Ukrainians face a new hurdle at the US border: no dogs
Natasha Hrytsenko, a longtime resident of Ukraine, had always dreamed of having a fluffy white dog. When she started working, Ms Hrytsenko, now 30, used her first two paychecks to buy a purebred mini Maltese puppy. She brought Eddie home to the kyiv apartment she shared with her older sister.
Eight years later, when war engulfed their country and they decided to flee, Ms Hrytsenko recalled telling her sister: “I can leave behind my best clothes, my favorite bags and even my mobile phone. . But I will never leave Eddie behind.
The couple traveled to Poland, then Germany, then Portugal, bound for the United States, where they had friends in Virginia. The little dog traveled with them, tucked under their arms or slumped in their lap.
The sisters made it as far as Tijuana, the Mexican city on the southern California border, before hearing the news that stopped them dead: Ukrainian dogs were mostly not allowed to enter the United States. United. A number of people had already had to leave their pets in Mexico under federal health regulations.
“I would prefer to go back to Europe,” Ms Hrytsenko told her sister.
Among the thousands of Ukrainians who have lined up at the southern border since the Russian invasion, recent weeks have seen a painful progression of losses: homes, loved ones, jobs, the quiet comforts of familiar neighborhoods. For those who managed to take a beloved pet along on their journey into an uncertain future, the border barrier proved devastating.
“He’s everything to us,” Ms Hrytsenko’s sister Ira, 31, said of the dog.
“The number of dogs here is increasing day by day,” said Victoria Pindrik, a volunteer with the Save Ukraine Relief Fund, which works with Ukrainian refugees trying to enter the United States. “The dogs were returned to us.”
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prohibits, except on an “extremely limited basis”, any dog from entering the United States if it has been in one of more than 50 countries, including Ukraine, which he classifies as “high risk” for rabies.
At the crowded Tijuana border crossing, where a dedicated pedestrian lane was opened to quickly process Ukrainian refugees, Customs and Border Protection officers initially allowed a number of pets into the country, said volunteers working at the border. But more recently Ukrainian pets have not been allowed.
The Hrytsenko sisters had taken steps as soon as they left Ukraine to ensure their dog would be prepared for international travel.
Volunteer vets gave Eddie his first rabies shot in Poland and his second in Germany, where vets also vaccinated him against parasites, implanted a microchip in his neck and provided him with documents and a international identity card to ensure he could travel.
The sisters planned to travel to the United States via Mexico, a circuitous journey that thousands of refugees have attempted due to delays in establishing a legal pipeline allowing Ukrainians to enter the United States. Mexico does not require visas, so refugees were able to fly into Mexico and apply for humanitarian admission at the United States land border.
The sisters boarded a flight from Lisbon to Mexico without a hitch, their suitcases filled with cans of Newman’s Own Organic Chicken Dog Food. Eddie came in a small portable carrier.
After they landed in Cancun last week, an airport animal inspector went through their paperwork and examined Eddie from head to toe. He gave an official document with a stamp attesting to the good health of the dog. The sisters flew to Tijuana on Sunday.
There they joined hundreds of Ukrainians waiting their turn to cross the border. In no time, Eddie was happily bounding onto the mats that lined a large gym that had been turned into a huge refugee dormitory.
“We felt confident, confident that everything was fine,” Ira recalls. “Then all of a sudden we found out you can’t cross with your dog.”
After their journey of more than 6,000 miles, across four international borders, this barrier seemed the most formidable. They plan to retrace their steps.
Ms Pindrik, the US volunteer working with refugees in Tijuana, said the process of gaining legal access to the US under current procedures, which include a permit and possible quarantine, could take weeks. .
“For many of these families who have experienced trauma, it is important to keep their families together, including their pets that they have spent so much energy, money and care bringing with them,” said she declared. “We understand the requirements put in place by the United States and their reasons, but it is impossible for refugees to meet them.”
The CDC said it issued a number of permits for people arriving from Ukraine with their pets. “We are working with NGOs in Mexico and the United States along the border to ensure that people arriving from Ukraine with their dogs meet entry requirements before entering the United States, or have of a safe place to quarantine dogs if they arrive and do not comply with CDC entry. requirements,” the agency said.
