We drove our Teslas to Poland and back to Ireland with 72 Ukrainian refugees


The Ukrainian family I was going to bring back to Ireland were already standing by the car when I emerged from my hotel in Poznan, western Poland, at six in the morning.

there were four: Olga, a mother in her late thirties, her own mother, and Olga’s (14) son and daughter – perhaps one of the cutest eight-year-old girls you have ever seen.

The first thing I noticed was the boy’s jacket. The sun hadn’t had time to warm the air, but he was wearing only the lightest of windbreakers.

The second thing was luggage. This family, who had fled the bombings of kyiv the day before and, as I would learn later, had fled the Donbass a few years ago, had only a small suitcase and several plastic bags.

It was the sum total of their possessions. It was all they had saved to bring to Ireland. Worse still, much of what they were carrying was food.

They weren’t alone. There were 15 cars and a van parked in front of the hotel. All had Irish plates and all had groups of Ukrainian women and children standing beside them; 72 guests who had made their way, mainly from kyiv, Mariupol and Odessa to be taken to Ireland.

There were 39 children in the whole group, including a three-month-old baby. Most of the people gathered looked tired. Some were obviously scared. Maybe it was my imagination, but some seemed relieved. Someone else was in charge now. Someone was bringing them to safety.

Then there were the pets. If an animal is a precious part of your family, the plane escape is not an option. So those we rescued from the ongoing war included three dogs, five cats and, unlikely as it may seem, a rat.

It must have seemed odd to our guests that of the 15 cars parked in a row, 10 were Teslas. Two weeks earlier, when the idea for the convoy came to me, the first thing I did was contact the other members of the Tesla Owners Group.

Fortunately, John Casey, the president of the group, not only agreed to come, but also helped organize the trip. More fortunately, Caroline Dowling, an accomplished Irish businesswoman, powerful woman, owner of Tesla and director of Unicef ​​Ireland, also agreed to help.

By far the most difficult part of planning before the trip was gaining the trust of the refugees and the refugee centres. One of the worst consequences of the war is that Poland has become a hotbed of sex trafficking.

As a number of well-meaning Irish groups have learned the hard way, refugee centers will not take in those who claim they want to help unless they have cast iron references. Single women were, and still are, rightly afraid of being trafficked.

We have partnered with the Ukrainian Crisis Centre, an Irish community of Ukrainians helping Ukrainians. Thanks to them, we were accredited by the Ukrainian Embassy in Ireland.

In the few days before our arrival, the numbers changed. We have learned that frightened people find it difficult to make choices. Many are traumatized. At one point we were afraid to go home with empty seats. And then we had 100 people sign up. Our final number was 94, but we only had 72 seats in the cars.

A quick conflab and opt-out policy was agreed.

The additional 22 would follow by air a few days later.

The following days were defined by fast driving, largely silent passengers and bouts of Ukrainian music playing on the car’s audio systems. Some of us drove 18 hours straight, but no one complained. Our guests were relieved to be out of the bombed towns and the Irish drivers were only too aware that their little inconvenience was nothing compared to what our families had been through.

Despite a few overspeeds, we only arrived in Cherbourg with the good grace of Irish Ferries, which delayed the boat by 45 minutes. Many of us, myself included, crawled with our families with only a few miles of range on our batteries.

At that time, our guests were most definitely “our families”. Each driver took personal responsibility. The people in their car were the people they cared for.

When we arrived in Ireland, we had two choices: take personal responsibility for our families or trust the system; Ipas (International Accommodation Protection Services) which deals with short-term accommodation, and the Red Cross, which deals with monitoring and medium-term accommodation.

We chose to trust the system, but we didn’t just let our families go. The 20 volunteers who organized the convoy formed a support group for those we brought to Ireland. The WhatsApp group used to organize the convoy is now used to find accommodation, organize day trips, strollers, dentists and anything else our families need. Olga’s son won’t need to take out his windbreaker again until the weather definitely warms up.

Some of our families have already been placed in what will be their home until the end of the war. Some are already looking for jobs.

The most striking aspect of this whole exercise was the welcome given to our families by all the Irish groups and individuals we met. The tireless mobilization to help those fleeing war has repeatedly made me proud to be Irish.

Which leaves just one more question. Will we go out again? Right now we are busy taking care of the families we have brought. Once we are satisfied, we will discuss the possibility of “Convoy, the sequel”.

Tom McEnaney is a media consultant, former journalist and founder of IODP, an Irish NGO working with underprivileged children in Belarus.


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