This is one of an occasional series about life in the midst of war in Ukraine.
OLEKSANDRO-SHULTYNE, Ukraine – The bombing began at night. It rained rockets. In one street, every house exploded, scattering bricks and debris.
At dawn, doctors stationed in the village came out of the cellar and searched for human casualties. Instead, they saw four elderly villagers, all of them unharmed, leading a cow that had been wounded by shrapnel. The doctors decided to treat the cattle.
“We’re used to human doses and don’t know how much painkiller to inject, but find out roughly,” said Volodymyr, a combat medic in the Ukrainian army, who asked to be identified only by his first name to comply with military rules. . “After that, we extracted all the fragments we could find and treated the wounds.”
Home farming is widespread in Ukraine. In frontline villages where most of the residents left because of the war, they did not want to abandon their dairy cows, so they often left behind animals that were so revered that they were considered members of the family.
Religious celebrations also include cows. Their milk provides income. Visitors would be hard-pressed to find a cow in a Ukrainian village whose family didn’t name it. The animal has a special significance in a country with painful memories of the Holodomor created by Joseph Stalin 90 years ago, said its founder Olena Brysenko. YizhakulturaAn independent project about the gastronomic culture of Ukraine.
Separation is heartbreaking. Tetyana, a 53-year-old woman who fled a village near Pakmut last May, left three cows behind. “It’s been almost a year. Sometimes I think I’ve given up on it, but I cry for my cows,” he said by phone from the Zhytomyr region, where he now lives. Like others interviewed for this article, he asked not to use his full name for security reasons.
“I ran to my neighbors to take my cows, but nobody wanted them,” he recalled. “I ran to the butchers and asked them to cut their throats because I couldn’t do it, but they refused.”
“I left them attached,” she added. “I understood that I couldn’t let them go because they were destroying other people’s gardens.” Her village, Vasyukivka, had been occupied by the Russians, and Tetiana had no idea what had become of the animals.
The doctors who treated the injured cow in Oleksandro-Shuldin named it Burionka or Brownie. Buryonka had a concussion and several lacerations. For two days she could not stand. Doctors treated her with antibiotics and on the third day, she finally stood up.
She and four other cows were brought to the yard of an abandoned house whose sheds had been burned, where doctors were tending to wounded soldiers. Now the cows are also under their care. It allowed many families to leave, knowing their livestock were in good hands.
Buryonga is still weak but gives milk again. Her owner fled to a nearby village, but still returns to milk Buryonga and four other cows, keeping some for himself and giving some to soldiers and other residents.
One of the neighbors who helped Buryonka save her, 71-year-old Zina Rychkova, also lost her shed in the shelling. She has three chickens and a rooster that now live with her in her kitchen.
“With them around, I have someone to talk to,” he said. “I don’t want to kill them. If I hear a rooster crowing in the morning, it means I’m alive.