Full-time job – to program and rescue cats. Story of a Ukrainian IT specialist and animal volunteer
Andrii Nikishaiev is a Senior Solution Architect and a developer with over 20 years of experience, and an animal volunteer who has been rescuing cats in Kyiv and the suburbs for years. We spoke to Andrii about his volunteering, rescuing animals from the apartments after the outbreak of a full-scale war, and attitude of many people towards their pets without rose-colored glasses.
I have been working in IT for over 20 years, since I was a teenager. From the age of 6, I became interested in computers, and my grandfather, who was the principal of the school, taught me to program little by little in either Basic or Fortan languages. In this way, at the age of 12, I already got my first part-time job through an acquaintance of my dad – a developer from the USA who worked on video cards drivers. He delegated simple tasks to me and paid me for solving them.
Actually, this is how my career began. Before university, I already worked on various projects as a freelancer and took a hard path: I wrote in C and Assembler. When I entered Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics, and began to think about permanent employment, I realized that these languages are not only complex, but also poorly paid. So, I went in for web development.
From the second year of study at the university I worked full-time – first in small IT firms focused on web design, and after graduation in 2007 or 2008 I got a job at UKRSIBBANK where I worked on the internal CRM/ERP-system.
Later, I worked as freelancer, developed games for social networks, was a CTO at Shafa.ua where I did not work for long as I got into a road accident and had to leave for a long-term treatment.
Then, I worked in a number of startups, and together with Deloitte promoted the creation of a community for startups "How to start a startup" which would help them develop. I was also working on my own project — the Essenly platform with "excerpts" from books. The point is that during my startup period I read a lot of business literature, and most of these works was "a waffle" — the idea of everything written could be fit in in several dozen pages. So I decided to create a synopsis service. That was not a mega-startup, but I gained useful experience.
Now I work as a developer in the Level company and invest a large part of my salary in my own foundation to help animals.
"The volunteering story began with a kitten near the building"
"The volunteering story began with a kitten near the building"
I have been helping animals as a volunteer for about 5 years. In 2017, I got a cat for the first time — it was my then-girlfriend's pat, we just moved in together. And I liked it very much to live with the cat, although I didn't get my pets before, notwithstanding that I loved animals since childhood.
At the same time, I first came across a kitten that needed urgent help.
One day, on my way home from the store, I saw neighbors who were very excited. Some man did not see the kitten sitting on the wheel of his car and ran over the animal.
I quickly ran to the apartment for the box for the kitten, and, together with this man, we went to the clinic where the animal was operated on. This driver was supposed to take the kitty home, but at the last moment he refused under the pretense of leaving the country for business and inability to take her. So, I agreed to take her to my place.
First, my girlfriend and I planned to place her somewhere, but the kitten became sick. We treated her for 4 or 5 months, named her Kliaksa.
Meanwhile, she became an integral part of the family.
Later, I decided to pick up another kitten off the street, which I fed time after time.
However, I was still totally inexperienced in catching cats, so I had a bad luck.
Instead, on the way home, I saw a kitty sitting on a pile of snow and crying.
Apparently, someone threw her away as she did not look like a street cat at all. I took her home, named her Kvitochka.
This is how my story as animal volunteer began. I picked up animals that definitely needed help: sick, neglected, crippled, mostly in serious condition or those who were already living to old age. I took them for treatment, fed and tried to settle them in a family.
My strategy is "sell the animal wherever possible." Even at networking events, business meetings and startup hangouts, when meeting new people, the following dialogue often occurred: "Do you have any pets?" - "No." - "Do you want to?
Look what a cutie he/she is," and I show the photo.
Once I was taking an elevator with a woman and just asked her to hold the cat for a while. I left her my contact number, and she took the kitten in a month.
Cats at my home
When I could not settle the animal, it stayed at my house. So the number of cats at home was constantly growing – now there are already ten of them.
