Ukraine meets a tour operator who monitors Russians

As tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to escalate, an East Clare tour operator planning a “dating tour” in Kyiv said he was not too worried, writes Fiona McGarry.

Scariff’s James Treacy told The Champion he was monitoring the situation ahead of the planned tour and would stick to all advice issued by the Foreign Office.

Mr Treacy, who had previously insisted there would be no risk to the safety of the 50 men he plans to bring to Ukraine, said he did not consider the current crisis along the Ukrainian border as a particular cause for concern.

“Like all other destinations where there has been war, we cannot travel there unless the Ministry of Foreign Affairs authorizes us to travel,” he said.

The experienced tour operator, who also organizes pilgrimages to religious sites around the world, said he had already encountered situations where the conflict required a change of plan.

“I remember a group was going to Israel and the Palestinians were firing rockets at Jerusalem and when there was a ceasefire we were allowed to travel,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be afraid to travel to Ukraine as it’s like eating my dinner. I’ve done so much globetrotting. I’m still nervous to take the bus from Limerick to Dublin to catch my onward flight , but once I move, I’m fine.

Mr Treacy, who is also a professional photographer, assured that all money would be refunded in case the group were unable to travel.

“We will not be allowed to travel unless it is safe to leave and whoever has paid money and if the trip is canceled will get their money back,” he said. “Everything is done above board.”

During the pandemic, Mr Treacy decided to diversify the range of tours he offers and partnered with US tour operator A Foreign Affair.

The company organizes “single introductory tours” in Eastern Europe, South America and Asia. The Scariff man said interest in the 2022 tour was huge, with just a few spots remaining.

According to the detailed itinerary of the trip, the group should arrive in Kyiv on August 18. Mr Treacy said that in the event of an invasion he would deal with the situation on the ground.

“If Russia invades Ukraine, I wouldn’t mind and if it did, I have a lot of Russian rubles left over from my last trip to St. Petersburg in Russia several years ago, which can’t be changed in an Irish bank. I could buy a Russian beetroot for ten rubles and a pack of cigarettes costs only 30 rubles.

Mr Treacy, who has gained huge national publicity for the initiative, insisted everyone involved in the planned tour is genuinely looking for long-term love and there is no talk of sex tourism or operating.

The focus on the people involved is on the marriage, he said. He also plans to organize tours in the Holy Land this year and in the Philippines and Fatima in 2023.

Fears of an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine have intensified in recent weeks.

A massive reinforcement of the Russian army on the border with Ukraine is the subject of intensive and continuous diplomatic activity.

Tensions between Ireland and Russia eased with the decision to move a planned naval exercise to a location outside Ireland’s exclusive economic zone.