A London taxi driver leading a convoy of black cabs carrying Ukrainian refugees from Poland said the experience changed him forever.
Matt Westfall, 52, raised more than £11,000 to get six black cabs, a car and a van to Poland to deliver humanitarian aid to refugee camps set up near the Ukrainian border and transport refugees trying to reach cities across Europe.
Westfall, who has been a London taxi driver for 11 years, arrived home on Wednesday, saying there are “no words” to describe the four-day journey.
“I don’t have a big enough vocabulary to tell you how I felt,” said the 52-year-old from Buckhurst Hill, Essex.
“Pain, heartbreak, relief… It changed me forever.
“I can’t understand what they have been through, all I can do is try to smile and do what I can for them… There are no words.”
Westfall decided to launch a GoFundMe for the cause when he saw a video online of a Ukrainian father saying goodbye to his family as he left them to enlist in the military.
With the help of more than £6,700 donated by strangers on the London Taxi Drivers Association fundraising and contribution site and Eclipse Rent-A-Taxi, Mr. Westfall set out on Sunday with a group of taxi drivers who had recruited for the task. .
The group drove 13 hours to Warsaw, Poland, where they delivered aid such as sanitary products, baby food, napkins and toilet paper, picking up two families per vehicle to drive back across the continent.
“I had a mother and a daughter in my taxi, they were going to Munich… Three families were going to Hamburg, where they have relatives and friends,” explained Mr Westfall.
“There were two women, I didn’t know where they were going… We didn’t want to meddle in their lives too much.”
“And one (driver) is in Dunkirk now, they’re waiting for visas… they have sponsors, family in Notting Hill, so (he’s) waiting until they get a visa and he’ll take them to Notting Hill, either today or tomorrow.” .
With the money donated to GoFundMe, Mr. Westfall was able to pay for and house some of the refugees they transported in a hotel, allowing them to wash and eat.
He described the emotional conversation he had with a Ukrainian mother that he brought to Munich.
“We asked the lady in our taxi, ‘Do you think you’ll come back?’ and she said, ‘To what? My flat is gone, I have nothing to go back to, I don’t know what to do.
“She said, ‘I would love to go back to my country, I really want to go back but I have nothing to go back to.’
“He has family in Munich and that’s where he is now, so I think they will start a new life in Germany.”
Westfall also spoke about the moment that “will live with (him) forever” when he transports the woman and her young daughter.
“This little dot, she didn’t want to talk… She looked very gray and pale and tired,” he said.
“Her mother said, ‘I’m pretty worried, she’s not eating, she’s not drinking anything.’
“So my partner got down on one knee and said, ‘I know what all the kids like…McDonalds.'”
“Her little eyes lit up like a light went on and it was amazing… Her little face lit up and suddenly we had a different girl on our hands.
“It was an incredible moment that summed up the trip, it was worth it for that little moment alone.”
The group stopped at McDonalds on the way to Berlin, after which the girl fell asleep on her mother while Westfall continued to drive the couple to the German capital.
“It was just lovely… She slept all the way to Berlin, 12 hours, she must have felt safe.”
“We put them in a hotel and my partner just got a message from the mother and daughter, they are now with their family in Munich, they sent us a photo.”
Mr. Westfall hopes to make the trip again when he can.
To donate to Mr. Westfall’s GoFundMe, go to: www.gofundme.com/f/cabbie-relief-for-ukraine