‘I’m driving into Ukraine warzone because I can’t watch innocent animals suffer’

Lisa Buck was horrified by the news that Ukranian volunteer Anastasiia Yalanskaya, 26, had been killed after dropping off dog food to a shelter. But rather than put her off, the Norfolk animal lover instead took action….

“It was hearing on the news about desperate people in Ukraine running back to their animals and getting shot that made me stand up from the sofa one night, turn to my husband Bill, and say ‘I have to do something’.

I’m a ‘doer’, not a talker, and I knew animals would be suffering just as the civilians are right now in Ukraine. The thought of them being hungry and homeless wrenched at my heart.

At home in Norfolk I’ve got three dogs, two horses and a rescued pig. I’ve loved and worked with animals all my life. I have no idea how I would cope if I was having to run for my life leaving my animals behind. I honestly don't think I could do it.

I'm not judging people who do – because I've never been in that situation, thankfully. But I knew I needed to do something.

Bill, 56, who’s a caretaker, loves animals just as much as I do, so he was fully behind the idea of me travelling to the Ukraine border with pet supplies and staying there for three weeks, helping ferry around animals in need.

My intention was to take my van and help the people who’d come across the border but couldn’t find anywhere to stay because they had their pets with them. They're stuck with nowhere to go.

I contacted the founder of UK based vegan charity Viva! Juliet Gellatley, saying ‘Can I help do this?’ They also have a branch in Poland.

They agreed and I didn't want to go with an empty van.

Only a week ago, I posted on Facebook asking for donations of pet food. And I asked local shops to make donation boxes available for customers willing to help.

It just snowballed from there. We’ve been flooded with so many kind donations we keep having to repack the van. Every time the doorbell goes with more packages I feel a lump in my throat from the generosity.

I've had to turn down offers of food from pet food manufacturers because I just haven't got space – I'm already planning a return trip in April.

I’m leaving Norfolk on Sunday, taking the Eurotunnel to France Monday morning, staying a night in Germany, and then next Tuesday morning I'll be in Poland.

Obviously I'm not trying to go across into Ukraine itself, there are assembly points before the border. It won’t be danger-free, but these are risks I felt I needed to take, to make sure the things that people had given me were going directly to those in need.

I've got an array of dog food, cat food, blankets, pet carriers, little water drinkers for animals travelling in cages – just a mixture of all sorts of stuff you wouldn't be able to carry in the situation these desperate people are in.

Bill and I have cried many times. People have turned up in my house in tears, giving me things that belonged to their dogs who have passed away. One lady said it was hard to part with a special blanket, but what more worthwhile cause could there be?

Of course I feel vulnerable about being out of my comfort zone – I’m a 51 year old woman travelling alone towards a war zone! And I’m not sure where I will sleep yet, or wash, but I’m not a princess.

Because the van is so jam-packed with pet supplies I’m only taking one change of clothes and some overalls. I’m going to stink! I’ve bought a 12V kettle for the van and I'm packing some vegan pot noodles to sustain me. I put on so much weight from the menopause, losing a few pounds won’t kill me.

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I have a different perspective on life since I nearly died last October. I was helping to birth a calf that a local farmer had asked me to keep an eye on. I’d had to pull out the calf and hold her upside down as she wasn’t breathing – this drains away the mucus from the lungs. But the protective mummy cow became aggressive and turned on me, headbutting me into a corner. I broke my shoulder, my sternum, my ribs and sustained quite big head injuries to one side.

Somehow, with blood spurting over my eyes, I managed to call for an ambulance using Siri on my phone and was helicoptered to hospital where I was in intensive care for days.

Luckily I’m fully recovered now. And this mission has given me a new lease of life.

I'm not dead, I'm able to drive the van, and I have some really kind people behind me who cannot do enough to help. I’m not suffering war myself, I’m just driving a van really.

There's a big push for rescuing the dogs that are already in the sanctuary to make space for those in the wild. Apparently ten cats turned up at one o'clock this morning having come out of Ukraine needing to be taken into the sanctuary. There is much help needed.

I don’t feel I’m being totally selfless – this has been brilliant therapy for me to get back up and out and I'm doing something worthwhile so I don’t mind funding this myself.

Despite the horrors of the war, planning this mission has restored my faith in humanity. It’s been beautiful to see everyone pull together to help."

Lisa is donating the fee for this article to the charity Viva!’s rescue campaign. If you’d like to support the cause, see here.

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