Two Irish tour companies, Galway Tour Company and Go Bus, are offering free flights to Ireland for refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine. An initial 500 seats from Poland have already been sourced, with the first 50 booked for a flight on May 1st. Known as “Flights for Freedom”, it is hoped to scale the initiative up to 200 seats per week very quickly.
The two tour companies are working closely with the Ukrainian Crisis Centre in Ireland (UCCI), an organisation of over 80 volunteers made up almost entirely of Ukrainians that were living in Ireland before the Russian invasion. UCCI’s main activities include assisting newly-arrived refugees and organising aid convoys to Ukraine.
UCCI will promote the initiative on Ukrainian social–media channels and will vet and register all applicants. Those considering coming to Ireland will be advised that the accommodation situation here is constrained and likely to become even more so as the war continues and more people are forced to flee.
Flights for Freedom has been formally accredited by the Ukrainian Embassy in Ireland.
Flights for Freedom was the brainchild of Paul Norton, the founder and CEO of Galway Tours. He said:
“Our original intention was to send a fleet of Galway Tour Company and Go Bus coaches to Ukraine and bring people back to safety in Ireland. We reviewed the logistics with the various Irish charities on the ground in Ukraine and decided that we needed a way to get vulnerable people, many of whom are not able for a long bus journey, out quicker.
“We negotiated a very good rate with airlines and liaised with charity partners the Ukrainian Crisis Centre, who will help to look after the people once they arrive in Ireland. We are only contributing to one part of the journey, but it means a lot to the charities who are working so hard to coordinate and organise getting people ready to travel and then settled when they arrive.”
A spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Crisis Centre said:
“Every day we get calls from people still in Ukraine, almost all of whom are mothers with children, who are desperate to come to Ireland but do not have the means. Many of these have family members—daughters, mothers or sisters—who are already in Ireland. Many are not able to afford the cost of flights.
“Thanks to Galway Tour Company and Go Bus we now have an option for these people. Obviously, we would prefer if we could promise people proper accommodation but when you are trying to save your children from being slaughtered by the Russian army your first priority has to be to get to safety.”
An idonate page that was established with the goal of raising €100,000 has already raised over €30,000. For those willing to donate the site is https://www.idonate.ie/fundraiser/11433532_flights-for-freedom-fundraising-page.html