An interview with groomer Irina Savenkov on the effects of the war in Ukraine. By Yuliya Strizhkina and Simba tsar Zverei.

Today I talk to the owner of Bichon Frise FCI kennel, a groomer with 16 years of experience and multiple award-winner, Irina Savenkova-Pashchenko.

How did the war start for you and what happened?

First weeks were a state of chaos and panic. We did not know if we should run away from the city, the country or wait.

Just in case, I started packing things at home and in the salon. Of course, there were no calls for work. After about four weeks, there came a call with a question if it was possible to wash a dog, because in many parts of the city there was no water, light and heating. People with animals had to hide for a long time, mainly in basements filled with fleas, dampness and dust. No one could have imagined such a thing. It was a nightmare.

“My profession is the health of animals, so I had no moral right to leave them.”

You and your family stayed in Kharkiv, although as a groomer you could find a job almost anywhere in the world. Why?

I found out that in our city with a population of roughly 1.5 million people. Out of the number of experienced groomers, not counting those who have just completed their training, there were around five or six people left.

Therefore, thank God that we, the remaining groomers, are scattered throughout the city, and we can refer clients to each other.

I realised that I could not leave those who remained in the city and that people from my micro district, which is quite large, would simply be abandoned. My profession is the health of animals, so I had no moral right to leave them.

What has the war changed in your work?

It limited opportunities. There are things that we can’t get now. The bulk of the dogs come in with tangled fur. Previously, to solve this problem, we used professional tools, costing ₴700-800 each, enough for two or three dogs. Now, this has become impossible. Therefore, in such a situation, we use human Gliss Kur, but it is important to wash it off, otherwise it can ruin the coat.

Has the customer base changed, and if so, how?

Yes, it has changed a lot. For example, a woman comes with a Yorkie. I recognise the dog, but I see the woman for the first time. It turned out that the animal was left to her, under what conditions I do not know, but it is clear that the person has absolutely no idea how to care of him. I gave her a full consultation: how to properly feed, process, care of – everything that a person who remains instead of the owner should know.

How has the demand for services changed during wartime?

A very short haircut is the top service now. People understand that animals suffer from tangles, and due to the fact that they cannot provide normal care, they ask to cut everything as short as possible, leaving only a beautiful head and tail. They also dress pets in clothes, so the dogs do not freeze.

What help is needed and how can it be given?

Help is needed in many ways. Food for cats, dogs, rodents and guinea pigs are in dire need of feed.

There is a need for antiseptics. This is due to the fact that half of the veterinary clinics are closed. People cannot vaccinate their pets on time and treat them properly. In terms of grooming, we would be very grateful for: shampoos, conditioners and more blades. Everything is running out.

But, under all these difficult circumstances, we hold on and do not give up. We hope everything will be fine soon. And, thanks to the help and support of all the people who worry about us and pray for us, we are alive and trying to help others.

Contacts for those who can help pets and groomers of Kharkov and other affected regions of Ukraine: – (World Dog Press Association (WDPA) or (WDPA member)

Photos provided by Irina Savenkova-Pashenko