BORODIANKA, Ukraine (Reuters) – Eleven-year-old Veronika Krasevych crouched down in the rubble near the ruins of her home in northern Ukraine, holding out a sachet of food to two ragged cats at her feet.
Almost a year earlier, Russian shells had rained down on her family’s ninth-floor apartment in the town of Borodianka, as they huddled in the basement.
As soon as it was safe, she went out to search for her cat Masik.
“I wanted to feed him and then I saw all the other cats here. I felt sorry for them.”
And so started Veronika’s mission to look after the pets who, just like her, had lost their homes in the chaos of war.
“I look for stray cats to make sure they have food. I even know where they live,” said Veronika, wearing a woolly hat decorated with a cat’s nose and whiskers.
She eventually did find Masik, but he had gone feral. “We wanted to take him home but it was not possible any longer … he did not want to come with us.”
Now Masik is one of the regulars at her feeding sessions, rushing up when she arrives, then retreating into his new home away from the wrecked playground at the foot of the ruined apartment block.
The conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people, forced millions to flee and reduced whole towns to rubble has also had a deep impact on the pets and animals left behind in the wreckage, said Veronika’s mother Oksana.
“I have never seen animals shrink away so much as they did during the explosions,” she said.
Above her head, the exposed walls of the family’s flat were still visible, as were some of Veronika’s possessions that had tumbled down to the fifth floor. Russia denies intentionally targeting civilians.
They now live with friends about 20 minutes walk away, waiting for the government to find them a new apartment.
“This war, this ‘liberation’ … I hope we will win it,” said Oksana, tearing up as she reached out to hug her daughter. “I will not cry.”