A war veteran drove more than 3000 miles in an epic journey from Scotland to rescue his pregnant daughter-in law from the war in Ukraine.
Michael Marley went from Ardrossan to Odessa in a mission he called Operation Family Freedom that took two hours to plan and 10 days to complete.
The 56-year-old drove from the Ayrshire town in his Peugeot 308 with his Ukrainian doctor wife Oksana, 52.
They made their way through France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Romania – sleeping in the car on the way – to save Anna Chichur, stranded in the village of Orlivka near the city which has been targeted by Russia.
Michael said: “We felt very helpless sitting at home and I decided that we had to do something.”
Anna, 33, whose baby girl is due in July, had left her husband and home in a desperate bid to get to safety.
They also brought back Anna’s six-year-old son Leo but left Anna’s husband – Oksana’s son – who has remained to fight.
Michael and Oksana spent three days on the road crossing Europe, sleeping in car parks and taking turns to drive, stopping off at petrol stations for food and water.
After an emotional reunion with Anna and Leo, they headed for the Romanian border, crossing the River Danube by ferry en route back to Scotland.
The four stopped off in Paris where they had to wait six days for a visa at a special refugee processing center before heading across the Channel Tunnel and back to Scotland.
Michael, a fire safety consultant, who served for 20 years in the Queen’s Own Highlanders including tours of duty in Northern Ireland, Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia, said this was his biggest challenge.
Oksana had visited Odessa on February 25, the day after the Russian invasion, to see her son and daughter-in-law.
But she had to return to Scotland three days later leaving them both behind.
Michael said: “We were really worried about their safety, particularly as Anna is pregnant and due in July.
“On March 7 I just decided that we had to go back there and take Anna and Leo to safety.
“We jumped in the car and drove straight to Ukraine.
“All we had were our passports and credit cards. Any clothes we needed we bought as we went along. It took us three days to get to Ukraine and pick up Anna and Leo.
“It was a very emotional meeting.
“My wife’s son had to stay behind in Odessa because martial law had been imposed.
“We then headed for Paris where we went through the visa application process.
“Finally we got back to Ardrossan three weeks ago on March 19.”
The couple drove almost non-stop from Scotland using the various motorway networks and their sat-nav to get to Ukraine.
Oksana added: “We would park behind petrol stations and just sleep in the car to save time and money.
“We never slept for more than a few hours at a time. All we wanted to do was to get Anna and Leo to safety as quickly as possible.
“We knew the situation was worsening by the hour.”
Michael said: “We found a two-star hotel near the UK visa center which was very expensive.
“Despite the time we spent there, we found the system works if you follow the processes laid down. Now we are home in Ardrossan, we are teaching Anna and Leo the Scottish way of life and no doubt a few more hurdles to jump through.”
Anna was a fitness instructor back in Odesa and is preparing for the arrival of her second child, while Leo is due to start school in Ardrossan.
Michael said Leo’s dad is safe and hopes to join the family soon.
Russian forces have been described as retreating towards the east of Ukraine but are still targeting the historic city of Odessa, which sits on the Black Sea and is home to more than one million people.
Security was tightened there over the weekend and a curfew was put in place over the threat of a missile strike.
Oksana said the past few weeks have been difficult for Anna as she doesn’t have any money with her and speaks very little English.
She added: “I think the authorities need to be doing more to help people financially when they come here from Ukraine.
“Thankfully we are able to help her out as we are both in work but we would be struggling to help otherwise.”
Michael and Oksana spoke of their family rescue at a special Day of Action for Ukraine in George Square in Glasgow, which attracted several hundred people.
The organizers said the event was to celebrate Ukrainian culture and show solidarity with refugees who have escaped the Ukrainian conflict and other war zones to come to Scotland.
A spokeswoman said: “Our message is that all refugees are welcome here.”
We also spoke with Sovenko Vasyl, 56, who moved to Glasgow 20 years ago where he now lives with his Lithuanian wife Olga and their 10-year-old son Anton.
Last week he welcomed his daughter Victoria, 32, and grandaughters Lira, 14, and Kira, eight after they fled war-torn Kyiv six weeks ago.
They were joined by his daughter-in-law Alona, 34, and her son Dima, 12, who had also escaped the Russian capital.
Both mums and their children fled Kyiv on February 24 as the Russians began bombing the city.
They made it to safety in the Polish city of Wroclaw where they spent several weeks before flying into Glasgow last Friday.
Sovenko said: “I am delighted to have them safe after so many weeks of worry.
“When the bombing began and the missiles started flying into Kyiv, we knew it was right for them to leave.
“Too many normal people are dying in Ukraine. The Russian soldiers have behaved like animals.”
Sovenko still has fears for his son Constantin, 33, who remains in the city of Uman in Central Ukraine.
According to the latest intelligence assessment by the UK Ministry of Defence, Russian forces are continuing to hit non-military targets.
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