DEDHAM, Mass. — Andrew Smeaton dropped everything last week to go on a rescue mission 4,500 miles from home.
“I think it was just the right thing to do,” the 53-year-old Quincy-resident said from a hotel room in Krakow, Poland.
Smeaton is the Chief Information Security Officer at DataRobot, Inc., a Boston-based company with offices in Kyiv, Ukraine. Shortly after the Russian invasion, he learned several of his co-workers, including Kris van Huystee, were stranded and needed help. DataRobot had around 250 employees working in Ukraine, Smeaton said.
“We were getting pretty desperate,” said van Huystee, a DataRobot automation specialist. “It was very difficult for us to arrange transportation through the border...I was very scared for my family.”
Smeaton left Boston for Frankfurt, Germany, then connected to Krakow, Poland. Once on the ground, he realized getting a car wouldn’t be easy. He said he eventually traded his wristwatch for a 15-year-old Toyota that was low on oil and needed duct tape to keep the hood in place.
“It’s never like the movies, right? There’s no James Bond. There’s no Aston Martin,” he said.
Armed with only a pen knife, a container of gasoline and two bottles of water, Smeaton crossed the border into Ukraine Mar. 2. He encountered several checkpoints along the way but very few people heading his 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 pointed and said, ‘[But] the Russians, the Russians.” I said, ‘Yeah, I know.’ He just looked at me and said goodbye.”
Smeaton eventually made it to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, where van Huystee, his wife, 12-year-old son, dog and cat were waiting.
“Oh, I was super relieved,” said VanHuystee, a Ukraine resident for 10 years. “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.”
Smeaton said the ride back to Poland was so tense, no one spoke until they crossed the border.
“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,” Smeaton said.
Smeaton and van Huystee are staying in a Krakow hotel, working with World Central Kitchen to help the thousands of refugees entering Poland every day.
“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,” 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.”
Schawn Weishaar, a senior account manager at AccessIT Group in Boston, said he was blown away by what his business partner was able to accomplish.
“What Andy Smeaton did as an executive goes far beyond a paycheck,” Weishaar said in an email. “It’s great to see people come before the bottom line.”
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