Aid convoy functions as Noah’s Ark for pets

Refugees arrive with beloved animals, including 11 cats, 10 dogs and a guinea pig

Victoria Moreva fled Donetsk in 2014 when war broke out between Russian separatists and the Ukrainian army in Donbass. She hoped the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol would lead to a quieter life.

It has now been shelled to near-destruction by the Russian military along with her home. She had got a job working in an animal rescue shelter in Mariupol so when she got a chance to escape she left with 18 cats and a beautiful Yakutian Laika dog named Beilish.

She and her daughter, also called Victoria, deposited some of the cats with households in Ukraine and brought the rest via Slovakia to France where they heard through an online platform about a convoy of Tesla electric cars travelling to Ireland organised by former journalist and now media consultant Tom McEnaney. Mr McEnaney has been involved in charities operating in eastern Europe for 25 years.

The Morevas asked if they could join the convoy and their request was accepted. One of their cats was called Seamus, entirely a coincidence given that the tabby is now in the home of Seamuses. They just liked the name.

Domestic life

They arrived into Dublin Port on the Irish Ferries boat from Cherbourg along with 40 other Ukrainian refugees, 10 dogs, 11 cats and a guinea pig.

Many of the refugees could not bear to be parted from their pets, as they remind them of the life they had before the Russian invasion.

Barbara Fursenko brought her five-year-old Shih Tzu Sheldon. She and her family are from Zaporizhzhia which has also been heavily damaged by Russian artillery. It has taken them seven days to reach Ireland overland from Ukraine.

“He is a member of our little family. He has been brilliant and brave. He is a very patient dog,” she said of Sheldon who looked none the worse for his marathon odyssey.

Tetiana Onischenko (62) came on her own to Ireland from Mariupol. She escaped through Rostov-on-Don in Russia into Georgia. "Everything has been destroyed," she said. "I have left everything behind me in Mariupol. I have to find out how to live again."

Mr McEnaney said the volunteers who travelled to Poznan to pick up the refugees all met online through the Irish Tesla-owners Facebook page.

Tesla convoy

The convoy travelled through the UK landbridge via Harwich on the way out but could not come back via the same route because the UK does not allow Ukrainian refugees into the country. They were therefore dependent on the continental route returning to Ireland.

“It’s a very laborious process. In some cases the UK are rejecting some members of families so the whole family cannot travel,” he said.

“It’s all but impossible for Ukrainian refugees to travel through the UK. We could have 22 Teslas in our convoy, but the restricting factor was ferry places on the way back. It was difficult to get ferry places.”

It is the second Tesla convoy to Ukraine – a previous one left in March and brought back 94 people.

“As far as we know we are the only viable option for Ukrainian refugees who are travelling with pets where that pet is a beloved member of the family and not to be left behind. They love their dogs and cats and they are not going to live without them,” he said.

On arrival at Dublin Port, the animals were all microchipped and examined.

Mr McEnaney said he hoped to organise a third convoy to Poland to pick up Ukrainian refugees in the near-future and has a GoFundMe page entitled Ukrainian Refugee Appeal.