Arya Aldrin The Indian girl who will not forsake her dog in a conflict zone in Ukraine
Is it selfish to carry your pet with you while you’re fleeing a conflict zone?
Arya Aldrin, a 20-year-old medical student who recently escaped Ukraine with her Siberian husky in tow, disagrees: “Leaving my dog behind would have been more selfish.”
That’s why she accompanied five-month-old Zaira on an arduous trek over thousands of kilometres to Kerala in southern India.
Many Indian students returned from Ukraine with their cats and dogs, but Arya made headlines after a photo of her holding Zaira on a bus to the Romanian border went viral.
The media coverage garnered both lovers and trolls, with the latter wondering if her parents sent her to Ukraine to study or care for animals, while others questioned why the Indian government would allow animals to board evacuation aircraft while humans were in danger.
However, Arya claims that Zaira did not occupy human space, instead of travelling in a cage in the cargo portion of their journey from Romania to Delhi.
“I’m a medical student, and we’re trained to save lives without regard for race or gender. And it’s not as if abandoning her would have aided anyone “she continues.
During a humanitarian crisis, rescuing animals can be a difficult task. After the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, British national Pen Farthing, who maintained an animal sanctuary there, was harshly chastised for leaving the country with the dogs and cats but not his Afghan workers.
Due to Taliban threats, he stated he couldn’t take them with him at the moment. The shelter employees eventually made it to the United Kingdom.
The stakes weren’t as high for Arya and those like her. The voyage, though, was nerve-wracking.
‘I can’t abandon her.’
In 2020, Arya moved to Vinnytsya, Ukraine, to study medicine at the National Pirogov Memorial Medical University. She rapidly made friends, many of whom were from her native state of Kerala, and enjoyed her time there.
In December 2021, a friend who knew she loved animals gave her a two-month-old dog. After rejecting a slew of “traditional” names, Arya settled on Zaira.
When Zaira was left alone at home while Arya was in lessons, she would refuse to eat, waiting for her human to return.
Arya, on the other hand, regularly declined invitations from acquaintances so Zaira would not be alone.
“Whatever happens, I can’t leave Zaira,” Arya claims she thought when the conflict began to rumble.
Friends and family members persuaded her to temporarily put the dog away, but Arya refused.
She says, “I knew no one else would adore and nurture her as I would.”
When there was no alternative but to go, Arya’s mother encouraged her to take Zaira with her. Her father was first opposed, but finally changed his mind.
Despite the crisis, she was able to obtain a pet passport, immunisation papers, and a microchip in only one day, thanks to pet-friendly rules and officials.
On the 26th of February, two days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Arya and Zaira, together with a friend, fled Vinnytsya in a group.
They rode a bus to the Romanian border the next day. Because she was afraid of noises and strangers, Zaira kept silent and stayed close to Arya throughout.
Because of the enormous lines of automobiles waiting to cross the border, the bus driver left them off some 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the border.
They started walking. They couldn’t find bread or water in the shops, so Arya and her buddy brought juice and crackers, as well as dog food for Zaira.
Arya received her menstruation on the way, and her back hurt. Then Zaira began limping and appeared to be in pain.
Arya realised she’d have to be the one to carry the dog.
“She just lay on my shoulder like a baby when I took her up,” she recalls, despite Zaira’s weight of roughly 16kg (35 pounds).
The trek, however, was terrible – despite the fact that others in the company assisted her, Arya had to stop frequently to rest her arms.
She also threw out a lot of the food and drink along the route to ease the burden – she believes she carried Zaira for 10-12 kilometres.
Arya’s backpack contained just dog food and travel paperwork by the time they arrived at the Romanian border.
She waited for around seven hours in the midst of a crowd of worried individuals.
Every time the gates opened, there was a lot of pushing and shoving. When Arya attempted to put Zaira down, the dog was kicked and yelped in pain.
“I must have spent more than an hour standing on one leg. I just sobbed and hugged Zaira, wishing we could return to Vinnytsya, even if it was risky “she explains.
Arya had to drain a lot of the dog food while they waited. She claims that the burden was too much for her to handle.
When it was eventually their turn, Arya’s buddy crossed through, but she and Zaira were forced behind by a group of kids.
Then she held Zaira up, which drew the attention of a Ukrainian soldier, who let them pass.
“I can’t describe how relieved I was when we crossed across,” she adds.
Travelling to India
They were first transferred to a shelter in Romania, where they were given food and drink, as well as a pair of second-hand shoes because Arya’s were worn out.
They were then moved to another shelter, closer to Bucharest’s Henri Coandă international airport, where they waited for hours. Here, Romanian cops who liked Zaira provided them extra food and tissues, as well as assisted them in getting a taxi to the airport.
Romanian officials warned Arya that Zaira would have to be confined in a cage just before they boarded the evacuation flight organised by the Indian government.
Arya and Zaira would have to wait several more hours, do a lot of running around, and miss yet another departure to get on an aircraft to Delhi.
Arya claims she ate a bit of the meal on the flight and stored the remainder to feed Zaira when they arrived.
Her trip to Kerala was once again postponed due to AirAsia’s refusal to let animals on board the flight from Delhi. As a result, she boarded another plane.
Arya’s voyage had made headlines by then, and a Kerala state official had posted a Facebook message thanking her.
The next day, when she and Zaira arrived at Kochi airport, she was met by a swarm of media anxious to interview her.
She brought Zaira to the doctor for a check-up and a canine parvovirus vaccine before returning to her home in Munnar, a hill resort in Kerala.
The Siberian husky, whose thick fur shields her from the brutal cold, was worried that she would suffer in India’s hot climate.
Zaira, on the other hand, appears to be settling in nicely, according to Arya. Munnar is also cooler than much of Kerala, with winter temperatures down to single digits.
“I’m really a touch envious right now,” Arya laughs, “since Zaira seems to prefer spending time with my mother over me.”