FAIRFAX STATION, Va. — After four days of travel, across six time zones, a few dozen fluffy felines are in the home stretch.
"They're all so cute,” said Shana Aufenkamp, an adoption coordinator for Homeward Trails, a nonprofit pet shelter in northern Virginia.
Aufenkamp just traveled to Ukraine and returned with 32 cats in tow.
"I've actually been to Ukraine twice this year," she said. "The war is difficult. They've made very, very difficult decisions, often very quickly."
The cats Aufenkamp returned with are survivors of war. Some show signs of phosphorus burns – like one did on its ears - indicating a bomb exploded close by.
"The medical records were all in place,” she said. “The cats have been vetted."
Now, they're all up for adoption. Foster families will care for these cats in the meantime, like Yaryna Onufrey, who will be caring for a 6-year-old tabby named “Plank.”
"My family is Ukrainian. I still have family over in western Ukraine and I also have a cat of my own," Onufrey said. "When I found out about this opportunity to foster Ukrainian cats, my partner and I were like, 'You know what? We have the space, we have the love, and why not help these kitties transition from a traumatic situation into loving homes here in the United States?'"
It's what Magda Lastowska thought, too. She'll be fostering two cats.
"There's just so many of them,” Lastowska said. "That's the only way for them to survive, to get adopted to, you know, to have a chance at a full life."
The entire effort is a partnership between Homeward Trails in Virginia and Breaking The Chains, a group of military veterans, based in Europe, who’ve rescued abandoned and displaced pets in Ukraine.
"Breaking The Chains has a lot of other rescues who are willing to work with them for dogs, but no one's offering to help with the cats,” Aufenkamp said. “So, right now, we are an important partnership for them and helping to find amazing homes for these great kitties."
Yet, they realize there are so many more that need help, including help from people who can't adopt them directly.
‘We still need their support. So, we are still raising funds for all of the cost of bringing these kitties over, but we hope that there will be more that are coming," Aufenkamp said. "So, what I will say is, when we help the cats, we help their caregivers. We help the people."