Move over Benji. Step aside, Lassie. There’s a new celebrity dog in town. Her name is Yola. She is a Siberian Husky who lived in the once-beautiful port city of Mariupol, Ukraine. Yola is one of the main characters in “Escape from Mariupol: A Survivor’s True Story,” a nonfiction that I recently co-authored with Yola’s owner, Adoriana Marik.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Yola sheltered with Adoriana in a dark and freezing cold basement beneath a high-rise building in downtown Mariupol. Yola huddled beside Adoriana as deafening aerial shelling occurred 24/7 while an intense gun battle raged in the streets above. Adoriana risked her life for Yola when she left the shelter one afternoon and stole a bag of kibble from a nearby pet store where other looters searched for pet food.
In the early months of the war, Yola had an important job to do. She needed to comfort Adoriana during many dark and hopeless days and nights underground. She also had to protect her.
Painted self-portrait by Adoriana
Suffice it to say, Yola has experienced an extraordinary life in her two and a half years on this earth. Although five weeks underground and several weeks of traveling through Russian-occupied territory with her owner was rough, Yola was relatively lucky compared to other dogs and cats from Mariupol. Many civilians left their homes without their pets at the start of the war. Dogs and cats were trapped in empty apartments, forced to die in the collapsed and burnt-out structures or starve to death. Some heartless owners left their dogs chained to posts outside while stray dogs prowled the corpse-infested streets in search of food and water.
Ukrainian officials report that about 25,000 civilians died in Mariupol in the early months of Russia’s invasion. How many family pets died, I wonder? How many suffer to this day? I recently made a purchase at Petco and was asked by the cashier if I wanted to donate to save a dog in Ukraine. “Hell, yes!” I said.
Yola on the mountain top
There are many animal welfare programs and shelters in Ukraine and they are all desperate for donations to assist with dogs that have been abandoned or neglected during Russia’s senseless war. Ukrainians and their pets face a cold and brutal winter. If you have a dog lover in your life, why not donate on their behalf this Christmas?
As for dear Yola, you can read more about her heroic efforts to escape war-torn Ukraine with her owner and find safety in “Escape from Mariupol: A Survivor’s True Story,” to be released on December 6, 2022.