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Photos: Ukrainians fleeing war ‘can’t leave’ pets behind

A woman holds a dog while crossing the Irpin River on an improvised path under a bridge as people flee the town of Irpin, Ukraine, Saturday, March 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Mounds of abandoned clothes and other personal items lie strewn along corridors leading out of Ukraine. The farther people carry their things, the harder it is, so they leave them behind, said Ludmila Sokol, a gym teacher fleeing Zaporizhzhia in the south.

But their pets, they keep alongside them.

Everywhere amid the exodus of more than 2.5 million refugees fleeing Russia's invasion are the pets people could not leave behind: birds, rabbits, hamsters, cats and dogs.

People fleeing the outskirts of Kyiv crowded together under a destroyed bridge, carrying little luggage and abandoning their vehicles on the road. But their pets remained with them.

Hundreds of thousands are displaced inside Ukraine as well, after fleeing assaults on their hometowns. An 84-year-old woman who gave only her first name, Antonina, sat in a wheelchair at a triage point in Kyiv, holding a miniature poodle and clutching the leashes of her 11 other little dogs after being evacuated from the town of Irpin.

said she felt an obligation to keep not only her family but her pets safe.

As the missiles and explosives rained down, Victoria Trofimenko of Kyiv thought about her duty to protect her 18-year-old daughter, 69-year-old mother — and her dog, Akira, and cat, Galileo.

She bought train tickets to head west, ending up in Prague.

"I can't leave dogs or cats. I have to take responsibility," she said.