Rescued puppies bring morale boost to Ukrainian soldiers

Engulfed in brutal fight with the Russians around Kherson, abandoned animals bring an unexpected lifeline of joy during the horrors of war

DEFENCE EDITOR, IN BASHTANKA and Ilya 30 July 2022 • 1:35pm

Note from UT: apart from the important issue of morale, there is an even more vital one:

“Every day, we successfully hit the Russians,” he said. “But the artillery is outdated and now we are waiting for new supplies for weapons systems with a higher range of fire. We still use this weaponry efficiently, but reclaiming Kherson depends on how quickly we receive Western weapons.”

For the war-weary soldiers serving on one of the deadliest frontlines in Ukraine, Chila and Bagira have proven an unexpected lifeline. 

But they are not fresh recruits nor new powerful weapons – they are puppies. 

“Now we have something other than fighting to keep ourselves busy with,” Victor Yurchuk, commander of 63rd Brigade, told The Telegraph, as he held a puppy in each arm.

His brigade is an artillery unit currently focused on reclaiming territory around Kherson. The fight to retake the key city from the Russians in the south is widely seen as the next big battle in the war.

The Ukrainian military said on Saturday it had killed scores of Russian soldiers and destroyed two ammunition dumps in fighting in the Kherson region, as well as cut off rail traffic over the Dnipro River.

Cdr Victor Yurchuk with one of the puppies being looked after by Ukrainian soldiers
Cdr Victor Yurchuk with one of the puppies being looked after by Ukrainian soldiers CREDIT: Paul Grover for The Telegraph
The puppies have become 'mascots' for the 63rd Brigade
The puppies have become ‘mascots’ for the 63rd Brigade CREDIT: Paul Grover for The Telegraph

Cdr Yurchuk, 52, has been in the army all his life. Having started his military career as an officer in the Russian artillery during the 1990s, he was until recently working with the German military. 

For him, the puppies are not just cute fodder for photographs, but imperative for improving the mental health of his exhausted soldiers after months of battle and boosting their morale, as Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the south ramps up.

“Since the war started, it’s been very hard for everyone and having these dogs is a big distraction and brings joy to the soldiers,” he said from his base in the north-east of Mykolaiv.

“The dogs are the soul of our crew and team. Just as any human has a soul, puppies do too and they add to the team just by being here. They have become our mascots.”

Cdr Yurchuk explained how the soldiers wash the puppies every day, feed them and play with them when they are on break from their duties. 

“There is a misconception in war that everyone should be angry and ready to fight all the time, but we try to remain humans and the puppies remind us that in the end it is love that wins,” he said. 

The puppies were brought to them by a nearby resident in the town of Bashtanka, who found them abandoned by their mother and struggling to survive.

Oksana Yerema, a 33-year-old mother-of-one, had been living with extended family after her own home in the town was destroyed by Russian shelling in late March.

Unable to keep them herself, her family said the kindest thing to do would be to drown them. 

Instead, she decided to reach out to the military to see if they could find a home there.

“The soldiers need support as never before and the puppies need genuine love,” Ms Yerema said. “I feel that they need each other now in these hard times.”

Oksana Yerema donated the puppies to the  63rd Brigade
Oksana Yerema donated the puppies to the 63rd Brigade CREDIT: Paul Grover for The Telegraph
Cdr Victor Yurchuk says: 'The dogs are the soul of our crew and team'
Cdr Victor Yurchuk says: ‘The dogs are the soul of our crew and team’CREDIT: Paul Grover for The Telegraph

And times are hard – both for residents and for Ukrainian troops.

Cdr Yurchuk said that although his troops are making gains in their southern offensive, the weaponry they are using is slowing their progress. He pointed to a Soviet 2S1, a self-propelled howitzer. 

“Every day, we successfully hit the Russians,” he said. “But the artillery is outdated and now we are waiting for new supplies for weapons systems with a higher range of fire. We still use this weaponry efficiently, but reclaiming Kherson depends on how quickly we receive Western weapons.”

Russians shell the area between three and four times a day and due to the fact they need three times the amount of manpower and artillery to respond, his brigade is working round the clock to win this war. 

But his soldiers are running on empty – and that’s where the puppies come in.

Vitaliy Shapaychuk enjoys returning from frontline duties to play with the puppies
Vitaliy Shapaychuk enjoys returning from frontline duties to play with the puppies CREDIT: Paul Grover for The Telegraph

Vitaliy Shapaychuk, 40, a radio communications specialist with 63rd Brigade, said returning from the frontline to play with the puppies is a lifeline. 

“They charge me with positive energy,” he said. “They distract me. Since they have come on base, everyone is feeling happier.”

4 comments

  1. For this vital operation, they are going to need 60-100,000 troops, with modern weaponry, modern armoury and plenty of MLRS’s.
    It’s a bloody disgrace that this kit is still not in theatre. And where is the air defence for the third most shelled city in Ukraine: Mykolaiv?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Comment from DT reader MARY LOUGHLIN:

    “A really lovely story and beautiful photos. Its all so very, very sad. The Ukranian people do seem to love their animals yet so many by necessity were abandoned and thus blown to pieces.
    Putin has turned Ukraine upside down but also all of Europe economically. Taking our time and letting this war drag on is not in our interests and we should load Ukraine with enough weapons ro finish this off by the end of the year if not sooner.
    Putin is simply pure evil, but his pretence at being powerful is just that. A sadistic maniac who must fall sooner rather than later.”

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Comment from DT reader Carpe Jugulum:

    “And there is the difference between humanity and the murdering filth of the Russian army.
    At what depth of depravity does a creature torture and mutilate a prisoner of war? At what deeper level does it make ‘sense’ to video that torture and mutilation and boast of it? And what army tolerates that behaviour?
    The Russian army are now that video. A s*b-human tide of filth that revels in profoundly perverted violence rather than the tool used by professional armies.
    They need to be wiped from the face of the Earth.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Reply to Carpe Jugulum from Simon Coulter:

      “Don’t for a moment imagine that was a casual, amateur, unauthorised video.
      Russia has a special squad which makes them for Telegram and elsewhere.”

      Liked by 2 people

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