A COUNTY Durham driving instructor who saved his girlfriend and her two children from war-torn Ukraine has finally been reunited with her – a month after risking his own life to drive 3400 miles and come to her rescue.

Mike Farrell, 60, from Leadgate, near Consett, made the journey from the North East at the start of March to rescue his girlfriend, Svetlana Yanyk, 45, her son, Illia 12, and daughter, Sofiia, 11, from their home in Khmelnytskyi, Ukraine.

During seven days, Mr Farrell drove thousands of miles across several borders in his trusty Suzuki Swift, which he usually teaches his pupils in, and stayed in Khmelnytskyi for two nights, before travelling home again.

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During his travels, the driving instructor encountered the conflict zone, heard air-raid sirens, and saw soldiers, but he was so blinded by the task in hand that he wasn’t scared of any imminent danger.

Despite successfully navigating his way to Ukraine and back via the Polish border towards the Netherlands, their journey was curtailed when Mr Farrell’s car was halted at the Dutch border and Svetlana and her two children weren’t allowed into the UK.

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After several weeks of ‘red tape’ and sorting out documents with the government, the couple, who originally met 18 months ago after the driving instructor stopped in Ukraine during a trip across Europe, have been reunited in County Durham on March 28.

%image('13675642', type="article-full", alt="Mike took Svetlana to her first Newcastle United match recently. Picture: MIKE FARRELL.")

Fast forward two weeks since Svetlana arrived, and despite a positive conclusion for the couple – they are still experiencing several issues with the government, including getting the Ukrainian national a bank account and universal credit.  

Mr Farrell said: “I’m very relieved to have Svetlana and her two children over here. They were on their own in the Netherlands for nine days but they’re all safe.

“While they’re here – they haven’t had too much of a chance to settle and relax because there’s DBS checks, biometric tests, and other things.

%image('13675645', type="article-full", alt="Svetlana during a recent trip for the couple to the Pennines. Picture: MIKE FARRELL.")

“There’s still so much red tape and it’s endless. One of the biggest issues we’ve found is that we’re one of the first to bring a Ukrainian person to the UK, the council don’t know what to do and when they travelled to the UK, the border team didn’t know what to do. It’s all new.

Life for the happy couple might not be exactly ‘back to normal’, despite the pair going to a Newcastle United match together, but Mr Farrell has revealed that he’s now back working as a driving instructor after leaving his students for ten days to travel to Ukraine.

Each one of his students now call him a “hero” but he just thinks he’s a “regular bloke”.

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%image('13675650', type="article-full", alt="Svetlana during a Newcastle United match draped in a Ukraine flag. Picture: MIKE FARRELL. ")

Luckily for the 60-year-old driving instructor, it was a happy ending for him and Svetlana, but he has highlighted that many Ukrainian families haven’t been that lucky.

He added: “A lot needs to happy to bring refugees from Ukraine over – I don’t want to sit here and slate the government too much because it’s a new situation, but I find it strange that we’re one of the first to successfully bring someone from Ukraine over to the UK.”

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