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Men who rescued Irish medical student describe relief after reaching Ukraine border

Joe McCarthy and Gary Taylor helped get Racheal Diyaolu to the country’s border this week.

Medical student Racheal Diyaolu
Medical student Racheal Diyaolu
Image: Racheal Diyaolu

THE MEN WHO rescued Irish medical student Racheal Diyaolu from Ukraine have described their relief after reaching the EU border. 

Gary Taylor and Joe McCarthy said they were threatened by Russian soldiers who they said held guns at point blank range against their heads, shot out their tyres and stole their cigarettes. 

They reached the border yesterday with the 19-year-old Carlow native following four days of travelling. 

Racheal, from Carlow, was living in the city of Sumy in northeastern Ukraine when the country was invaded. 

Speaking to Morning Ireland on RTÉ, Joe McCarthy and Gary Taylor said there was a lot of relief that the student was safe and could travel home to her family. 

The men, who work as landscape gardeners in Scotland, have been travelling throughout the war-torn country helping people get out.  

They said there were “a lot of problems” with Russian forces over the past week.

“They held a gun up against our heads when we were up against the barn and took all our food and cigarettes – and Joe’s phone,” Taylor told RTÉ. 

McCarthy, who is originally from Birmingham, said they had a “three kilometre long Russian army that keeps staring down their tank barrels at us” but the group continued and were able to receive help from locals. 

“It’s just one of them things you get through and you carry on. We could have just said ‘We’re going home now,’ but we spoke to some locals, they changed the tyres for us and they showed us a back route into Sumy.

“It’s been a long process really and to get Racheal and six others safely to the border was a relief.”

Racheal had been studying medicine at Sumy State University, 50 kilometres from the Russian border when Ukraine was invaded.

Speaking with The Journal last week while sheltering in her student accommodation, Racheal said her daily routine involved monitoring the military situation, keeping in communication with family and routine trips to her building’s bunker.

She began travelling to the border on Monday after being picked up by two British volunteers who are attempting to get people out of the country.

The rescue attempt appeared to have failed over the weekend after the volunteers encountered hostile Russian soldiers on their way to collect people stranded in Sumy.

But the team successfully reached Racheal, along with others, on Monday and the mission resumed.

It was hoped the group would reach the border yesterday, but the car that they were travelling in suffered several punctures, which slowed their progress. 

The group also had to stop overnight due to a curfew being in force locally.

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McCarthy said he decided to go to Ukraine after hearing about the invasion on the news.

“I wanted to go and help people just get to the borders. A lot of people couldn’t get transport and had to walk,” he said.

“I just went to work on the Friday and I felt a bit guilty about it because we’re sitting there in the UK with all our nice comforts and these people are struggling.”

His friend Taylor decided to go with him. “He asked, ‘Well, can I come?’ Yeah, of course you can,” he said.

They started off with a €10,000 budget and set up a GoFundMe to keep them going.

That fundraiser is currently in the region of €40,000. “Once that run out we were going to go home but now it’s gone up and up, so obviously people don’t want us to go home.

“They wouldn’t keep adding to the funds if they wanted us to go home.”

People have been able to contact them for help via Tik- Tok and Facebook and there are now 20 people awaiting their help. “The list just keeps growing every day,” McCarthy said.

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