Pukh was one of them. My friend regularly fed him, and one evening she saw that half of the cat's face was torn. She called me, and Pukh spent the next six months in the clinic: his eye was removed, it was in a bad condition. In 2020, I took him home. At first he felt himself perfectly fine, but after a few months he became apathetic and lost appetite. After several weeks of studies, he was diagnosed with chronic kidney failure caused by lymphoma, which is incurable. The doctor recommended to let the cat live to the age, because chemotherapy would only cause the animal unnecessary pain. The maximum forecast in case of successful chemotherapy is 1 year. So I spent the summer with him, gave him injections of painkillers, and when his condition had already deteriorated critically, I called the doctors to the house, and they put him to sleep.
In memory of Pukh, I took from the same clinic a three-legged cat, which was watched over by other animal volunteers.
The cat Pandyk was found with a broken hip by not really sane people who picked him up and supposedly "treated" by feeding him porridge. Of course, he needed adequate care, that’s why the animal was handed over to me. Pandyk was eventually operated on and diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. I took him to live with me – he stayed with me for only three months.
I picked up Bruce close to my work – he was comfortable with me, but when I took him, he bit me hard :)
This is how everything began. I rescued animals and got to know other animal volunteers. Here and there we cooperated and worked together. The contacts extended, and here you are not only picking up a sick cat in your neighborhood, but going to save the animal across town from the place you got a call. Or someone brought a cat because they can't take care of it. My phone number has long been publicly available in various animal volunteer groups, so contacting me is not a problem.
By the way, I also helped the dogs, but I don't have the opportunity to take them to my place even for a one-day stay due to the small area of my apartment and the large number of cats in it. And the time costs for them are much greater, they require completely different conditions.
"After the outbreak of the great war, many people left, leaving animals to die in the apartments"
Since February 25, the number of calls with the request to rescue the animals has increased many times.
Unfortunately, the truth is that after the outbreak of the full-scale invasion, many people left, leaving their animals in their apartments to die slowly and horribly.
The calls began to come mostly from neighbors and other strangers who overheard that the owners had locked up the animals and left. The owners themselves applied only in one case out of ten – it happened that they had gone somewhere to the country or on a short trip even before the invasion, and could not return. But they are a minority.
So in order to rescue abandoned animals, other animal volunteers and I gathered a small group and responded to calls from morning till night, until the curfew began.
Someone gave a car, someone took tools, someone was engaged in searching for animals and negotiating with the owners for permission to enter the apartment. This lasted for a month and a half, during which we saved several hundred animals. Then I had to return to treatment, and the guys from our group continued to respond to calls to Irpin, Hostomel, Bucha, etc.
Each such call was a big deal, and unfortunately, it did not always have a happy ending. Many animals have never lived to see help. From the information I've seen online, it seems as if not many people have gone someplace taking pets with them. That is, the scale of tragedy is monumental. I hope that those who didn't take animals and didn't look for homestay for them at least had enough guts to let them out into the street – there a kitten or a dog has a better chance of survival than in a closed space without water and food.
I remember a story when a representative of "Zoopatrol" responded to a call, and there was a dead cat in a baby cradle. The volunteer could not recover for another week. Unfortunately, there are many stories like that.
In addition to the fact that many people (if you can call them that) did not report their abandoned animals, we were occasionally prevented from rescuing them. Sometimes the neighbors, sometimes the owners themselves, they needed much persuading. In some places, police and territorial defense officers threw a monkey wrench into our activity – animal volunteers were "guests" in the pretrial detention centers.
Before entering the apartment, we contacted the owners in all kinds of ways to get their permission. Normally, this dialogue was an attempt to come to an agreement and somehow "fawn" – they say, we understand everything, you probably had no choice, that's why the pet was left in the apartment. We did everything to get at least some consent.
Although I did not care too much about it. The priority was to gain access to the apartment itself, and this was often prevented by neighbors. People came out with weapons and said: "You will not go further."
