‘War Tails’ documentary about homeless pets in Ukraine earns Seattle Film Festival honors

Dan Fine with UWARF Ukraine mascot Mi-Lady in December 2022.

War Tails,  the documentary about the homeless pet problem in Ukraine, recently won the Seattle Filmmaker Feature Film award at the The Seattle Film Festival.

Spearheaded by Edmonds’ own Tana Axtelle and Dan Fine, War Tails delves into the heart-wrenching reality faced by pets stranded in Ukraine’s war-torn regions. The film follows a dedicated team of veterinarians, vet techs and animal rescue volunteers working tirelessly to save these abandoned animals. Amid the chaos, the looming threat of rabies poses a severe risk to both animals and humans, highlighting the dire situation.

In the movie, Axtelle and Fine — co-founders of the Ukraine War Animals Relief Fund (UWARF) — bring this critical issue to light, demonstrating the power of compassion and the urgent need for action.

When the Russians invaded Ukraine, over 8 million people were forced to flee their homes. This resulted in over a million abandoned pets. Many are wandering the streets alone in desperate need of help, and the crisis is worsening day by day. Many of these animals are unsterilized and so the pet population is growing. On top of that, Ukraine had a problem with rabies before the war, and now it is exploding, including in major cities.

Fine and Axtelle decided to do something about it. In spring 2022, they went on their first mission to help the dogs and cats of Ukraine. Five missions later, through the nonprofit UWARF, they have sterilized, vaccinated and microchipped over 8,000 dogs and cats. They decided to make a documentary about the challenges Ukraine is having managing this problem.

The film was directed and written by Olha Byrledianu, a Ukrainian filmmaker who fled the war in February 2022, edited by Bryce Iwaschuk with sound editing by Christopher Cleator from Howe Sound, and score composed by Piotr N.

War Tails is dedicated to the late Bob Throndsen, who prior to his passing in February 2023 covered UWARF’s efforts for the My Neighborhood News Network. “He was the one that suggested we do it and then left us a roadmap to make it happen,” Fine said.

“This award is a tremendous honor, but our mission goes beyond accolades,” Fine said. “War Tails aims to raise awareness and help the homeless pets of Ukraine. These innocent animals need our support, and we hope this film inspires action before the problem escalates further.”

According to Fine, War Tails also was the most viewed at the Seattle Film Festival, topping the votes and winning the prestigious Audience Favorite Award for 2024.

“The Audience Favorite Award is particularly meaningful as it reflects the collective voice of the viewers, making it one of the most valuable honors a film can receive,” Fine said. “This award not only highlights the festival’s impact but also underscores the powerful connection our film has made with audiences.”

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