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Refugee Status of Non-Human Animals During the Ukrainian Crisis

Rebecca Critser and Debra Hamilton


  • Internationally, the refugee status of pets as part of human flight from harm such as disasters and warfare, varies with pet record requirements at national borders. While European Union Regulations mandates certain requirements at border crossings, countries may receive some degree of exemption
  • The United States’ Pets Act of 2006, enacted after floods in Katrina revealed the degree to which people endanger themselves to protect their pets, requires agencies to include pets in emergency planning.
  • National (FEMA) and state Emergency Management Groups (EMGs) vary in resources dedicated to house pets and people in shelters. and adequately anticipate pet owner needs. Additional advocacy is needed in working with federal and state representatives to expand the Pet Act of 2006 to cross borders.
Refugee Status of Non-Human Animals During the Ukrainian Crisis

On February 24, 2022, Russia invaded eastern Ukraine under false pretenses of Nazi-occupation and forced millions of Ukrainians to flee their homes. The most unusual pictures kept showing up on the front of newspapers around the world. A man carries his injured German Shepard across the Ukrainian-Polish border. A cat cuddles and provides comfort to a child wrapped in their mother’s arms. A family crosses the Hungary border carrying a bag full of puppies. Looking back on similar evacuations of families during a war crisis, reports never showed the sheer number of people taking their pets with them and being allowed to cross the border.

Checking historic reports about the 2014 exodus from Ukraine during a previous invasion by Russia did not yield any significant evidence that people evacuating war took their pets with them. It may mean that it did not get significant press coverage or maybe it didn’t happen or maybe pets were not allowed into other countries as refugees.

Now, in early 2022, this is all we see, pets are the new refugee. During these weeks of war, it has been incredible to watch people, who have lost their home and normal ways of life, keep their pets with them. Fortunately, governments across the world have taken action to accommodate those traveling with their pets. EU Regulation 576/2013 mandates certain pet record requirements at border crossings. However, article 32 of that regulation allows for exceptions to be made. On March 17th, the Chief Veterinary Officer of Poland issued a formal exception to the EU mandated pet records requirements at border crossings. Similarly, India’s Minister for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry, and Dairying issued a “one-time relaxation” on pets entering the country. A full list of countries that have relaxed pet requirements at the border can be found at the IFAW website.

These regulatory exceptions focus on pets, which include cats and dogs and occasionally other animals. But it does not extend to many animals including other domesticated animals, farmed animals, or animals in the zoo. Despite this, there have been reports of humans successfully moving zoo animals out of eastern Ukraine. For example, Akyla, the lion, was relocated from a zoo in southeast Ukraine to Romania. Four Paws also worked to move bears in captivity out of Kyiv and into a sanctuary in Lviv. Even farmed animals have been welcomed in some instances. For example, according to Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and Species Unite, Casa lui Patrocle in Romania is offering veterinary assistance to all species of animals, including farmed animals, in an effort to aid Ukrainian refugees. Unfortunately, some owners of horses had to set them free to scavenge for food and hopefully survive the constant shelling and freezing temperatures. International racing and horse competition associations, along with horse rescues, are fundraising to provide feed and support the humans who stayed with the animals.

Despite the efforts of neighboring countries to increase the ease with which pets can cross the borders, many pets have still been left behind. Some individuals have stayed behind to care for these strays. One such human who stayed in Ukraine to help the animals was Anastasiia Yalanskaya, a 26-year-old woman who sadly died by gunfire in early March while delivering dog food to a shelter.

Fortunately, efforts to support the animals still in eastern Ukraine have received financial support from many organizations involved in animal welfare. These agencies have put together fundraising events to help defray the cost of providing food, medical care, and shelter for pets and their people. More information on these efforts and the numerous organizations supporting animals in and from Ukraine can be found here.

With the change in status of our pets has come an unexpected choice people are making in the face of danger. When disasters arise, people refuse to evacuate if they cannot take their pets. In the United States we discovered this anomaly during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 when people died because they stayed behind with their pets. Before Katrina, emergency management groups [EMGs] had no understanding of how important animals are to their humans and did not plan for pets to be evacuated. After Katrina, local, state, and federal EMGs recognized the need to address animals in evacuation. People would rather give up their lives and stay with their pets then leave their pets alone to die. EMGs needed to create an evacuation plan that included pets. The spaces they created for evacuation now need to accommodate humans and their pets. EMGs brought pet owners in to help build this plan.

Recent legislation in the United States recognized this shift in importance of our pets. In 2006, H.R.3858 - Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 was passed. It states, “To ensure that state and local emergency preparedness operational plans address the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals prior to, during, and following a major disaster or emergency.” The Pet’s Act of 2006 was written as an answer to the death and devastation experienced by pet owners during Hurricane Katrina.

Given all the information being shared about this war on social media and in news articles and the experiences of Hurricane Katrina, people are now noticing the need to include animals in disaster plans. If you have a domesticated animal, you might want to do one or more of these three things:

  1. Plan for your animal’s emergency evacuation from your home.
  2. Work with your local community to build a practice of educating domesticated animal owners on what to do if an emergency arises. Then help them build their own plan to save themselves and their animals.
  3. Ask your federal and state representatives to work with you and local emergency management to expand the Pet Act of 2006 to cross borders.

Tonight, as you look into the eyes of your beloved cat, dog, parrot, horse, or other loved non-human animal, remember to plan for their evacuation. Work together with your community to help them, help you, make successful evacuation plans a reality. Work with your state and Federal emergency management groups as collaborative partners to build a plan that helps everyone get out safely.

The authors would like to thank Hanna Tereshko for her personal insights and contribution to this article. Hanna is an Animal Law LLM Student at Lewis & Clark Law School and is currently in Ukraine. She welcomes the support of the Animal Law Community, and if you wish to connect with Hanna, you can do so at