29 May 2024

Hermes’ escape from Ukraine

Maria, her son Yehor and their Wheaten Scottie Hermes were battling to survive under heavy bombing in Kharkov, in north-eastern Ukraine. They had lived there all their lives with relatives and friends they had grown up with. But it was no longer a safe place, and they needed to escape. I decided I had to help. I reached out via Carole Owen of Texas Scotties who put me in touch with Maria. We chatted for a few weeks, sharing photos, and discussing their situation. They made the decision to apply for visas and come and stay with us in Derbyshire. While our government sponsored the extraction of dogs for free there was a high risk they could get lost in the system and end up in a sad state, anywhere in the UK. But Maria couldn’t fund a private extraction for Hermes which would get him into quarantine near us. STECS kindly stepped in.

Together, and with the help from Jayne Blincow and Gill Simms, trustees of the Scottish Terrier Emergency Care Scheme (STECS), we came up with a plan. I contacted Mike and James, volunteers from Yorkshire who were driving an old minibus into Lviv, collecting families and their pets and bringing them back via ferry to the UK. I paid for Hermes’ cabin on the ferry and STECS agreed to pay for his quarantine in Derbyshire.

Kharkov is about 2000 miles away from the UK, so there were several routes they could take. They were coming out the quickest way, via Poland, Germany and Holland. But the journey was arduous and took five days in total. They left Lviv at dawn under air-raid sirens and drove straight to the Polish border.

The minibus broke down when they were in Germany and because it was a bank holiday no garages were open. After spending a couple of nights on a youth hostel the minibus was declared unfixable. So, they had to hire two cars to get them all to the ferry in Holland. When they arrived at Dover in the UK, Hermes was immediately taken into quarantine and driven to Chesterfield.

We finally welcomed the family in person when they arrived in Derbyshire at the beginning of June.

They were exhausted and emotionally devastated at being separated not only from their family back in Kharkov but also from their beloved Hermes.

We managed a few more visits to Hermes in quarantine before we passed the home check three weeks later and he was then allowed to come home. He needed to be isolated within our home for three months. So, we divided the house with baby gates. Hermes stayed upstairs while my own dogs remained downstairs. When they finally met, Hermes was taken under their wing as a student.
When he was in the Ukraine, before the war, Hermes would usually amuse himself at the local dog park. He does the same here now with his new stepbrothers. My dogs have taught him to chase squirrels, and to bark at the postman.

Since being in the UK Maria and Yehor have developed a liking for fish and chips, chocolate oranges, Yorkshire tea, and even had an ‘99’ icecream from an icecream van – which they’d only ever seen in the movies! For our part, we tried Borscht soup and dumplings. Collectively we have enjoyed finding out about each other’s cultures. Over time they have settled into everyday life in the UK. Maria, a qualified lawyer, found a job supporting a social worker, and Yehor is enrolled in the local school studying for his A-levels with a view to taking a degree in computer science.
Maria comments: “It’s desperately sad to have left our home and members of our family in the Ukraine. But we are so grateful for the kindness of people in STECS and in the UK (particularly Rebecca and her wonderful family and dogs) for helping us and Hermes. We’re fortunate to have found new friends here. And above all else, we pray that peace comes soon in the Ukraine.”
For our part, our lives have been enriched in ways we couldn’t ever have imagined. We hope one day to be able to visit Maria, Yehor, Hermes and the rest of the family in the Ukraine. That is our sincere wish.

Rebecca Johnson

If you would like to host a Ukrainian family, please click here and Sunflower sisters a volunteer organisation who matches families on Facebook.