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Former Cork-based chiropractor volunteers to assist Ukraine bomb disposal teams after being inspired by his late Irish wife

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Mark Cashley

Mark Cashley

Mark Cashley

A former Cork-based chiropractor has volunteered to assist elite bomb disposal teams in Ukraine after being inspired to help refugees in the war-torn country by his late Irish wife.

Mark Cashley (60) worked for almost two decades in Cork before returning to his native Scotland with his Irish-born wife, Marie.

Tragically, Marie died from a long-term illness five years ago - and Mark said he was inspired to go to Ukraine to try to help people by the memory of his late wife.

Having spent two months in Ukraine, Mark returned to Scotland for a short break but, despite pleas from his family to stay, he decided to return to Ukraine in July for further volunteer work.

While in Ukraine, Mark has driven ambulances, assisted in psychological operations aimed at bolstering Ukrainian morale and even worked with the elite Ukrainian women's bomb disposal team.

His Cork friends - many drawn from Fermoy Rugby Club for whom Mark once played - have hailed his courage.

“Marie always urged me to do what was right and to try to make the world a better place. She would have wanted me to do this,” he said.

"I was married to an incredible woman from Ireland who encouraged me through life to make life better for others each day. I often tried to do big things but she would tell me: 'Mark, if you can make the world just a little bit better then that will be good enough.' That's why I am here."

“It was looking at myself in the mirror every morning. They (children) are the ones suffering most over there. I’ve got such a comfortable life here. I’ve got everything. I couldn’t just sit here in comfort."

Mark spent time as a young man in the military so already had basic training. The Ukrainians assigned him to support duties and he was initially driving ambulances last March in Kyiv, Lviv and Odessa.

He was then assigned to duties in the psychological operations field with the Ukrainian military and special forces.

This is aimed at bolstering Ukrainian morale - and countering Russian misinformation both within Russia and overseas.

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Eventually, he was assigned to assist the Ukrainian women's bomb disposal team with the Ukrainian police.

This elite team has made global headlines for their fearless work in defusing unexploded Russian bombs, mines and missiles in a bid to protect the civilian population.

Mark is now trying to help raise funds to support the elite unit via a Channel Islands mine clearance charity and has done interviews about their work with The Dundee Courier and BBC Scotland.

“Thankfully, and contrary to reports, Russia doesn’t seem to have used butterfly mines. These look like toys and children pick them up."

“However they have used cluster bombs, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines. They’ve also used pop up mines, which jump into the air and explode when they sense vibration.

“There is a shortage of vehicles to transport the teams to where they’re needed so I’ve been trying to raise funds to buy more vehicles.”

Such is the courage of the women's bomb disposal team that they have become legendary both within Ukraine and overseas.

The unit was established as most male bomb disposal experts were deployed to the front line and there was a desperate need for explosive ordnance disposal teams in cities and towns far behind the front line but which were still the focus of intense Russian air and missile strikes.

Such Russian strikes have been indiscriminate and have caused massive civilian casualties.

“Women travel across the border into Kosovo or Poland. There they are trained to an international standard in defusing landmines.

“When they go back to Ukraine they go to the area they came from, so they are working in a place they know well.”

Bomb disposal ranks as one of the most dangerous jobs in conflict zones.

“We lost three bomb de-miners in a week just three weeks ago. They are such brave women. And they have a great love of life. You need intense concentration with frequent breaks so you don’t make mistakes."

“When you see them on a break standing around it is like seeing any group of women having a chat on (the) street.”

Mark admitted that some of the things he has witnessed in Ukraine he will never forget.

“You see death all around. I would walk past bodies lying on the streets of Kiev. What Putin has done is monstrous.

"For the soldiers on the front line, there are days when they are facing hell."

He said volunteers are inspired by the number of people who have travelled from all over the world to help the Ukrainians in their hour of need.

As well as Irish, Scottish, Welsh and English volunteers, Mark has met Americans and Ukrainian expats who have returned home to help defend their motherland.

“I think the Ukrainians are really heartened by that. They know they’re not alone against the monster that is Putin.”

The hardest times are witnessing the desperate struggle of refugees to find safety.

Mark said he heartbreaking images of refugees trying to get into Poland are burned onto his memory.

Having lived in Cork and Forfar, Mark now lives in France with his second wife, Pascale.

His brief visit home was to mark his 60th birthday but he was adamant he wanted to return to the Ukraine to continue his volunteer work.

“I don’t know how long this war is going to go on for. My feeling is either it will get a lot worse as things come to a head, or it will become a stalemate and grind on for years."

“I will stay for as long as I can be useful. If a time comes when I’m no longer able to contribute anything, that is when I will leave.”


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