Silent Ride to Safety: Tesla Wensrit

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The Compassion & Service of “Tesla Wensrit,” Tesla Wish Ride

Article by Radboud Visser

The Netherlands has been known for its EV-friendly tax rules since early in the EV revolution. At that time, the mid-2010s, you didn’t have much to choose from. Either you picked a Nissan LEAF or you went all the way and bought or leased a Tesla Model S or X. The latter cars especially were “head-turners,” being so far ahead of the pack.

Getting my car stickered. Photo by Radboud Visser.

Once people experience a ride in a Tesla, they have a hard time going back to their fossil fuel car. The torque and control and the absence of engine noise make it stand out in a special way. Add to that the self-driving features that are gradually improved and you have an unbeatable car.

Many Tesla drivers felt the need to share this experience with others, to watch their reactions when they floored the accelerator pedal. They were eager to impress them with the touchscreen, the games, the theater mode, or even the emission-testing mode.

In 2013, a group of people got the idea to do something with the head-turning abilities of the Teslas. They started “Tesla Wensrit” (Tesla Wish Ride). It’s a foundation with the goal of giving terminally ill children an unforgettable experience by taking them on a road trip to a destination of their choice. With the help of children’s hospitals, they organized the full “Wish” day. Yes, it takes time and patience to drive with sick kids, but most of all they love it. Give the kids a dream day and give the Tesla drivers a day to remember.

When the war broke out, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians were forced to leave everything behind and find refuge in one of the surrounding countries. Poland in particular has been welcoming more than a fair share of refugees.

With the images of refugee centers overflowing and young children sleeping on the street with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, the volunteers of Tesla Wensrit took it upon themselves to get as many Ukrainian families as possible to safety, using what they had: their cars.

So, in February 2022, they drove to the Polish border, talked with officials, worked with the police and government, and were able to pick up families from a refugee center. This first drive was already a success, as 34 Ukrainian people were brought to guest homes in the Netherlands. The guest homes were informed the same day they left Wroclaw in Poland. Since then, the group became more organized, and Tesla stepped in and helped by donating all costs for Superchargers on the way. The Polish government recognized the initiative and offered free passes on tollways. 

Waiting for some final police checks. Photo by Radboud Visser.

Currently, a growing group of volunteers drive to Poznan every weekend. These trips are impressive, not just for the refugees but also for the drivers. You suddenly realize that just a day driving from your home, probably closer than your last holiday destination, people live in unbearable circumstances, families broken, not knowing whether their loved ones left behind in Ukraine are safe.

I got involved only 4 weeks ago, when I stumbled upon an article from Eva Fox on Tesmanian where she described how volunteers from all over Europe had helped by transporting relief aid and refugees. I felt I needed to do more than just send money. As I’m Dutch, a simple web search brought me straight to the Dutch Ukraine enrollment page of Tesla Wensrit. Before I knew it, I was filling my car with secondhand suitcases, children’s car seats, and food and started to drive straight east.

An eventful 850-kilometer drive along the sprawling German Supercharger network was what followed. During stops, I luckily bumped into other Tesla Wensrit drivers, many of them newbies like me. I had lunch with total strangers with an aligned purpose, which instantly made them into friends.

The last stretch from Germany into Poland is Supercharger desert. Berlin Blankenfelde to Poznan had to be done in one stretch of 280 km, unless you wanted to spend some time slow charging at the Ionity charger just across the Polish border. That doesn’t sound like much, but with a Tesla Model 3 SR+, the 340 km estimated range is not representative of the actual range. Feeling lucky, I opted to drive straight through, but quickly started to regret that decision. Once I was past the Ionity charger, rain set in and my range started to dwindle at a disturbing rate. Luckily, there were numerous trucks heading in the same direction, so I ended up hypermiling behind a huge orange Lithuanian trailer until I arrived in Poznan.

After dropping off my goods at one of the Caritas centers in Poznan, I was asked to join in on a shopping spree at the local Makro. We had received monetary gifts from our friends and colleagues at home and wanted to convert those to goods in the most efficient way we could. Caritas lent us two girls with a big shopping list and off we went. Amazing what you can fit in a Tesla!

Next morning: stickering my car at the Poznan Supercharger and picking up “my” refugees. “Hala Arena,” a dated sporting arena in the city center, is repurposed as a refugee center. When first opened for refugees, it was estimated to have a capacity of 800 people. When I arrived, the center was clearly overcrowded. Some 2000 people filled the central hall, the stairs, and the corridors. Mattresses were put side to side with barely room to maneuver. No privacy at all.

I welcomed Nadia and her 8-year-old daughter into my car. As her English was very limited (as is my Ukrainian), communicating was with hands and feet and with, a translation site specifically set up to aid communication with Ukrainian refugees.

As soon as we drove away, leaving behind the bumpy city streets and hitting the comfortable Polish highways, the two started to relax a bit. I turned on the Ukrainian Spotify playlist and shared my phone’s 4G connection.

I noticed they both kept their coats on, so at the first stop, I asked them about it. Nadia told me that they were from Charkiv. One night at the beginning of the war, the top floors of their apartment flat were hit by a grenade. Since that moment, they always slept with their clothes (and coats) on, afraid that they had to run from their house. Heartbreaking.

Heading home on the beautiful Polish highways. Photo by Radboud Visser.

With a frunk full of food, snacks and drinks, we continued our ride to the west, regularly topping up both the car and its passengers at the German Superchargers, silently zooming towards freedom.

Finally, just before midnight, we arrived at our destination: a temporary shelter in Maastricht. The Tesla Wensrit organization was still in the process of arranging a guest house, so Nadia and her daughter had to stay here for a few nights. Luckily, her husband and her mother-in-law, who travelled separately in a bus because they both were confined to a wheelchair, would join later that night.

I hit my bed at 2:20 AM, still processing everything that had happened and definitely not able to catch my sleep. What an adventure!

I couldn’t help it. The next weekend, I found myself again cruising the long straight road towards Poznan.

What happened to Nadia and her family? Within three days, they got the keys to their new home, a former sports canteen in Ransdaal, a small village in the south of the Netherlands. The community went all out to install sanitation systems, a kitchen, bedrooms, and put in furniture in order to create a place as comfortable as possible. We’re still in regular contact.

Related story: Check Out This Ukraine Electric Vehicle Webinar

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