Utah man rents car, drives into Ukraine to transport refugees fleeing the country

Mar 9, 2022, 2:26 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 9:33 pm

LVIV, Ukraine— A Spanish Fork man was able to transport 14 Ukrainians to Poland in a rental car during his three-day trip to the war-torn area. 

David Gashler felt compelled to help as his wife is a native of Ukraine, he speaks the language and had once called the country home.

“I could’t watch that go on without doing something,” he said. “I couldn’t watch the country I love being obliterated.”

He purchased an airline ticket to Poland and reserved a rental car shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine. He brought with him donations and funds from Utahns who wanted to help.

The sight of desperation is something he will never forget, recalling the long lines of people on foot and in cars hoping to cross the border.

“These people are starting their lives completely over,” he said. “They have no idea where they are going.”

His first trip was a successful one shuttling a mom and her daughters who left dad behind to fight in the war.

After dropping them off, Gashler went back into Ukraine and headed toward the central bus station in Lviv. While there he was able to find two men looking to book bus tickets for their wives and children. One of the mothers was pregnant.

“She was around 7 to 8 months pregnant and she did not want to have her baby in a bomb shelter,” he said.

Gashler said that journey was a heartbreaking one as he watched the husbands say their goodbyes.

“They went on their way. I mean they’re going to be joining the military, they have no choice,” he said.

For his final trip he went to a refugee camp, walked around and found more people in need.

“I said ‘who wants to go anywhere in Poland’ basically and that’s when I got six people, two cats and a dog,” Gashler said.

Among the group was a mother and her two kids whose lodging in Poland fell through.

“They immediately started crying not knowing where they were going to go,” he said. “The younger daughter said ‘can we just go back home to Ukraine?’”

Gashler used funds donated by Utahns to buy them a 10-day stay at a hotel. 

He said the most difficult part of the trip was leaving without helping more people escape.

“Coming home is the hardest part of it. I told my wife I didn’t want come home and I wanted stay and accomplish more,” he said.

Gashler hopes to return to the border to shuttle more people out in the next couple of weeks.

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Utah man rents car, drives into Ukraine to transport refugees fleeing the country