AS tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to escalate, an East Clare tour operator planning a “dating tour” to Kiev has said he is not unduly concerned, writes Fiona McGarry.
Scariff’s James Treacy told The Champion that he is keeping a watch on the situation ahead of the planned tour and will stick to whatever advice is issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Treacy, who previously insisted that there will be no risk to the safety of the 50 men he aims to bring to Ukraine, said he doesn’t see the current crisis along the Ukrainian border as a particular cause for alarm.
“Like all other destinations where there has been war, we cannot travel there unless the Department of Foreign Affairs allow us to travel,” he said.
The experienced tour operator, who also runs pilgrimages to religious sites around the world, said he has already encountered situations where conflict has necessitated a change of plan.
“I remember I had a group going to Israel and the Palestinians were firing rockets into Jerusalem and when there was a ceasefire we were allowed to travel,” he said.
“I wouldn’t be afraid to travel to Ukraine for me it’s like eating my dinner I have done so much globe trotting. I am always nervous going on the bus from Limerick to Dublin to catch my connecting flight but once I get moving I am OK.”
Mr Treacy, who is also a professional photographer, gave an assurance that all money will be refunded in the event the group cannot travel.
“We won’t be allowed to travel unless it is safe to go and anyone who has paid money and if the trip is canceled will get their money back,” he said. “Everything is done above board.”
During the pandemic, Mr Treacy decided to diversify the range of tours he offers and teamed up with American tour operator, A Foreign Affair.
The company runs so-called “singles introduction tours” to Eastern Europe, South America and Asia. The Scariff man said interest in the 2022 tour has been huge, with only a few places remaining.
According to the detailed itinerary for the trip, the group is scheduled to arrive in Kiev on August 18. Mr Treacy said that in the event of an invasion, he will deal with the situation on the ground.
“If Russia invades Ukraine it wouldn’t bother me and if they do I have loads of Russian roubles left over since my last trip to Saint Petersburg in Russia a number of years ago, which cannot be changed in an Irish Bank. I could buy a Russian Beet for ten roubles and a packet of cigarettes are only 30 roubles.”
Mr Treacy, who has secured huge national publicity for the initiative, has insisted that everyone involved in the planned tour is genuinely looking for long-term love and that there is no question of sex tourism or exploitation.
The focus on those involved is on matrimony, he said. He is also planning to run tours to the Holy Land this year and to the Philippines and Fatima in 2023.
Concern of an imminent invasion of the Ukraine by Russia has been ramping up in recent weeks.
A massive Russian military build-up on the border with Ukraine is the subject of intensive and ongoing diplomatic activity.
Tensions between Ireland and Russia have eased with the decision to move a planned naval exercise to a location outside of Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone.