Two years after the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine and two years after his previous interview with The Portugal News, Marcos Castillo, owner of Platinum Auto Sales, a luxury car business in Almancil, has acknowledged that "I got too emotionally involved, and even though I knew I would do it again when it was all over, I now understand why organizations like the Red Cross exist". Marcos, who moved to Portugal in 2011, went back and forward to Ukraine as soon as the conflict started in an attempt to help as many people as he could, with his last visit being in July 2022, when he decided to shut down the operations as he helped everyone, he could help.

Back in 2022, when the invasion started, Marcos felt the urge to instantly do something to help. Having no connection to Ukraine at all, other than his two Ukrainian employees with whom he never discussed politics, as Marcos himself stated, he made the decision that he had to take immediate action. "I had no idea what I was doing when I got on an airline with €30,000 in cash in my possession”. He said, "I didn't even have a plan."

Upon arriving at the scene, he was faced with about three thousand women and children who were merely sitting under blankets, looking shocked and waiting for assistance. Marcos revealed that he made an effort to assist those who appeared to be in most need and paid for their transportation to and lodging in a hotel in Poland. In the end, he ended up paying €6,000 a day for the accommodation of about 150 guests. "I was genuine, I couldn't speak Ukrainian, so I hired a translator, and I just started letting people into the hotel. In three days, I had 150 people."

After some time, Marcos was forced to ask for help after realizing he couldn't afford to keep paying €6,000 per day. A film crew from Good Morning Britain was dispatched to the scene to cover it, and he was given a ten-minute slot on prime-time English TV. He commented, saying, "It was a huge story," adding that he then began receiving assistance from friends and other people after that. “I spent €450 thousand, and I probably received back a third of that in help from great friends, but it was still extremely expensive. I had to sell some personal items and do some serious juggling, but I got there in the end”, he admitted.

All these experiences, which in his words were “life-changing” did also partially become a “nightmare” as he started “receiving calls from people asking for money all the time”. Marcos revealed that “at first I was just saying yes, but then I stopped myself to think, and I finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t have any control in what I was doing”, adding that “they just called me for money, I felt bad saying no, but I also started to feel a lit bit resentful after a while”. Marcos explained that he neglected his personal and professional life for three or four months due to being so immersed in trying to help others. “From day one I didn’t care about my job, but eventually I had to go back to it”.

Looking back, Marcos has said that he would have made different decisions, such as joining an organization and not allowing his impulsive need to give everything that he can, without taking into consideration its consequences, to triumph. He said, "I appreciate that I made a difference by helping a lot of people, there were kids I put into university, and I’m grateful that I did it”, however, he revealed that other people “just accepted the help and kept asking for more." Marcus also mentioned that one of the Ukrainian refugees he helped - Iryna Vakarchuk - from Odesa ended up being his assistant in Poland. Irina dealt with all the “corrupt UK politicians and handled all visas” which as Marcos emphasised was “a massive help”.

In addition to helping numerous families in Poland, he also brought families to Portugal. However, due to the language barrier, a shortage of employment options, low pay, and the fact that "many of the women just missed their husbands and couldn't make it," Marcos revealed that therefore "not every family I helped ended up staying." Marcos claims that he is still in touch with a couple of the family members he assisted, one of whom is a 10-year-old child he assisted in enrolling in a private English school and who went on to win the award for most valuable student, which he describes as "very fulfilling."

“I always try to put myself in other people’s position – I always remember that some kids are laying in the ditch – and here in the West, we take things for granted”. As Marcos stated, “It is human nature to move on and forget”, but for him, it is massively important to be sensitive and understand what other people are going through.

“I helped around 300 individuals and I would say 50 people’s lives were changed forever, positively” he stated, adding that “I was there to give them a hand, but I simply can’t carry them forever”. More than 200 individuals were sent to the UK with the help of Marcos and the other contributors, an additional 100 families were dispersed throughout Europe, and a few families were sent to Canada. "This conflict is forgotten. People are growing weary of assisting, but we must continue to try our best. Our efforts don’t need to be necessarily material, but we just have to do what we can”.

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After studying Journalism for five years in the UK and Malta, Sara Durães moved back to Portugal to pursue her passion for writing and connecting with people. A ‘wanderluster’, Sara loves the beach, long walks, and sports. 

Sara J. Durães