Today a classic human interest story; or maybe call it an “animal interest story”. This story will touch the heartstrings of everyone who loves animals; or least loves their own domestic pets. Reporter Ulyana Skoibeda writes about the innocent dogs and cats who got caught up in the war, through no fault of their own. There is always something poignant in a love story between a soldier and a vulnerable animal. Maybe it is the poetic dissonance between what we know of the violence the soldier is capable of; versus his tenderness and love for a fellow creature. Two completely different sets of hormones operating within the same human body!
For this very reason, such stories also make for great war propaganda. In the pro-Ukrainian media you will also see these touching photos of ferocious soldiers, even tattooed Nazis, playing lovingly with tiny kittens; and everybody goes “ooh” and “ahh!” Because it is maybe the one and only thing that makes us feel like we are fellow humans, whatever other differences.
Saving Private Wiener
Just before the New Year a mobilized Russian soldier from the Bashkir city of Belebey, a teacher in civilian life, had rescued a dog, which he shipped it to his mother, to take care of. This was a dachshund from Zaporozhie, whom he had named Sosisych. (In Russian, the word for “sausage” is sosich, a direct borrowing from the French, see Old French saucisse). In English, dachshunds are often called “wiener” dogs.) In his message the soldier wrote to his mom, “Sausage would not have survived on the battle front.”
This, and other stories of animal rescue, was told by a woman named Alyona R. who works for the Russian mass organization All-Russian Peoples Front (Общероссийский «народный» фронт – ОНФ).
Alyona: I am from Bashkiria, and my job was to collect humanitarian aid for our soldiers. When I was putting together a shipment, I happened to connect with a mobilized soldier who came from the same part of the country as me, he lives in the village of Priyutovo near Belebey. In his social media he wrote about a homeless dachshund who had come seeking shelter in their unit. “Sausage is a victim of circumstances,” the soldier wrote poetically. “Many homes have been abandoned, there are many stray animals wandering up to the soldiers and begging to be taken care of. You feel bad for them, the nights are getting ever colder, their fur is not enough to protect them from the frost, and this small dachshund would not have survived.”
The reporter reminds us again, that this soldier, in his normal, civilian life, is a schoolteacher.
Having learned about the situation, Alyona quickly spoke with the drivers of the humanitarian convoy. They agreed to let Sausage ride with them in the cabin of the truck; the dog thus hitched a ride from the front line unit all the way back to Bashkiria, where the soldier’s mom, Tamara Alekseevna, took in the refugee with open arms.
The journey was not easy, it was 2,000 kilometers. Along the way Sausage had to spend a night in a barracks in Penza, along with a group of freshly-mobilized soldiers waiting to be sent to the front.
Everywhere they went, the convoy was greeted with triumphal music. Alyona and her comrades had prepared a welcoming party with gifts, including a brand new collar (to replace the simple rope used by the soldiers) and classy sweater for the dog. Thus, Sausage was all spruced up when he went to meet his new owner, Tamara.
They write that Sausage is very happy now, and enjoys his new home. He is showered with love and affection, as every pet should be. The one thing that Tamara decided to change was the name: She disapproves of the typical soldier brand of humor in calling the dog “Sausage” even given its size and shape. Instead, she renamed him Zet. “It’s a patriotic name, and I hope it is a sign that victory will come soon.”
Moving on from dogs to cats. Everybody knows what happened in Mariupol: Under bombs and shelling, people fled the city, leaving their pets behind. They believed they would be returning soon, maybe even within a day, but alas they were not able to. As a result, the city was overrun by formerly beloved, now skeletal abandoned pets wandering around and searching for scraps in the garbage heaps. Or, even worse, pets who had been inadvertently left locked up in the abandoned homes and crying for help through the windows. In a few cases, the neighbors might come and rescue them. Neighbors who had not been able to flee because they had nowhere to go, or had to stay to look after an invalid, for example. Now starving themselves, these kindly neighbors would feed the animals with whatever they had left: a piece of salted fish, some rotting potato, a crust of bread…
There is a woman in Mariupol named Evgenia Mikhailovna, who has set up a rescue shelter called “Cat Home”. Evgenia drives around the streets all day, especially in the most ruined neighborhood, collecting stray cats. Often the animals just hurl themselves at her hopefully the moment she approaches; but if they are shy, she can entice them into her car, using a scrap of food as bait. Every trip brings as many as 30-90 heads of cat. That’s a lot of cats! She takes them back to her shelter, feeds them, heals them if they are sick, and then adopts these Donbass felines out to cat-lovers all over Russia. [yalensis: Russians are one of those nations on the planet who adore cats and dogs, especially cats.]
The reporter contacted Evgenia to ask her if she has any contacts in the Russian army, whether they help her in her humanitarian mission.
Evgenia: Two months ago, that was November, we were bringing a cat from Popasna to Moscow, to the family of a soldier named Kirill. This young man has rescued many cats. He finds them out on the front lines, brings them back to his unit and feeds them. Then he contacts our organization, and we go to fetch the cats. This is the only soldier whom we currently have dealings with, but we have let it be known that if soldiers want to adopt a cat after they return to their civlian lives, they just need to let us know.
Next: A Hero’s Death, Plus Martha the Cat
[to be continued]