15:31 EDT 28 Mar 2022 , updated 12:11 EDT 29 Mar 2022
EXCLUSIVE: ‘The dogs were barking like mad, artillery rounds landing everywhere.’ British army veteran tells how he and his animal rescue team dodged Russian projectiles to save 120 animals trapped in a bombed shelter in Kharkiv
- British Army veteran, Tom, has set out to save abandoned and misplaced animals in war-torn Ukraine with his rescue group, Breaking the Chains
- In a span of 14 days, the charity has already managed to rescue nearly 700 dogs and cats, and deliver over 100 tons of aid to those in need
- ‘What we do is very complex and very dangerous. It’s like a military operation, so to speak,’ Tom told DailyMail.com in a phone interview from Ukraine
- In one recent rescue effort, the crew retrieved 120 animals trapped in a shelter in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city that has been obliterated by Russia
- ‘It was 900 meters from the Russian frontline. There were artillery rounds landing in and around the area while we were extracting the animals,’ he said
- The animals are taken to a ‘safe space’ to be examined, given water, cleaned up, and transported to the border of Romania, where they’ll be placed into shelters
- Tom, who served in the British army for 16 years, founded the charity in 2020, and credits his own dog with helping him with his struggles with PTSD
As Western allies extend their support to displaced Ukrainians amid the ongoing war with Russia, one British Army veteran has set out to rescue the forgotten victims of the invasion – abandoned animals.
Over the course of two weeks, former soldier, Tom, and his UK-based animal rescue group, Breaking the Chains, have saved nearly 700 dogs and cats in the war-torn country and delivered over 100 tons of food and medical supplies to those in need.
The 34-year-old from Yorkshire, northern England, has been on the frontlines in Ukraine helping extract animals from bomb-stricken shelters.
The veteran, who served in the British army for almost two decades, left the armed forces two years ago, but admits trying to carry out such a mission as a civilian is still ‘very complex and dangerous.’
‘It’s like a military operation, so to speak,’ Tom – who asked to keep his last name secret for security reasons – told DailyMail.com in an exclusive phone interview from Ukraine.
British Army veteran, Tom, has been rescuing dogs from bomb-stricken shelters in Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion
Tom reaches out to a dog after dropping off much needed pet food and medical supplies to a Good Samaritan who has taken in stray and abandoned animals from the war-torn streets
Rescued dogs and cats in crates as they are transported to safety after being saved from an animal shelter in war-torn Ukraine. Tom and his team work with the animal shelter owners to determine which dogs can be placed together in the crates
‘This is a war, not a natural disaster like a hurricane or a tornado. There are so many factors you need to be aware of. We need to understand the situation. We need to understand the ground. We are working with maps, satellites.’
He continued: ‘There are people crying out left, right and center.
‘It’s not just shelter animals that need our help, you have rescues, you have breeders, you have people that have taken in stray and abandoned animals, there must be at least 1,000 locations that have more than 30 dogs. There are thousands of them.’
In one of his most recent rescue efforts, Tom and his four-man team were able to retrieve 120 animals that were trapped in a bomb-stricken shelter in northeast Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, which has been obliterated by Russian troops.
‘It was a shelter that had been blown up twice. No one could go to it, no one could reach it and help the animals, so we went in,’ he said.
‘It was 900 meters (980 yds) from the Russian frontline. There were artillery rounds landing in and around the area while we were extracting the animals. The dogs were barking like mad, then they settled down.
‘One was trying to bite me because he was scared. They were all scared, but we were able to get all the animals out of there, so that’s good.’ An animal shelter in Kharkiv that was bombed twice. Tom and his team were able to retrieve 120 dogs and cats that are now being held in shelters in Romania
Tom escorts a Saint Bernard to safety after it had been left behind by its owners who were forced to flee
Ukraine Abandoned cats are seen being taken from a shelter in northeast Kharkiv that had been blown up twice
Tom and his crew have been transporting the animals in one vehicle, a long wheelbase dog transport van, throughout the operation.
‘There were 50 different crates already built into it,’ he explained. ‘The shelter owner knows their dogs and knows which ones to put together in the same crate, and we can get three or four cats into the same one. Soon as that van starts driving, they all just go to sleep.’
