Ukraine’s struggling horse vets desperate for equipment, medicine

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A horse receiving care in Ukraine. There are no mobile clinics working in the country, and veterinarians are desperately short of equipment.
A horse receiving care in Ukraine. There are no mobile clinics working in the country, and veterinarians are desperately short of equipment. © UEF-CF

There are only 30 equine veterinarians working in the whole of Ukraine, and a recent survey has laid bare the worsening state of horse health in the war-torn country.

Constant relocation, war stress and restricted food intake are all having a negative effect on the horses in Ukraine, and after feed and medicine, portable diagnostic equipment and mobile clinics are most needed. Some 20,000 horses remain in a “critical welfare zone”.

The survey in May and June by the Ukrainian Equestrian Federation Charity Foundation (UEF-CF) talked to almost all practising Ukrainian equine veterinarians for an overview of horse welfare in different regions. The foundation keeps track of 6000 horses, and about 3500 are being provided with regular assistance.

Restricted food intake, risk of starvation and colic due to poor feed quality and inappropriate nutrition, wounds, injuries, stress due to war environment, and relocation still remain among the most commonly mentioned challenges. Earlier this month, the foundation reported that the rate of donations had plummeted to less than €1000 a week.

While international veterinary organizations had provided basic veterinary medicines, because of the increasing health needs, these basic supplies were not enough for the more serious cases.

The survey found there was a lack of medicines, including painkillers, anesthetics, sedatives, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs, and the need for equipment such as portable x-rays, ultrasound, and endoscope machines was great. The few machines that are in use are transferred around the country between veterinarians, leading to delays in making diagnoses. There is no mobile clinic able to provide emergency help to horses in recently liberated territories. This is important, as when the condition of a horse deteriorates, it is riskier to transport them to receive care.

The UEF-CF is calling for partnerships to source and deliver portable diagnostic equipment to increase the availability of these tools in at least three Ukrainian regions.

Mykhaylo Parkhomchuk, founder of the UEF-CF and Secretary-General of the Ukrainian Equestrian Federation, said despite it being summer and all the feed that had been supplied, horses are still having to be moved around.

“The war does not stop. The need for the relocation of horses continues. This leads to a decrease in immunity and diseases that end in complications and death. In these critical moments, the lack of medicines and medical equipment for veterinarians is the main challenge for saving the horse’s life.”

The Ukrainian Agency of Animal Identification and Registration says there are some 18,800 horses registered in the country, but there are many who are not registered by their owners. About half of the registered horses are used for sports and recreation, and half are working horses.

Ukraine is about the size of France, and the veterinarians are stretched thin as conditions worsen. Many vets do not take payment for their services because horse owners don’t have the money. Some owners are helping with fuel expenses.

Taisia Stadnichenko, head of Ukrainian Operations for the UEF-CF, said veterinarians are doing a great job over a large area and in particularly difficult and often dangerous conditions. “It is probably worth thinking about a separate fund to pay for the services of veterinarians who care for horses for free or at a minimal cost.”

There are plans for online workshops and training sessions as well as short-term veterinary missions to Ukraine.

“The war in Ukraine is not over yet. It has been going on for 146 days already and the humanitarian crisis deteriorates at an alarming speed. The problem is getting worse as horse owners are losing their jobs and can’t pay for medicine and veterinary services. Ukrainian veterinary professionals are very concerned about the horses’ welfare and accessibility of professional veterinary help.”

How to help

Donations can be made in several ways, which are outlined here.

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