Jim de Bree | War Through a Dachsund’s Eyes, Part 2

Jim de Bree
Jim de Bree

About 10 days ago, I wrote a column entitled “War through a Dachshund’s Eyes” that was published on March 9. In that column, I described the Instagram chronicles of a Ukrainian woman who lives in Kharkiv. She posted pictures of her dachshund named Ben as their family struggled to endure the war that is destroying the city in which they live. It was a very personalized account of a family traumatized by war. 

I received numerous phone calls and emails about the column, many asking me to write a follow-up column. The original column was one of the hardest I ever wrote, because I was so upset with the overwhelming images of a stupid, needless war. 

For those who did not read the original column, I called the woman “the dachshund lady.” She and her family tried to flee Ukraine, but were unable to obtain the proper passport approval. The family returned to their house and waited for war to come to their neighborhood. When it did, they had harrowing encounters and eventually started living in the local subway terminal where they slept on blankets.  

That is where I will pick up their story. Subway living is extremely cold. In the past several days, the high temperature in Kharkiv was about 16 degrees Fahrenheit. I am not sure what the temperatures in the subway were, but they must have been below freezing. Serious fighting raged in the streets above the terminal and much of the neighborhood was destroyed.  

There was little to eat for several days until volunteers delivered food at great peril. The dachshund lady posted a picture of Ben licking her on the cheek while in the subway terminal. It still was not safe to leave the terminal. She posted a screenshot of her iPhone and you could see that her battery was almost empty.  

She was silent for the next couple of days, but we hoped everything was alright. The combat seemed to move away from that neighborhood, although shelling by Russian artillery continued. At some point, the dachshund lady felt it was safe enough to walk to their residence to see if it was still there. Although the family’s house was damaged, it was still intact and they were able to take much-needed showers. She did not say whether they had warm water, but at least the plumbing was still working.  

She mentioned that a small apartment building owned by her brother was leveled and indicated that bombs were still falling in their general vicinity. The family was able to get a tent from a relative, which they pitched in the subway terminal.  

Sleeping in the tent was warmer. The dachshund lady mentioned that she had been sleeping in three sweaters and an overcoat. In the tent she could take the overcoat off when she slept.  

Two days later, she posted her next message. It contained a picture of the dachshund lady sitting in a railroad car with Ben looking out the window at the passing scenery. The family had successfully left Kharkiv. When they arrived at their destination, the dachshund lady took a selfie showing that she was in a rural area.  

It is not clear where they are, but they have not left Ukraine. Based on the selfie, it appears that they are likely in southwest Ukraine — possibly near Moldova or Romania. She reported that Ben is frightened by distant artillery fire and air raid sirens blaring regularly. Ben has learned the sounds of war. 

That is the last I have heard about the dachshund lady before writing this column. I am thankful that they are out of Kharkiv, but I fear the war will catch up with them at some point.  

There are several interesting points about the dachshund lady that I would like to share. Like most Kharkiv residents, she speaks Russian. She cannot understand why the Russians are doing this to their own people. This war is about reclaiming territory, not liberating people who speak Russian or who are ethnic Russians.  

The dachshund lady appears well-educated and evidently comes from a prosperous family. I am not sure whether that grants her privileges not enjoyed by others, but her family was able to get out of the city while others stayed. I certainly hope that they are able to remain safe. 

Her story, especially the pictures of Ben the dachshund, are upsetting. Vladimir Putin has previously leveled cities and devastated millions in Grozny, Aleppo and elsewhere, but those stories were not covered extensively by western media. Now we are witnesses and the victims resemble us. I am sure that people who we haven’t seen, or who are not as much like us, have similar tales of horror. 

We must remember them as well.  

Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident.

A drawing made by one of the dachsund lady’s children.
The dachsund lady and Ben, on the train to safety.

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