Joe McCarthy and Gary Taylor rescued one Irish and two Nigerian students as well as an elderly Ukrainian couple and a young mother and son from the city of Sumy in north-eastern Ukraine, which has been under heavy Russian fire. At one point they were held up by Russian soldiers at gunpoint but were themselves rescued by Ukrainian locals.
They arrived in Sumy on Monday, a city which has been out of reach for many aid organisations given its close proximity to the Russian border.
Mr McCarthy, 55, and Mr Taylor, 45, who run Ready2Rock landscaping, have been hailed for their heroic mission and risking their lives to bring others to safety.
Among those rescued were Irish medical student Rachael Diyaolu,19, and Nigerian students Roycee Iloelunachi and Anolajuwon Solarin.
Speaking to the Guardian after her escape, Ms Diyaolu admitted to having “mixed emotions” about leaving when so many others are left behind.
She said: “My mother is very pleased but she is on edge and won’t be happy until I get home.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling because it is just so disheartening that so many students are still trapped.”
Mr McCarthy said on Monday: “We had guns pointed to our heads, a tank’s sniper pointed at us, our front tyres shot at and our vans ransacked, but locals helped us and took us to a garage, got us new tyres and showed us a back road to Sumy.
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“I’m not going to lie, we could have just turned back yesterday when we met the Russians.
“But it was worth it – we have everyone with us now and bar any catastrophe we should be at the border in the morning.”
The Scottish gardeners have said they intend to go back to Ukraine and help more people escape.
All public transport out of Sumy is currently cancelled, with an estimated 1,500 to 1,700 foreign students stranded in the city.