Among the Ukrainians who managed to cross the border with their pet before rabies ban enforcement appeared to have been tightened was Anastasiia Derezenko, who crossed after spending a few nights in Tijuana with her husband and two children. They entered the United States with their mini Maltese, Luka, last week, she said, after visiting a Mexican vet who gave them the necessary paperwork.
“When the US immigration police took us away, we had Luka in our arms. Everything was going very, very well,” said Ms. Derezenko from Portland, Oregon, where her family is staying with friends. Luka, who is 6 months, quickly made friends with the puppies of their hosts.
“He came from Brovary with us, and it was a very difficult trip,” she said, referring to the Ukrainian town just east of Kyiv.
More recent arrivals, like the Hrytsenko sisters, have been warned not to even try to enter the United States with their pets.
For the sisters, it seemed an impossible barrier. Then they learned there was a temporary solution: Mexico is not on the CDC’s rabies list, and Americans bringing dogs from that country are unlikely to face scrutiny at the American border. In fact, Americans arriving with dogs from a low-risk or rabies-free country are not even required to show a rabies vaccination certificate or special permit.
A few days ago, American animal lovers began ferrying Ukrainian-owned dogs across the border on their own. Several dozen Ukrainian pets, mostly dogs but also cats, have already made their way to California with American help. The Hrytsenko sisters began looking for someone who would agree to take Eddie.
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On Tuesday evening, they were told that No. 3748, their designated number online, would have to join a group at the border checkpoint, where the sisters would be escorted to California for processing by US authorities.
At first they were delighted. Their months-long odyssey was about to end.
Then they learned that there was no American to take Eddie across until the next day.
“We broke into pieces,” Natasha said. “We didn’t want to leave Eddie overnight. We never left him alone. He is really connected to us.
They postponed their move to the United States until the following morning after being assured that Eddie would be delivered to them soon after.
Around 10 a.m. Wednesday, they placed Eddie in his white and gray crate near the gymnasium, where they were told he would be picked up.
The dog started gnawing at the crate slots and door, recalls Natasha, who said she was overcome with guilt. The two sisters started crying.
“You can’t explain to a dog that everything is going to be okay,” Natasha said.
After crossing the United States, the couple joined another Kyiv native, Liuba Pavlenko, another dog owner the sisters had bonded with in Tijuana. Ms Pavlenko and her two children were waiting at a hotel in San Ysidro, near San Diego, for their Chihuahua, Maya, to be brought in from Mexico.
“I’m sorry that Maya and Eddie had to be refugees and endure this trip,” Ira said when they met at the hotel.
The families worried as the day progressed.
“I’m getting impatient,” Natasha said. It was after three o’clock, more than five o’clock since they had left Eddie in the till.
Then their phone rang with live video from the border, showing Eddie being transported to the US port of entry. They stared at the screen, trying to determine how their dog was holding up.
“Oh my God, he’s aged,” Natasha said.
“Look at him. He’s probably thirsty. He hasn’t eaten,” his sister said.
About 45 minutes later, the two dogs were reunited with their owners, who smothered them with hugs and kisses.
Then it was bath time.
Natasha cleaned Eddie in the bathtub with the special White on White shampoo that she had made sure to put in her only suitcase, in addition to the organic pet food.
Only then were they ready for the last leg of their journey – to Virginia, where their friends were waiting for them.
What will happen next for Ukrainian dog owners in Tijuana is unclear. Ms Pindrik said a local shelter had agreed to start looking for a way to help pet owners. In the coming days, new immigration regulations are expected to allow Ukrainians to travel directly to the United States, where they could face similar obstacles at airports until the CDC updates its guidelines. .
For the Hrytsenkos, the only thing that mattered was that Eddie made it. They ordered an Uber and headed to the airport, five hours before their flight.
Ira said it was better to be early than to run into problems they didn’t have time to solve. “We don’t want to take any chances with Eddie not getting on the plane.”
Marc Abramson contributed report.