupied city. Fortunately, I was later allowed to enter Poland, but according to the documents, I was transporting dogs from Dnipro, which was partially true.

Polish breeders did everything to help me. They found a home for me, bought food, toys, veterinary drugs for my pets and surrounded me with attention and care. I could never have thought that strangers could treat me so warmly. Fund-raising was also organized for me.

With that money I could afford to rent a house. I can’t say it was easy. Finding housing with 12 dogs is very difficult, especially since there is a very high demand for housing in Poland. But now I have a place to live, something to eat. My dogs have food and a vet. We are safe. I can say: even when you think that no one needs you in the whole world, it is not so. There are plenty of good people in the world who will help you. Even if you are alone, even if you have 20 dogs or cats, you will not be left in trouble.

Hanna Krivutsa

The material is prepared within the project “Countering Disinformation in Southern and Eastern Ukraine” funded by the European Union.