Sometimes the situations were ridiculous: "You will spoil the door." — "And how much do they cost?" — "200 dollars." — "Here’s 400, just let me in." — "No, we won't let you through anyway."
It happened that our guys-animal volunteers came to the same address 4 times, but the neighbors did not let them in, they called the police. In the end, they were taken to the police station and threatened with big problems if they appeared there again. Unfortunately, the animal died – just because a whole crowd prevented others from doing a good deed.
I talked about this case with "1+1", but they told me:
"This news will represent Ukraine in a negative light, so we will not report on it."
Of course, in contrast to the mentioned cases, there were stories with a happy ending and people who cared about the situation and helped in every possible way.
I remember that once we responded to a call, but were "busted". We explained to the police officers that the animal was locked in the apartment, and the owners were out of town. When we contacted the owners and they provided photo evidence of their place of stay, the law enforcement officers began to help us, they found a welding machine somewhere.
Photos taken during animal rescue calls
Further, we had a success story with the rescue of cats on Peremohy Avenue.
We went to this address 4 times, and all 4 times returned with nothing – not really sane resident did not let us come in the entrance. She was not convinced even by the fact that the owners agreed to our visit. Here it should be said that they did not leave the animals in the apartment, but the tenant of the apartment.
When we arrived the 5th time, a girl was passing by the building. I asked her if she was from this entrance, and described the situation: animals have been locked in the apartment for a week and a half, we need help. She lived in another building nearby, but called a friend from the entrance we needed, and he let us in.
When we entered the apartment, we heard something buzzing. And there, on the sofa, was a hair dryer turned on, which almost completely melted. I guess few days, if not hours, left before the onset of fire. If we hadn't come, the apartment, or even the building, would probably have burned down. The animals were saved: a large black Maine Coon and another cat remained in the apartment. They were immediately put in good hands. We searched through acquaintances, neighbors, volunteers.
Since the outbreak of a full-scale war, we mostly had to search for new owners for rescued animals – we very rarely gave pets directly to their owners. But it still happened.
Once we rescued from an apartment a cat whose owner has gone abroad before February 24. The cat stayed home with her boyfriend. When it all began, he left the keys to the apartment with a neighbor who was supposed to feed the animal, but went somewhere. We responded to the call, came, but there was no boyfriend, no neighbor, no keys – only an animal locked in the apartment. We freed the cat, and since it was not possible to immediately find him a homestay, he stayed with me. The owner of the cat asked for his photo to make sure that everything is okay with the animal, and sent her friend from Poland, who took the cat and, by fair means or foul, gave him to that girl all the way to Asia.
After everything I've seen, I can't understand how one can leave a member of the family, in fact a helpless "child", locked indoors. I cannot call these persons human.
"Cats add variety to the work process"
My foundation developed alongside the work. I tried my best to combine IT and volunteering, I explained to my co-workers that I work under the contract and sometimes I can be away due to calls. I have never had problems on this account with any company. I currently work as a developer, with no subordinates, and that gives me a bit more flexibility.
As for my daily schedule, I wake up at 8 AM, and until 11 AM I am busy with my animals: I feed them, give pills, give injections. Almost all of them are sick, each having its own treatment and meal plan. From 11 AM to 7 PM I do my work, provided there are no calls. When I have the calls to respond, I take a break and then finish work before 12 or 1 AM, taking a pause for evening feeding and procedures for animals. I also help the Armed Forces of Ukraine – but no details here.
On a good day, I have a spare hour in the evening. But working this way is difficult for sure. And when you look at a bunch of little bottoms sleeping sweetly on the sofa, you want to sleep too :)
The cats themselves add variety to the work process: at times, they make me put my work off and make me stand up and stretch legs, have something to eat. They help not to lose my mind because of remote work, bring a little chaos into everyday life.