‘It was quite humorous because when we were driving, some cats escaped from a crate and ended up sleeping on the dashboard. We had one cat on the steering wheel, and two others sitting on our shoulders.’
After nearly 30 hours and 1,100 miles, the animals were brought to what Tom described as a ‘safe place’ where they met with their transport team.
The animals were then examined, given water, cleaned up, and taken to the border of Ukraine where they were met by another transport team which took them to shelters in Romania.
Another rescue involved delivering food and supplies to four shelters in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, and bringing back 50 dogs that were left behind by their owners upon evacuation.
Tom has always been an animal lover. He even put a tiny pup in his pocket while serving with the British army
Yuki, a chihuahua, Tom rescued from a bombed-out shelter in Ukraine. When we drove away, Yuki wouldn’t stop barking, so I opened the cage and said, come on then, and I picked him up and he turned into the softest, most cuddly thing ever and fell asleep on my lap’
The kennel of dogs consisted of mostly larger breeds, all of which were severely emaciated and in need of medical attention.
‘The big challenge that we have is with the shelters because they have anywhere between 500 to 600 animals. Right now the maximum we can retrieve is about 100 dogs and cats,’ Tom explained.
‘Ideally, we would like to get three more vehicles, two sprinters and a four by four pick-up. This way we could have more teams on the ground.
‘This would give us time to save more animals from other places and deliver more food and supplies.’
Tom’s vision for the displaced animals of Ukraine extends far beyond rescuing them from their volatile country.
Breaking the Chains had teamed up with UK-based animal rescue, Dog Bus Rescue, and together they will expand upon a current shelter in Romania that will house some 1,200 animals.
A curious cat pokes its head out of a covered crate while being transported to the Ukrainian-Romanian border where it will be taken to a safe shelter
A sweet looking St. Bernard was among 50 malnourished dogs rescued by Tom and his team. The pups were all large breeds that had been left behind when their owners evacuated the country
Tom created Breaking the Chains animal rescue after serving in the British army for over thirty years. He credits dogs for saving his life more than once including one special dog that helped him during his struggles with PTSD which inspired Tom to devote his life saving animals
‘The shelter will be beautiful, with lots of outdoor space and a heated interior. Once there, the dogs will be examined, vaccinated and quarantined before going to other shelters across Europe where they will be adopted out to their forever homes.’
Volunteers are encouraged to contact Dog Bus Rescue directly if they are interested in coming to Romania to help build the shelter.
Having served in the British army for 16 years, Tom says he’s an expert when it comes to working in conflict zones.
‘I joined the army at the age of 16. So from 16 until two years ago, I have been conditioned to warfare,’ he said.
‘I was in the infantry, Iraq, Afghanistan. I have traveled all over the world. To me this is normal because this is all that I know.’
In 2020, Tom founded Breaking the Chains, a rescue group aimed at raising awareness and helping innocent animals around the world, especially dogs which he credits for saving his life more than once.
The animal lover and his team are also delivering tons of pet food and medical supplies to an animal shelter in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. To date, they have brought over 100 tons of food to various locations in desperate need of help
Tom bottle feeding a black furry puppy
Tom kisses a dog that had been abandoned by his owners when they fled the country
‘I have always loved animals. I grew up with animals, had them as a kid all my life. I worked alongside them in the military and they saved my life more times than I can count, both physically and mentally,’ said Tom.
‘When I was discharged from the British army with complex PTSD, I was in a really bad place so I got a dog who was also in a really bad place and together we helped each other. That’s what made me truly understand the power of animals and what they bring to us.
‘From that moment, I decided you know what I am going to make the world a safer place for animals and ever since that I have been doing what I am doing.
Back home in England, Tom has five dogs, including Gypsy, the devoted dog he adopted during his struggles with his post-traumatic stress disorder.
‘Gypsy is still with me. He is a blind Springer Spaniel. He is a veteran himself, bless him.’
Donations to Breaking the Chains can be made at: https://warpaws.org/donations/aid-for-ukraine-animals/