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Emotional London taxi driver tells how a convoy of cabbies crossed Europe to help Ukraine
24 March 2022, 16:18
A London taxi driver has described how he and a convoy of cabs made their way to the refugee front line in Poland to rescue Ukrainians fleeing the war zone.
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Speaking to LBC's James O'Brien, Matt Westfall explained how he wanted to find a way to help after reading about what was happening in Ukraine.
He and a group of cabbies came together as a convoy of eight vehicles, making their way through Holland and Germany before finally arriving in Poland.
"The first side of it was the people side of it. The second side was the aid. That came afterwards.
"People always turn around and say ‘London taxi drivers - best taxi service in the world’ and I said, you know what? Let’s go and prove it.
"Let’s do what we do best and take people from A to B.
"That was my initial thought from the word go, let's go and get someone, take them from A to B safely."
Mr Westfall was directed to a centre where he registered to be given his passengers.
He picked up a woman in her 30s with her six-year-old daughter and a 40-year-old lady with her three children, who were both heading to Berlin.
"The 34-year-old lady and her six-year-old had been travelling from Kyiv on a 15-hour coach trip," Mr Westfall said, getting emotional.
"They've come back and literally got off the coach as we got to the sports centre. They've been in a line – it’s like a prison line – and it feels horrible to say that.
"They queue up, get their stuff, and we said ‘where do you want to go? And they said ‘Berlin’.
"The little girl walked up to us – they looked shell-shocked they’ve travelled through a war torn country – and the girl couldn’t even look at us.
"Me and my mate Lee – now Lee is a big guy, 6ft4 rugby player and this is a tiny little dot of a girl.
"He said: ‘You alright little one?’
"She didn’t take much notice – she looked really sad and tired her mum apologised to us.
"She could speak quite good English and goes ‘my daughter’s not really eaten or drunk anything for 15 hours.'
"Lee, as big as he is, got down on one knee, looked at her and went ‘you know what all kids like?'
"He shifted a little bit and went: 'McDonald’s.'
"He said McDonald’s and it was like flicking a switch. She looked up at her mum
"And no word of a lie, the girl jumped up and down and said ‘McDonald’s!’
"She came alive again."
As for the other mum, "she explained to the guys in the taxi that her flat had been completely decimated.
"She had lost everything – she hardly had anything – and she was on the phone to her husband who was on the front line to tell him they were safe in a London taxi and going through to Berlin.
"She was crying with tears down he faces and all three were cuddling into her.
"John was in the back of the taxi doing little magic tricks with them. He said ‘I ran out of magic tricks - I didn’t know what to do because I realised the mum was really upset."
He added: "The first stop was McDonald’s."
Reflecting on his journey, Mr Westfall said: "You've got to help these people."
He explained: "I just hope we did London proud. We did it for everybody. It wasn’t just for us. We did it for everybody and it was self-rewarding.
"It’s changed me completely – my outlook on stuff – I’ve gone from one thing to another.
"I never thought I’d see the scenes I’ve seen.
"These people look forlorn, they look tired, and all they had to their name was their plastic bag or their case and that was it."