Victorian vet team bound for war-torn Ukraine to help animals in need


A couple from regional Victoria will fly to war-ravaged Ukraine to help animals caught in the conflict.

A vet of 24 years Emma Tomkins and her wife, vet nurse, Pauline Lillie, own and run Hepburn Veterinary Clinic in Daylesford.

The pair were heartbroken when information and images of animals suffering began filtering through from Ukraine when Russia invaded in February.

Over the past six months, the UN Refugee Agency estimates more than six million people have fled to neighbouring countries with countless pets and animals left behind.

Compelled to make a difference with their skills, the couple contacted Worldwide Vets, a not-for-profit organisation that provides vet care and food to animals in Ukraine through a dedicated team of vets and animal carers.

“To get the animals to where the help is, that’s the modus operandi so to speak,” Ms Tomkins told ABC Victoria’s Statewide Drive program.

With their passports at the ready, the couple plans to board a flight to the Romanian city of Suceava on September 8, then travel to the small city of Vinnytsia, in west-central Ukraine.

Vinnystia is located about six hours from the front line of the war and is considered to have low military action.

“The Breaking Chains workers, who are mostly ex-military, will go into the areas that have been bombed and decimated to pick up the animals, then ferry them back to where we will be,” Ms Tomkins said.

Ms Tomkins said she and Ms Lillie anticipated they would mainly provide healthcare to dogs and cats during their month-long stint.

“It’ll be a challenge for us to work in a strange environment together; hopefully we can assist each other well,” she said.

The veterinarian said, ahead of winter in the northern hemisphere, de-sexing animals was a top priority.

“Puppies and kittens are being born all the time,” Ms Tomkins said.

“Winter is coming along, so we’re going to have no access once the snow makes all the roads impassible to get food and medical treatment to animals still in the conflict zone.”

Online community rallies around couple’s mission

The couple’s accommodation, food, PPE, and transfers into Ukraine from Romania will be covered by Worldwide Vets.

To cover the cost of their return flights from Ukraine to Romania, and required travel vaccinations, a crowd-funding campaign has been launched for the couple.

So far, just over $9,000 of their $20,000 goal has been raised by the public.