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Meet Nastya Tikhaya — the Hero Saving Disabled Dogs in Ukraine

After this image went viral last week, a reporter tracked down Irpin’s intrepid animal rescuer.

by Sean Zucker
March 19, 2022
Nastya Tikhaya
Photographer Unknown / Reddit

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Following the war in Ukraine from a distance has been devastating. While there are ways to help, it is still hard not to watch the coverage and feel hopeless. Many of the images circulating are also awe-inspiring — capturing the extraordinary strength and spirit of the Ukrainian people.

One such image went viral [above] — of a woman with several disabled dogs fleeing Irpin, just outside Kyiv. Her identity and incredible story recently came to light in a report. Nastya Tikhaya is no stranger to animal rescue. Her family ran a shelter for four years, at first taking in street dogs suffering from hypothermia and helping them find homes. Before the invasion, she was caring for 19 dogs, including many amputees in wheelchairs.

“What is the difference — sick or healthy? Their lives are no less valuable.”

“What is the difference — sick or healthy? Their lives are no less valuable. They are all very good. These invalids have suffered very much at the hands of man. We have a disabled dog — they just broke his spine with a stick,” she told the reporter when asked why she chose to save the disabled dogs. The photo was taken when Tikhaya and her husband, Arthur Lee, were leading as many animals as they could to the bridge out of Irpin that was destroyed by Russian troops.

With the help of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, they were able to escort the dogs across wooden planks over the river. “We had some dogs that were barely walking at all. My husband was carrying a bloody dog, half of its hind legs were missing,” she said. “The Territorial Defense people grabbed everyone, carried us over the bridge themselves, put us in a car. A huge thank you to them.” 

Tikhaya and Lee’s heroic act was not limited to dogs — they also evacuated five cats, a chameleon, a turtle, and a hamster. Sadly, not every animal finished the journey. Four of the dogs ran away back towards Irpin after hearing the explosions, but Tikhaya told the reporter that she hopes to go back and find them when the city becomes quieter. 

To help the animals of Ukraine, your best bet is to donate to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

To help the people of Ukraine, here are a few humanitarian aid organizations accepting donations:

Save the Children
This UK-based organization’s Ukraine crisis-relief fund is getting cash, food, water, hygiene kits, and psychological support to families.

MANNA Worldwide
This nonprofit supports children in impoverished communities in the US and abroad. Its Ukraine fund is helping Ukrainian families evacuate the country.

Global Empowerment Mission
This organization is running a welcome center at the Poland-Ukraine border, along with BStrong, and paying for transportation to relocate refugees.

Humanity & Inclusion
This organization specializes in supporting refugees with physical injuries and disabilities. Donate to its Ukraine appeal fund.

Team Rubicon
This disaster response nonprofit sent a team of doctors to Poland to help refugees, especially children, women, disabled persons, and LGBTQIA+ individuals. Donate here to support its efforts.

The Kyiv Independent
Support vital journalism by donating to Ukraine’s media outlet via GoFundMe or via Patreon.

Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.