Well, sometimes they stomp on the keyboard, make own edits in the code. They even tried to run it several times:)
"I dream of opening a clinic and a shelter with it"
I set up the foundation in January 2020. Previously, I donated purely my own foundations, and now we cover expenses with donors approximately 50/50 – detailed information is available in the reports on Patreon. Most of the donations go to specific aid cases that we publish regularly. These amounts do not include the care of animals that live with me – we spend charitable foundations on the treatment of animals under my care in clinics and under the care of other tried and trusted animal volunteers.
Since the outbreak of the war, the animal volunteer Olena Bielska has been helping me a lot. Currently, I am more engaged in finding money and media work, and she is engaged in treatment and placement of healthy animals in her shelter, now there are more than a hundred of them.
The foundation is not registered in any way, as this would create many problems – when registering a non-profit organization, you need to pay for the work of the director and accountant, and with a limited budget these are inappropriate expenses.
The amount we spend on animals depends on their condition. If not lucky and the animal gets FIP, the treatment regimen will consist of 40 injections, which is $3,000-4,000. We now have five such animals. Payment for examinations and medical procedures at the veterinary clinic, without including food and medicine, in August cost UAH 270,000 for all animals. Add to this sum the medicines that have now grown twice or thrice in price.
Moreover, it is impossible to get some of them since the Ministry of Health of Ukraine canceled their certification. "Unidox", an antibiotic from the Pfizer company, is one of these. Accordingly, we have to order such medicines in "hucksters" from Poland, which are more expensive. If before I could buy a package of medicines for UAH 200, now it will cost more than UAH 1,000.
Another UAH 150,000 per month is spent on medicine, food, and related expenses.
Interestingly, "Zoopatrol" faced the problem of large bills, too — their average check per day was UAH 200,000-400,000. This is a lot, so they decided to open their own veterinary clinic – it is much more profitable in the long term.
I can't afford such a decision yet. In addition, I trust animals only to doctors of a high reputation, who have five years of experience and provide adequate treatment. Many "smart" doctors misrepresent symptoms as a diagnosis. They write "high blood pressure" in the card and ask to pay UAH 400 for it.
Unfortunately, some of the doctors I work with have left Ukraine, but I can consult with them. There are few qualified veterinarians in Ukraine. I know about seven such people in Kyiv. To find good specialists in other cities is even more difficult.
As for career plans, now I don't feel up to hold senior positions, I barely have strength for what I have now. So I don't see the point in changing my job yet.
I earn good money, it is enough to treat animals. At least some stability in an unstable situation.
As for the development of the foundation, I dream of opening a clinic, a shelter attached to it, recruiting specialist doctors, launching a small PR-campaign to promote the project. The appropriate attitude towards pets should be instilled in children from early childhood. Because no money and foundations will save all the country's animals if people throw them out into the street every day.
In Ukraine, although it leaves a lot to be desired, there is a legislative framework on the protection of animals.
However, it doesn't work – neither the police nor the courts take cases of cruelty or killing of animals seriously, and mostly, they don't even want to consider petitions about it.
I am trying my best to fix the situation because I simply cannot do otherwise. But even the whole community of animal volunteers cannot change it on a global scale. We need to form in people respectful attitude towards animals since childhood.
Guys, to date I have already spent UAH 363,000+ for the treatment of baby animals. Tomorrow I have to pay another UAH 50,000 for GS and UAH 40,000 for the clinic. And it's only the 19th(
There is quarantine in the shelter, many animals got sick and are now in the intensive care unit. We desperately need your help, we can't do it on our own. Such number of animals in the clinics is too much for 2 people. We are not Prytula, we are not large funds, we are not given grants. All that we have is our own money that goes completely to zero and your donations. In the last 4 months I have earned minus $5,000 by working 7 days a week.
If, God forbid, more animals get sick in the shelter, then game over, there will be no money to treat them for, and this is a death sentence. Well, we actually live on credit already(
I guess Lena sleeps now for 2 hours a day, constantly taking care of the animals, so that she can go to the clinic without wasting time should anything happen.
We live in constant stress, but we ask not for ourselves but for them. Because they deserve to live.
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