Mounds of abandoned clothes and other personal items lie strewn along corridors leading out of Ukraine. The farther people carry their things, the harder it is, so they leave them behind, said Ludmila Sokol, a gym teacher fleeing Zaporizhzhia in the south.
But their pets, they keep alongside them.
Everywhere amid the exodus of more than 2.5 million refugees fleeing Russia’s invasion are the pets people could not leave behind: birds, rabbits, hamsters, cats and dogs.
People fleeing the outskirts of Kyiv crowded together under a destroyed bridge, carrying little luggage and abandoning their vehicles on the road. But their pets remained with them.
One woman ferried her dog across an improvised bridge over the Irpin River amid the evacuation. Another at a train station in Poland nuzzled her orange cat, nose to nose.
A young girl wrapped in an aluminized blanket hugged her two Chihuahuas close as she made the crossing into Medyka, Poland.
And in Siret, Romania, a young mother helped her toddler drink from a paper cup as she cuddled her white Chihuahua. Nearby, a Maltese puppy peered out of a plastic bag filled with toothpaste, shampoo and hand lotion.
Grasping her fluffy white dog, an elderly woman who made it to Romania collapsed in exhaustion in a ballroom converted into a refugee shelter.
Hundreds of thousands are displaced inside Ukraine as well, after fleeing assaults on their hometowns. An 84-year-old woman who gave only her first name, Antonina, sat in a wheelchair at a triage point in Kyiv, holding a miniature poodle and clutching the leashes of her 11 other little dogs after being evacuated from the town of Irpin.
Victoria Trofimenko said she felt an obligation to keep not only her family but her pets safe.
The 42-year-old had originally never planned to leave Kyiv, she told The Associated Press by Zoom days after the war started.
But as the missiles and explosives rained down she thought about her duty to protect her 18-year-old daughter, 69-year-old mother – and her dog, Akira, and cat, Galileo.
She bought train tickets to head west, eventually ending up in Prague. She said she first arrived in Hungary, though, and was grateful to have Akira by her side for protection.
“I can’t leave dogs or cats. I have to take responsibility,” she said.