Friend: Caring for Disabled Dogs in a Shelter in Dnipro
Born in Antwerp, Belgium. Studied photography more than 20 years ago, but started taking photographs actively only in March 2015. Jurgen’s photo stories are about the aftermath of war in Bosnia, the animal shelter in Dnipro, and Ukrainian volunteer battalions.
Last year, I met Li and Noud, a couple who run a b&b in the Ardennes in Belgium and who foster and provide care for disabled dogs. Through them I learned about Drug (“Friend”), a dog shelter in Dnipro, Ukraine. With great intrigue, I contacted Marina Bolokhovets, the founder, through Facebook, and we agreed I should travel to Ukraine to shoot a series of photographs on the subject.
Many people believe organizations such as these are fraudulent, so a witness to tell their story was more than welcome.
Due to the lack of sterilization programs and decades of uncontrolled breeding, tens of thousands of stray dogs wander around Ukraine as they do in most other countries in Eastern Europe. Marina provides care and shelter for stray dogs and any other animals brought in from the warzone. Evgenia Semenova, whom I met during my stay, does the same in Pavlograd, some 80 kms east from Dnipro.
At this moment, there are over 500 dogs living in Marina’s shelter. Currently, she’s trying to establish a sterilization program with the aid of veterinarians and to build some additional shelters in the outskirts of Dnipro with the cooperation of local authorities. The organizations depend entirely on help from volunteers, gifts and voluntary financial contributions. There is almost no government support. A significant amount of funding is raised through their Facebook page, where people can donate via Paypal. Social media is also used to extensively communicate with people worldwide who want to adopt a dog. Many adoptions have proven successful, especially for disabled dogs as prostheses and care for these specific needs are almost non-existent in Ukraine.
Spending five days with Marina was like being on a rollercoaster. We drove from one location to the next, picking up several dogs reported by caring people, some were stray, wandering around Dnipro, some had been run over by cars, and some had been poisoned deliberately — this was horrific.
What these people do is incredibly difficult. Ukraine is still recovering from a turbulent turnover, there’s a war raging in the east which has already killed approximately 9,000 people and left many more wounded and displaced. Committing yourself to such an extent in these circumstances is nothing short of admirable. It takes great love and compassion for animals, but also for life in general. These people walk the distance, every single day, without any hint of preoccupation or self-interest.
The generosity I encountered was overwhelming and tremendous, I was welcomed into homes, presented with gifts, food, and shelter by people I had never met. It was a truly heartwarming experience. This series is dedicated to Marina and Marc, Evgenia, Alesya and Andrei, Ina, Vitaly and Dasha, Ekaterina and Vladimir, Elena, Vitaly and the many others I have met. All beautiful people, serving a beautiful cause.