During the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 61-year-old Igor Pedin refused to go anywhere without his nine-year-old Terrier mix named Zhu-Zhu. The man and his dog were in Mariupol, which is currently a Russian-controlled area in the southeastern part of Ukraine. He had family in Zaporizhzhia, which was a Ukraine-controlled city about 225 kilometers (140 miles) away.
Despite the risks, Pedin knew he had to get himself and Zhu-Zhu to safety. The only way he could get there was by foot, so he planned a long and dangerous journey. To be successful, he’d have to try to be an “invisible man” to avoid Russian troops.
Not Safe in Mariupol
When Russian troops took over Mariupol, they began going house to house and shooting people. So, no matter how difficult it seemed, Pedin knew he had to get out of there. He packed a bag of supplies, carefully selecting necessary items to keep it as light as possible. Then, he and Zhu-Zhu started their journey, acting as “ghosts.”
Pedin wasn’t leaving much behind in Mariupol since food and water were scarce and dead bodies were piling up in the streets. Yet, there was a long stretch of Russian-controlled territory ahead of him, so he and Zhu-Zhu had to be cautious. They had to avoid mines and Russian soldiers, as well as pass many grieving families on their way.
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“I looked like a vagabond to them, I was nothing. I was dirty and covered from dust, as my house had been filled with a fog of smoke. I walked out of the city by this motorway and at the top I turned around. I looked back down at the city and I said to myself, it was the right decision. I said goodbye. There was an explosion. I turned and walked on,” Pedin said.
His first stop was in the town of Nikolske, which was 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) away. A man who had just lost his son let Pedin and Zhu-Zhu stay with him.
A 140-Mile Journey
During each stop Pedin made, he only stayed briefly. He always got up bright and early to continue his journey. He was confronted by Russian soldiers in Nikolske and Rozivka. So, he wasn’t quite as invisible as he’d hoped. But luckily, after being thoroughly questioned, Pedin and Zhu-Zhu were able to continue their journey, despite being exhausted.
However, when Pedin finally made it to an area that wasn’t taken over by Russian soldiers, he faced his biggest obstacle yet. The road bridge to Zaporizhzhia had been destroyed, leaving a 30-meter (98-foot) drop. The bridge’s narrow metal frame was still in place, so Pedin tried to find a way to cross it. He tied up Zhu-Zhu and his bag and then attempted crossing it alone to make sure it was safe. Then, when he felt confident, he came back and brought his bag and then Zhu-Zhu across.
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Ukrainian soldiers on the other side were amazed that Pedin had crossed the bridge. However, he wasn’t able to take a vehicle to Zaporizhzhia with his dog. So, he and Zhu-Zhu had to walk across hills to reach their destination. At that point, Zhu-Zhu was so exhausted that she could barely walk.
“The dog just couldn’t go on. I had to walk up the road with my bag, and then come back for her and carry her up. I said, ‘If you don’t walk we will both die, you have to walk.’ She walked up the next hill,” said Pedin.
Zhu-Zhu Struggles to Adjust
As Pedin and Zhu-Zhu were walking, a truck stopped to take them the rest of the way. They arrived at a tent full of volunteers, and when a woman asked where they were from, she was shocked to hear they walked from Mariupol.
Now, Pedin is relying on his parents for shelter, but he’s worried about Zhu-Zhu. The dog’s paws were badly scratched up from the long walk, and she is now extra sensitive to loud sounds after witnessing so many bombings. Pedin hopes to find a vet to check on the dog, but he doesn’t know how he’ll afford Zhu-Zhu’s medical care.
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“She is very frightened by the sound of whistling. For example, when a bus passes by and the brakes squeak. She is very afraid of that because this sound reminds her of the whistling of bombs that flew and exploded then in Mariupol. And then she was afraid of the sound of military planes in Mariupol. Who flew and dropped bombs. So she is still afraid of these sounds,” said Pedin.
Pedin and Zhu-Zhu have a lot of recovering to do both mentally and physically. But for now, they’re safe from the bombings near Mariupol, and they’re lucky to have each other. Pedin clearly cares about his dog very much, and he will continue to make sure she stays safe.
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