Ukraine war: Airth gardener on mercy mission threatened at gunpoint by Russian soldiers

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Heroic gardeners threatened at gunpoint by Russian forces have vowed to keep helping people across the Ukrainian border.

Joe McCarthy, 55,from Airth, and colleague Gary Taylor, 45, travelled to Ukraine a day after Russia invaded the country on February 24.

They have since covered more than 6,000 miles and helped 12 people and one dog safely out of Ukraine.

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Last week they had the front tyres of their van shot out by Russian forces and were held at gunpoint.

Joe McCarthyJoe McCarthy
Joe McCarthy

But the pair said they plan to keep the humanitarian effort going as long as it remains safe for them.

Dad-of-two Gary, from Bonnyrigg, said: "We've not even put a time scale on it.

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"If it gets too dangerous for us or the Russians get too far, we will sit down and have a talk about it then.

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Gary Taylor (left) and Joe McCarthy (right) have been driving people to safety over the border in Ukraine (Photo: Joe McCarthy)Gary Taylor (left) and Joe McCarthy (right) have been driving people to safety over the border in Ukraine (Photo: Joe McCarthy)
Gary Taylor (left) and Joe McCarthy (right) have been driving people to safety over the border in Ukraine (Photo: Joe McCarthy)

"We have decided we are not going to go near Kyiv or Sumy again because those are the worst places to be.

"Once is lucky enough to get away from them."

On March 6, the duo were confronted by three-kilometre long convoy of Russian troops in tanks as they made their way into the Ukrainian city of Sumy.

Landscape gardener Gary said: "It was quite scary. They were going by with their machine guns pointing at us as well.

"A group of them came out and started being bad to us. They pushed us up against the van and put guns to our head.

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"They took all our food, our cigarettes and ripped off all the panels in the van."

The men were forced to drive for 15 miles on two flat tires until they came across locals who helped them.

The pair were struck by further difficulty after their van broke down on Sunday night around 20 miles from Poltava in central Ukraine.

Gary said: "The starter motor is out so we had to sleep at the side of the road.

"It was about minus four or five and we had no heating on.

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"We don't know how long it would take them to find a starting motor for the van so we will just have to wait and see."

Joe put £10,000 in to fund the efforts but they have since raised nearly £45,000 through a GoFundMe page.

He decided to embark on the trip to help civilians after watching the news on the invasion on the day it happened.

While the two men will often sleep in the van, they strive to secure hotels for the people they help out of the country.

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Gary said his two children, aged nine and 13, are 'so proud' of him, but said his family is concerned about his wellbeing.

He said: "My mum, she is petrified for me.

"She's not eating nor sleeping but I talk to her everyday and I talk to my kids everyday."

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