Jim de Bree | War Through a Dachsund’s Eyes

Jim de Bree
Jim de Bree

I generally don’t follow social media because of my aversion to it. However, my daughter does and she is always on the lookout for items featuring dachshunds. Our family has owned dachshunds for generations and we usually enjoy hearing about other dachshund owners’ experiences. 

Shortly after Ukraine was invaded, my daughter discovered a woman living in Kharkiv, Ukraine, who posts regularly on Instagram. She owns a black standard-size dachshund named Ben, who is a gorgeous specimen of that breed. She is married with two children. Based on the photos in her messages, her family lived in an exquisitely decorated house that could have been a typical American home. Since we don’t know her name, we call her “the dachshund lady.” 

The progression of her Instagram messages over the past week has presented an extremely personalized firsthand view of war in a way that you cannot see through the news media.  

Her first message showed Ben next to several suitcases. The family was in line outside a government building waiting to get their passports stamped so they could escape to Poland. The dog looked apprehensive, but the message optimistically forecasted a way out for the family, including Ben.  

A few hours later, a second message indicated that the government building had been bombed and they could no longer get their passports stamped. Thus, they were stranded in Kharkiv.  

The first message on the following day showed a picture of the dachshund lady on her porch holding Ben in her arms. The dog seemed calm. The lady said she could hear explosions in the distance, but everything was peaceful in her neighborhood.  

A few hours later, she reported there was gunfire on their block and the family was going to huddle in the bathroom where it was safer. The next message showed her children sleeping on a mattress on the bathroom floor. Ben appeared apprehensive as he sat on a pillow on top of a clothes hamper.  

That evening’s message said that Russian soldiers had captured the school building down the street where her children attend school. She said bullets shattered the lights in the entry hall of her residence. She mentioned “Russian vandalism” was rampant in her neighborhood.  

The next morning she said it was no longer safe to stay in their house, so the family, with Ben, took some blankets and walked past their children’s school to take refuge in the subway station. As they walked past the boarded-up school, they noticed it was occupied by apparently unarmed Russian soldiers, whom she described as “terrified 18-year-old boys.”  

Subsequent messages showed the family with Ben lying on blankets on the subway station floor next to the tracks. Some people pitched tents inside the station. It looked like a homeless encampment because it was one. Ben was likely a very frightened dog. 

The lady went to the local market to buy food, but the shelves were nearly bare. She took a picture of the empty shelves. She also posted a picture of the school building, which was now burned out and had no sign of Russian soldiers. Whether the school was hit by Russian bombs or Ukrainian Molotov cocktails is unknown.  

Later, Ben was unable to do his business in the subway station, so the lady decided to take him for a walk outside the terminal. Both she and Ben needed to stretch their legs. Unfortunately, when they got 2 meters outside the station entrance, someone started shooting at them and she had to drag Ben by his leash to hastily return to the safety of the station. 

Her final post before I wrote this column contained two disturbing messages. First, she stated her son was very sick and had a high fever, but they could do nothing while others around them were getting sick as well. Only a third of the Ukrainian population is vaccinated against COVID-19 and this seems like a super-duper spreader event. The second message was she believed all of the houses in her neighborhood have been destroyed by Russian bombs. 

Ironically, the poor dachshund lady receives angry responses from Russians who say Ukraine is to blame for Russians’ economic hardship. Obviously, those Russians are being bombarded with Vladimir Putin’s propaganda while actual bombs fall on Ukraine. 

As I write this, I do not know what will become of Ben and his family. But I fear their suffering will accelerate and continue. For contemporary Americans who enjoy blessings well beyond historical norms, it is hard to fathom what the Ukrainians are enduring, but I find it difficult not to reflect on their suffering, wishing I could do more.  

Jim de Bree is a Valencia resident.

The burned-out school in the “dachsund lady’s” neighborhood. Courtesy photo.
Ben the dachsund. Courtesy photo.

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