When CNN hero Aaron Jackson welcomed the first batch of dogs from Ukraine to the reopened abandoned animal shelter in Poland, he also welcomed two refugees who shared an incredible story of survival.
Jackson, the founder of the non-profit organization Sowing Peace, traveled from his Florida home to Poland shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. He estimates that he has helped find shelter for some 300 refugees, including many dog owners who struggled to keep their pets.
“If you were walking through the camps, there were so many refugees who had brought their dogs. And that just makes sense. He’s an extension of his family,” Jackson told CNN.
Jackson learned that dogs coming from the Ukraine had not been allowed to mix with local dogs in Polish shelters due to disease concerns. So, he recently found an empty animal shelter in the city of Poznan and received permission to take over.
An overwhelmed rescue organization in Ukraine was the first to send dogs to the Jackson shelter. He arrived in a van with 17 dogs, along with two refugees, Valerie Liscratenko and her mother, Liliana.
“When they came to us, all they knew was they had no money and nowhere to go,” Jackson said. “And I could see right away that they were good with dogs. … I couldn’t help but notice that all the dogs really loved them.”
She later learned that the two women spent 40 days in a Ukrainian bomb shelter taking care of these dogs.
“The dogs got them through the worst 40 days of (their lives), and (they) got those dogs through the worst 40 days of their lives,” Jackson said.
Through a translator, Liscratenko told CNN that she and her mother have a love for dogs in their blood. Since she was young, they had puppies at home and her mother would sometimes bring stray dogs home to provide them with food and medical care.
The day before the war began, they moved into the bomb shelter with the puppies in their care and secured some older dogs at the nearby factory where Liscratenko worked as a guard.
They went back and forth from the shelter to the factory to feed them. But when the shelling became too intense to continue making the trip, they decided to take the rest of the dogs to the bomb shelter.
Liscratenko said she and her mother waited for the right time one morning, after the nightly curfew ended and before the shelling began, to do their last operation at the factory. They discovered that some dogs were too sick or injured to accompany them, but they rounded up as many dogs as they could and took them back to the bomb shelter. She said that after they reached safety, a bomb exploded right where they had been running.
They didn’t want to leave the bomb shelter, but on May 4, Liscratenko decided to go when the drinking water became contaminated and people and dogs started getting sick.
They found an animal shelter in Ukraine, and people who worked there had seen Jackson’s social media posts about accepting dogs crossing the border. So, they approached him and arranged a trip for the Liscratenkos to accompany the dogs to Poland.
When Liscratenko and her mother arrived at the Planting Peace animal shelter in Poland, Jackson said she noticed that they were nervous and scared.
“They did not know Sowing Peace… they are in a new country. They don’t speak the language. We don’t speak their language,” he said.
As refugees, Jackson said that Planting Peace would have helped the Liscratenkos anyway, but because they were so good with the dogs and had a strong connection with them, he hired them to work at the shelter.
“They know these dogs incredibly well. So, they were able to pass this knowledge on to the vet… ‘this dog hasn’t been eating, this dog hasn’t been drinking.’ So this was obviously incredibly valuable,” he said.
Liscratenko calls the dogs his children and says that they had been through hell together and arrived in paradise. He says that the people in the shelter do not all speak the same language but they understand each other because it is love that unites us.