The K9 Global Rescue team, which has stopped at a hypermarket between Kharkiv and Kyiv, is resting on the road to Warsaw after six months of mounting attacks by Russian forces while providing humanitarian and animal assistance.
Founded in 2017, K9 Global Rescue is led by two former US military personnel, Phil and John. K9 Global Rescue is a field organization currently working behind the front lines in Ukraine, transporting food, medical and veterinary supplies to combat zones.
For security reasons, they keep all details of their background and identity vague.
While its original goal was to end the dog meat trade in Korea, K9 is currently evading the constant Russian bombardment, meandering in and out of villages to provide aid where others are not.
Brian Rutter (45), an Irish war photographer who accompanied K9 for two weeks, told of the danger the organizers and volunteers put themselves in.
“My first job at K9, we were targeted on day one. The shells landed a few meters in front of us and a few meters to the left,” said Mr Rutter, who is from Drumcondra, Dublin.
“The Russians had such a strategic advantage then. Drones were in the air, saw where people were, and then they just aimed at us – bombs came and came.
“They knew we weren’t Russians, that’s all they needed to know. We were in a big white van and every time they saw us they would shit bomb us for two or three days.”
Two rescues he particularly remembers were Star and Jack – two dogs they found by the side of the road.
Star, named for the area where she was found, approached K9 in search of food and happily entered the transporter – a process that can sometimes be difficult depending on the animal.
“I got emotional on Star. I spent a lot of time with her and took her for a walk on the way back. It was a two day trip. It’s a long time to spend with a dog you rescued and when we got to Warsaw at the end I couldn’t even say goodbye – I just told them to take them away,” Mr Rutter said.
“I bonded with her emotionally, but knowing there was a happy ending made it easier. She just kept coming out of her shell. I saw her personality while before she was just shocked.”
Jack’s story sheds light on the other side of K9’s operations – not adoptions, but reunions.
“We talk to these ladies – at least you try to talk because you don’t speak the same language. And one of them came up to me around the back of the van and she was just like, ‘Oh, oh’ – she was making all these noises and she was pointing,” Mr Rutter said.
“I realized it was her dog. It was sheer luck that she got into the back of the van.
“We grabbed him a couple of towns down, thinking he was a stray, and it turns out the woman lost him. It was an emotional reunion.”
Mr Rutter has worked as a photographer in Zambia for Unicef with refugees from Lebanon and Syria, in the Calais ‘jungle’ and in other areas from Belfast to Gaza.
K9 Global Rescue co-founder Phil has been deployed to Ukraine since April, some 40 days into the war, focusing on rescuing animals and people from danger zones.
“We went to villages that were inaccessible. In addition to rescuing animals, we also did humanitarian work by taking care of the people in the villages who were unable to walk,” he said.
One example was when they brought groceries and supplies to families living in subway stations.
“It was like Blitz – families living in these makeshift tents and trying to make the best of it. Children and animals everywhere,” said Mr. Rutter.
According to Phil, Russian attacks on their small operation have increased but they continue to avoid serious injury and are undeterred by the aggression, which includes shelling and attacks on their hotel.
“There is no consideration that we are not combative,” he said. “In a way, they target us even more. And I think in relation to what we’ve been doing over here, Russian attacks have actually increased over the past four months.
“In June, 16 rounds were dropped straight at us. They chased us out of a village north of Kharkiv. Our hotel was attacked and hit in Kharkiv. Now we can’t go there because they know where we are.”
K9 Global Rescue can accommodate anywhere from half a dozen to 30 animals depending on the day, most of which are malnourished. They are then taken to the Kharkiv Animal Rescue (ARK), where the volunteers post pictures online, hoping the owners could identify them. One of the most common problems is that the owners could be dead.
If after a week no one claims the animal, ARK proceeds to put them up for adoption, with some going to families as far away as the US.
“I tend to think we’re doing a very good job,” said Phil. “The number of animals we’ve removed and helped in the areas has been quite high.
“Furthermore, nobody else comes to the areas where we are. We are the only non-Ukrainian, non-local group coming in. We go to areas where even the locals wouldn’t go because it’s just so hot.”
The emblematic red cross on their vehicles does little to deter the attacks — the US State Department is filing a war crimes indictment against Moscow over Russia’s focus on K9.
“We are clearly identified as humanitarians,” Phil said.
As an NGO, K9 Global Rescue is financed solely by donations, with part of the costs coming directly from the pockets of the members.
It’s a practice that has become more common as donations dwindle.
With no end in sight, Phil, John and the rest of the volunteers plan to “move on with the war” until it comes to a point where they are no longer needed.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/k9-global-rescue-volunteers-put-their-lives-on-the-line-to-save-pets-in-ukraine-42077699.html K9 Global Rescue volunteers risk their lives to save pets in Ukraine