By Joseph Campbell
LVIV, Ukraine (Reuters) - When bombs began to fall as Russian forces poured into Ukraine in late February, thousands of people fled for safety, leaving their homes and property behind.
Those who could often took beloved pets with them. It wasn't so easy for horse owners, though, who faced the agonising decision to leave their animals behind.
For Mykhailo Parkhomchuk, head of the Ukrainian Equestrian Federation, he couldn't just sit back and watch animals he had spent a lifetime caring for suffer.
Parkhomchuk, who is based in Belgium, drove back to his homeland on day two of the war. By day four, he had organised a network of dozens of volunteers and founded a charity to save Ukraine's abandoned horses.
"In some regions, it's very dangerous," said Parkhomchuk, explaining how volunteers first bring the horses to the relative safety of a base in the western Lviv region, before organising the paperwork for their onward journey to a new home in Europe.
His Ukrainian Equestrian Federation Charity Foundation has already rescued more than 100 horses, some of them found wandering in the open, and some left in stables by their owners.
Currently there are 40 of the rescued horses staying at a the group's makeshift stables. They receive daily requests from owners via social media to help rescue their abandoned horses.
Not all horses have been so lucky. Parkhomchuk said their were reports of several stables being destroyed in the fighting. At least seven horses were burned in a stable that was hit on March 20 in Hostomel, northwest of Kyiv.
"We don't make any difference, if it is an expensive horse, or cheap horse, or big or old, or young horse, we are trying to help all the horses and evacuate all the horses," said Taisia Stadnichenko, as she petted "Karpilon", who spent 21 days alone in a forest in the Kyiv region after being let out of his stable to escape bombing.
"We think that every horse is the most important and precious for their owners."
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24 on what he calls a "special military operation" to demilitarise and "denazify" Ukraine. Ukraine and the West say Putin launched an unprovoked war of aggression.
More than 4 million Ukrainians have fled abroad since the start of the invasion.
(Reporting by Joseph Campbell; Editing by Alex Richardson)