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The Former ‘Killing Factory’ For Ukrainian Strays That Became A Sanctuary

This Article is an Extract from RFE/RL

Christopher Miller 

When Tamara Tarnavska peered through a hole in the fence surrounding a mysterious compound in this quiet neighborhood on the southern outskirts of Kyiv, what she saw horrified her.

Dogs and cats — hundreds of them — were being rounded up and killed in such “brutal” ways that Tarnavska says she doesn’t want to describe the disturbing scene again.

It was a “killing factory,” Tarnavska says, where “animal hunters” had for decades taken strays to be “liquidated.”

After she published a documentary film made using a hidden camera that exposed those activities (editor’s note: Tarnavska worked for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service at the time) Kyiv authorities shut the facility down and made the journalist-cum-activist an offer: she could lease the land free-of-charge for 49 years if she turned it into a sanctuary for strays.

That was 1997.

More than 21 years later, Tarnavska, a Kyiv-born Norwegian who says she’s loved animals since she was a child, still heads the SOS International Animal Protection Society, an animal-rights group in the Ukrainian capital.

“I promised to close this place and build the shelter and stay with animals and protect them,” she says of what became Ukraine’s first such animal shelter.

Since then, she estimates she’s saved more than 20,000 dogs and cats from the streets and the clutches of their would-be killers. All of them have been spayed or neutered in an attempt to help Ukraine get its stray-animal problem under control…..

At Tarnavska’s shelter on a recent, snowy November day, she is housing 328 cats and more than 1,000 dogs that have been saved from such a fate. There is plenty of barking and tail-wagging, but no biting.

Volunteers deliver scraps of meat from supermarkets around Kyiv in a van donated to the shelter. Adorning its side are the words, in English, “Everyone should have a house.”

Hanging on the walls of a small office on the shelter property are news clippings and photographs of Tarnavska alongside former Ukrainian presidents and Western ambassadors.

While the shelter still exists rent-free, taking care of the animals requires a lot of help, time, food, and money. Those costs rise especially in winter, when temperatures are almost continuously below freezing and electricity bills are high.

Now Tarnavska faces yet another challenge. Animal hunters and other heavies whom she claims have been hired by politicians who want to see the land developed are visiting the shelter with greater regularity and harassing her and the animals….

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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