Boston man flew to Europe and drove into Ukraine in daring rescue mission to save coworker and his family

Andrew Smeaton, chief information security officer at Boston-based company DataRobot, made the 4,500 journey into the warzone to rescue his colleague Kris van Huystee and his family

Rachel Sharp
Monday 14 March 2022 18:03 GMT
Boston man rescues coworker and family from Ukraine

A man from Boston has launched a daring rescue mission to save a coworker and his family who were trapped in Ukraine.

Andrew Smeaton, a 53-year-old from Quincy, flew from Boston to Frankfurt, Germany, then onto Krakow, Poland, last week before driving across the Ukrainian border into the war-ravaged country.

He eventually reached his colleague Kris van Huystee in the western city of Lviv, driving him, his wife, their 12-year-old son, and pet dog and cat to safety in Poland.

The chief information security officer at Boston-based tech company DataRobot told Boston25 that he made the 4,500 mile journey after learning that several of his 250 Ukrainian colleagues were stranded in the country following Russia’s invasion.

“I think it was just the right thing to do. Anyone would have done it,” he said.

When he reached Poland, Mr Smeaton said that he came up against the challenge of getting a car to make the journey across the border.

In the end, he managed to trade his wristwatch for a battered car which was low on oil and had its hood held in place with duct tape and set off on the journey with nothing but one container of gas, a pen knife and two bottles of water.

On the drive into Ukraine, he said he passed several checkpoints and people questioned why he was headed into the country - while most were fleeing in the opposite direction.

“One of the Ukranians asked, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘Ukraine’ and he said, ‘I know, but why?’ I said, ‘I’ve got to pick up a friend,’” he told Boston25.

“He pointed and said, ‘[But] the Russians, the Russians.” I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ He just looked at me and said goodbye.”

Andrew Smeaton said it was the ‘right thing to do’ to try to save his colleague
Andrew Smeaton said it was the ‘right thing to do’ to try to save his colleague (Boston25)

Mr van Huystee, an automation specialist for DataRobot who has lived in Ukraine for the last decade, said he and his family had been getting “pretty desperate”, with him becoming increasingly concerned for his family’s safety.

“It was very difficult for us to arrange transportation through the border… I was very scared for my family,” he said.

When he first saw his coworker arriving in Lviv, he was “super relieved”, saying it “really meant the world” to him that Mr Smeaton had risked his own life to save the lives of him and his family.

“Seeing a familiar face, a guy who went out of his way to risk his life to come and get me, it really meant the world,” he said.

However, the danger wasn’t over yet, with the group making the fraught journey back towards the border with Poland.

Kris van Huystee (left) and Andrew Smeaton (right) in Poland after they made it back across the border
Kris van Huystee (left) and Andrew Smeaton (right) in Poland after they made it back across the border (Boston25)

“It took 15 seconds for them to get in the car and we didn’t speak the entire journey back until they got over the Ukraine border. Then there were tears,” said Mr Smeaton.

He added that it was far from being “like the movies”, saying that “there’s no James Bond. There’s no Aston Martin”.

Now, Mr van Huystee feels he owes “my life” to Mr Smeaton and the colleagues are now working together to help others also fleeing Ukraine.

“Now we feel safe. We’re in a good place. Andy and myself at DataRobot, we’re just doing our best to get as many other people over here as possible,” Mr van Huystee said.

“I owe him my life. He saved us. When I first got here, I told him I’d do whatever I can to help out with the operation.”

The two men said they are staying in Krakow to work with World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit that is providing meals to Ukrainian refugees who have evacuated their homes and arrived into Poland.

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