SYRACUSE, NY (WSYR-TV) — The war in Ukraine has been deadly, destructive, and has displaced thousands from their homes, forcing them to seek refuge in other countries. While doing so, some bring their beloved pets on their journey to safety. 

Dr. David Chico, a Veterinarian at the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has spent years helping animals at the New York State Fair, but for two weeks Chico joined other volunteers on the Ukraine-Poland border with the International Fund for Animal Welfare or IFAW.

The group went over as soon as it looked like war was imminent. 

“If [refugees] had animals, they were directed to our tent and what we did for those evacuees was provide food, provide whatever they needed to continue their journey in a safe manner. So many of the people left very quickly and we saw animals in all kinds of containers like cats carried in purses, birds and people jackets, a mouse and a Chinese food takeout container,” Dr. Chico said.

Chico and other volunteers supplied food, water, leashes, crates, and more. They supplied whatever was needed to help others get where they needed to go.

The most frequent animals that came through the shelters, according to Chico, were purebred animals. The most unusual animals were turtles, and someone was even carrying snails with them. Chico says it was an around-the-clock experience.

“We had an interpreter on each shift. We worked 24/7. I did the overnights and so it would be me and an interpreter. My interpreter was actually a high school kid who was displaced from Ukraine. His parents were still in Ukraine, but he was on his own and so IFA employed them and some other high school students,” Chico said.

Dr. David Chico, Veterinarian

Chico says it was an overwhelming sight, and a priceless feeling to see those grateful faces passing through.

“I think you know for some of the people that they were just overwhelmed. They had just crossed the border in Poland, and now there’s all these groups that are there, giving them whatever they need to help them. I think for a lot of people that was a little bit overwhelming and difficult to understand that we were doing everything for free and that there wasn’t a cost for anything. Once they understood that, they were very happy. It was just great to see the relief on their face and to see that people cared and that they were helping them. And obviously, you know for these people their animals are an important part of their family, or they wouldn’t be traveling long distances with them,” Chico said.

Chico describes his emotional time in Europe:

“The very first person I helped could speak a little bit of English and she needed a cat carrier so we got her cat all situated in a carrier. She had a large suitcase and I asked her if I could walk. You know, I would take her suitcase up to the bus. It was about a quarter-mile and as we were walking, and I said ‘where are you going?’ And she said, ‘I have no idea where I’m going and it just hit me that all of these people are fleeing with their entire life in a suitcase and most of them don’t even know where the next place that they’re going to land is. And it was just overwhelming. It was hard for me to put myself in that situation and try to think from my own perspective. How could I flee my home with one suitcase and not know if I’m ever gonna come back or what I’ll be coming back to.”

“And then when I was coming home, it was also a little bit emotional, because here I am coming back to a pretty fantastic life and the United States and these people are going to continue to struggle and suffer for years. “

Dr. David Chico

He says the journey over there helped restore his faith in humanity.

“Volunteers from all over the world… Everyone speaks a different language, but people just wanted to be there to help these people… To watch everyone come together. And do whatever had to be done to just help these people was amazing.”