After more than a month of Russia invading Ukraine, many people want to help but don’t know how. The idea of traveling to Ukraine to make a difference is terrifying for many individuals, but one man didn’t need to think twice about it. Jeff Praul, a 28-year-old waiter from Maryland, knew he wanted to help out as soon as he heard about the war.
Of course, his family warned him because they feared that he wouldn’t return. But Praul knew he couldn’t wait around with something so serious going on. So, he put his life on pause to travel to Ukraine, where he ended up saving the lives of dozens of rescue dogs.
Leaving Safety Behind
On the first day of the invasion, Praul’s heart felt heavy. So, when he saw a video of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy encouraging friends of Ukraine to help out, he knew he could do something if he shoved his fears out of the way. As he made his travel plans, he said his family supported his decision, but they were terrified for his safety.
“They’re really sad because you don’t know if that’s the last time you’re seeing them in person,” said Praul. “And I acknowledged that potential reality. But they also understood — they know where my heart is and they know where my intentions are.”
When he arrived in Ukraine, he wasn’t sure how he wanted to help. First, he visited the Yavoriv Military Training Base to find out where help was needed but ended up searching elsewhere. Only days after he visited the base, Russian troops killed 35 people and injured 135 more there. Praul was shocked to learn that the people he met at that base might now be dead or severely wounded.
Praul ended up traveling to Lviv, where he discovered an organization called Домiвка Врятованих Тварин, which translates to “Home of Rescued Animals.” The shelter is currently caring for animals that have been abandoned or orphaned amid the war. As a dog parent, Praul knew that was where he was meant to help.
Risk Pays Off
The shelter cares for as many as three dozen dogs at a time, along with various other animals. Luckily, many people in Western Ukraine and neighboring countries have chosen to adopt dogs in need recently. Some dogs were found as strays, while others were left behind by families who fled the country. Praul began helping out the shelter in any way possible, and he quickly formed a bond with many of the dogs.
Praul said some of the dogs have no idea there’s a war going on. They’re full of life and never want to stop playing. But others have clearly gone through some recent trauma, so they’re more hesitant to trust humans.
“The dog I have the biggest attachment to right now, she can’t go out because she doesn’t trust anyone,” Praul said. “Animals don’t have a choice in any of this — it’s human drama and the animals don’t have any say. It’s really upsetting. One woman came with two dogs who were just left at a train station tied to one of the poles, and they just had two pieces of paper with their names and ages on them.”
With Praul’s help, dozens of dogs have gotten adopted and moved to safer locations. But there will always be animals in need. Praul said that his bills are piling up at home, but he will try to stay in Ukraine as long as he can. He misses his family and friends deeply, but he knows there’s still more he can do to help in Ukraine, so he won’t stop yet. He might not realize it, but he’s a hero!