Six months of war in Ukraine has left behind destruction and suffering for the people and their loved ones. The war has destroyed the lives, dreams and hopes of Ukrainian equestrians, athletes, trainers, veterinarians, farriers, breeders. Many equestrians and their family members have fled inside or outside Ukraine, taking their horses with them or leaving everything behind. Many have joined the defence forces to fight for freedom or volunteered to help others. The Ukrainian equestrians have been doing all they can to take care of their horses, sometimes at the expense of their own wellbeing and at the risk of their lives. All this time, the western equestrian world has been supporting the Ukrainian equestrians and helped to keep Ukrainian equines safe.
Unfortunately autumn has not brought relief to Ukraine. The need for humanitarian aid continues to grow, food and fuel prices are on the rise, the economy is shrinking and people have no means to afford basic supplies and take care of their families. In many regions, they are at risk of being left without heat, electricity and water supplies due to constant attacks. For horses, this means feed insecurity, huge welfare challenges, high risks of starvation or of finding themselves in the middle of war zones. At the same time, the difficult economic situation, risks of inflation and severe energy crisis are shifting focus in the western democracies away from Ukraine.
“In spring, we experienced a period of panic, huge uncertainty and desperation. We witnessed an unprecedented wave of solidarity and support. People from all over Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, Japan and other parts of the world answered the call and were there to help. Now the war puts a strain on not only Ukraine, but the whole democratic world – it is a huge challenge to sustain and increase the levels of support and commitment to stand behind Ukraine for Ukrainians to survive and not lose hope during autumn and winter” Mykhaylo Parkhomchuk, founder of the Ukrainian Equestrian Charity Foundation, explained the new phase of war.
From the first days of war, many sports organisations and organisations supporting animal welfare stepped in to help – together we have ensured that:
- essential veterinary medicines and equipment reached equine veterinarians in Ukraine and have been taken into use to help sustain horses´ health
- 200 stables with more than 5,000 horses benefited from humanitarian aid (feed, hay, equipment)
- more than 500 horses received relocation, evacuation support or shelter stabling in Ukraine and hundreds of horses found safe shelters abroad
- hundreds of Ukrainian equestrians received dedicated help with accommodation and equestrian jobs in Europe
- Ukrainian athletes received support to continue trainings and represent Ukraine at international competitions
This was all made possible with the help of hundreds of volunteers and donors, including the global equestrian community members, the FEI Solidarity Foundation, British Equestrians for Ukraine, the United States Equestrian Federation, several private foundations and charities as well as national federations, equestrian clubs and organizations standing for equine´s welfare.
Humanitarian aid requirements and future challenges in addressing the mental health consequences of war
The situation in the Ukrainian equestrian sector is staggering. The survey conducted by the UE-CF in the summer of 2022 demonstrates that half of the stables are not prepared for winter – they couldn’t source and stock hay and 4,000 to 5,000 horses in 150-200 stables in Ukraine are at serious risk of starvation. Most vulnerable are regions close to war zones and liberated regions, where, in addition to severe serious economic issues, obstacles caused by military actions, such as mined fields, destroyed machinery and equipment, prevent the harvest and transport of hay. The prices for hay are very high, reaching in some regions 200 EUR per ton, which is an equivalent of minimum monthly wage rate for 2021 in Ukraine.
Restoring the equine industry and equestrian sports in Ukraine will require enormous efforts. In 2022, almost all sports events were cancelled, many sporting and breeding facilities damaged, horses were relocated and their routines were interrupted. War has a catastrophic effect on mental health and wellbeing of the whole nation. This is also true for the equestrian community.
“The war has damaged all we have achieved for the past generation, all that we have been proud of as an equestrian nation. Starting over and rebuilding will be a lengthy process and require a lot of resources. The extent of the damage to the equestrian infrastructure has not yet been mapped. Even if the facilities can be rebuilt, we should now focus on our people – people who experienced traumatic events, especially children. We hope to establish a network of clubs and stables, where war veterans and traumatized children will get help and support via hippotherapy and rehabilitation programmes” – Mykhaylo Parkomchuk explained the UE-CF’s new strategy. “Many studies show that connection between people and horses can enhance emotional healing and increase psychological resilience. Let’s use this potential – this superpower of horses – for the benefit of Ukraine.”
The UE-CF will continue supporting the Ukrainian equestrians acknowledging that it will take years to repair the damage caused and the most difficult times are still ahead. This will not be possible without continuous support of the Western world. The UE-CF is already planning measures to ensure the safety of horses and has begun discussions about the post-war reconstruction. The UE-CF invites equestrian athletes, clubs, sports organizations, horse welfare organizations to unite and to come out with a renewed pledge of solidarity with Ukraine and Ukraine´s equestrian community to focus on the future. Ukrainians need help in initiating mental health and rehabilitation measures, resuming sporting activities and continuing equine welfare efforts.