Have you ever seen a viral photo and wondered what’s the story behind it? Well, sometimes the story is more incredible than the photo. And sometimes, the initially reported story is much different than what actually happened. An amazing viral photo of a Ukrainian woman hanging on to nine dogs taken during the battle of Kyiv is one such photo. Anastasiya Tykha, the 20-year-old veterinary student in the photo, was believed to be dead – but in reality, she was alive and well – and doing some incredibly heroic things.
For four years, Anastasiya had been running an animal shelter in Irpin, Ukraine. But when the Russians invaded Ukraine, she decided to flee with her 19 dogs, five cats, two Triton lizards, turtle, chameleon, hamster, and axolotl – and of course, her husband, Arthur Lee. Her town had lost electricity and running water, and her dogs were forced to drink from the shelter’s aquarium.
Anastasiya was reluctant to leave at first, but luckily her friend convinced her to take her menagerie and go. “Snizhana said we had to go or we would be killed, that this was our last chance for us and the animals to survive,” Anastasiya told The Guardian. “And she was right”, added Lee. “Our house was later in the heart of the heavy fighting.”
The couple with their animals in tow walked two miles for three hours to a bridge where the safety of Ukrainian soldiers awaited. The journey wasn’t easy on the dogs. Some of them wouldn’t normally be considered fit to make the trek in the first place. Two collies, Strong and Baileys, had broken spines and were put in wheelchairs. One dog, Life, had amputated legs but refused to use a wheel chair, and instead decided to drag herself along.
The war going on around them also terrified the dogs. Belgian shepherd Pandora bit off part of his tongue in fear, and the sounds scared four dogs so much that they chewed through their leashes and ran away – including the couple’s own dog, Zeus. “I did think at one point that we would not make it,” said Arthur, “but Snizhana called and said there would be a minibus on the other side to help.”
After the couple reached safety, they heroically decided to go back and find the dogs who ran away. But it was easier said than done. The couple and their dogs lived in a sauna for five days, “but every one of those days Anastasiya went to the Ukrainian military checkpoint and demanded that she be allowed through to get the escaped dogs,” said Arthur. The commander refused at first, but eventually gave in.
One dog, Life, had amputated legs but refused to use a wheel chair, and instead decided to drag herself along.
They first walked to an abandoned animal shelter to bring food to hungry dogs. Then, they went home and found Zeus. They also brought back four of the neighbor dogs with them. They crossed the bridge two more times, and found all of the dogs who escaped on their first crossing. The couple eventually crossed the bridge seven times, each time under fire. “There were explosions and shooting but after two weeks of Russian occupation, we were used to it,” Arthur said.
Now, the couple is back in Irpin and their shelter has grown to 30 dogs and 10 cats!
It’s amazing what people will do to make sure our four-legged friends are safe, and it’s during times like this when dogs need their humans the most!