AN Ennis man has returned from a second humanitarian mission helping Ukrainians – and their beloved four legged friends – flee the war with Russia.
John Casey, founder of the Tesla Owners Group in Ireland, was among a convoy of drivers who recently brought 40 Ukrainian refugees along with 10 dogs, 11 cats and a guinea pig, from Poland back to Ireland.
“We were a right little Noah’s Ark,” he tells us.
He explains that the pets have helped to bring a sense of comfort to the refugees, reminding them of a life before the invasion. Travelling with the convoy of cars over land and by ferry meant they could bring their much loved animals with them to safety.
“These people are great pet lovers and they are very reluctant to leave their pets behind. We brought back some beautiful dogs and cats. They do love their animals and it’s good that they were able to bring them as they are a great source of comfort.”
As well as helping people bring their pets to a new life in Ireland, the group also brought people who could not travel by plane to escape due to health reasons.
The humanitarian endeavour was the brainchild of group member Tom McEnaney who has been involved in charities operating in eastern Europe for 25 years.
The convoy travelled to Poznan through the UK landbridge via Harwich on the way out. However they could not come back the same way due to UK restrictions on Ukrainian refugees. The convoy were dependent on the continental route returning to Ireland by ferry from France.
John tells us that the group had always intended on going back to Poland to help the people of Ukraine once funds and logistics allowed.
“Compared to the first trip, where people were fleeing ahead of the war, what we really found this time was we were actually bringing people who had encountered the war.
“We brought people from Mariupol, from Kharkiv and from parts around Kyiv that had experienced war. Also we brought more people with pets this time, we were a right little Noah’s Ark.”
“Other agencies are providing flights, but there are some people who are just unable to fly. We have brought people who had cancer, dementia, a person who was deaf, and you could see it would be very problematic bringing them back on flights.”
Some of those who came with the group had family or friends who had travelled over on the first convoy. According to John the drivers have worked to build up a good support network for the new arrivals who are settling in well.
John brought a woman and her two children in his car, and through contacts they had here they had already secured accommodation in Carrick-on-Shannon and the children now have school places.
He says what those fleeing have gone through “fairly traumatic” experiences adding, “You can see the pain on some of their faces”.
“I was talking to one of the women on the ferry and she was telling me that at home she is a university professor and some of her students are inside the Azovstal steelworks in Mariupol. She is very, very concerned about them.
“The three I brought back to Carrick-on-Shannon, a bomb landed very close to where they were living in Ukraine. They felt it was time to get out before things got much worse with them.”
He says that the group are happy to do their bit to help those in need, and they hope to go out on another mission in the near future.
“If funds, ferry capacity and logistics permit there is a plan to run further missions, absolutely. We have found a sort of niche, helping people who are just unable to fly for whatever reasons and unable to get across.
“There will be more people like that unfortunately as this continues and if we are able to do this for them then that is what we will do.”
To donate towards the appeal check https://www.gofundme.com/f/ukrainian-refugee-appeal