He Trekked 1,700 Miles to Reach Girlfriend in War-torn Ukraine: 'Love Is Worth Risking Everything'

"The adrenaline and the love gave me the strength and courage to search for her," Marco Colas says

Marco Colas is living proof that there are no barriers to love — not even war.

While an estimated 2 million people and counting have fled Ukraine since Russia invaded its neighbor on Feb. 24, the 35-year-old French baker says he instead traveled some 1,700 miles in the opposite direction to try and save his girlfriend, Vladislava, 25.

"I was very afraid, but I was afraid too for the life of my girlfriend, and the adrenaline and the love gave me the strength and courage to search for her," Colas told The Times in the U.K. in a Wednesday story from nearby Vladislava's home in the city of Zaporizhzhya, 340 miles southeast of Kyiv, the Ukraine capital.

"Sometimes," he said, "love is worth risking everything for."

Colas told the paper that he set out to rescue Vladislava as soon as he heard news of the large-scale Russian offensive at his home in Rheims in northern France.

After buying a rucksack, medical supplies, ration packs and a set of night-vision goggles, he said, he traveled by bus to the Polish-Ukrainian border, then took a train to under-fire Kyiv and later picked up a connection south to Zaporizhzhya on the banks of the River Dnieper.

With Vladislava's home within reach but encircled by Russian troops, Colas said, he then decided to continue the final piece of his journey on foot, reports the Times.

"I'm very sportif," he told the paper, using an expression for athletic. "I do marathons and I'm in good shape. So I decided the best way to reach her village was to walk the [28 miles] there through the forest, rescue her, then bring her back to France with me."

He had done the mental calculations and thought "it would take about 10 hours on foot to reach her," he said. "I brought the goggles in case we had to escape through the trees at night. When I told her of my plan, Vladislava sounded happy."

The Ukrainian army was not quite so pleased. The sight of an athletic man walking towards a contested city carrying a rucksack and night vision goggles quickly drew the attention of a patrol, per the Times. Colas was picked up and accused of being a spy.

Ukraine orphanage
Marco Colas. Jack Hill / The Times / News Licensing

Blindfolded, bound and unable to speak a word of Ukrainian, the love-struck baker said he had to convince the soldiers that he was not a Russian agent at all but was actually a French citizen on a high-risk solo mission to reach his girlfriend.

"The soldiers couldn't understand me, and I couldn't understand them," he told the Times. "The only language we had in common was the few words of Russian I knew — but every time I tried those, the soldiers hit me like boom-boom-boom and said I was a Russian spy."

Despite this, Colas said, he was released after 24 hours of interrogation and passed into the care of some French-speaking locals. He has since worked in a factory creating anti-tank devices known as "hedgehogs."

Russia's invasion, meanwhile, continues, with hundreds of civilians reported dead and Russian attacks seen in a slew of cities — including raining down on those trying to flee. (The Kremlin denies targeting civilian sites.)

RELATED VIDEO: With Orphans in Midst of Adoption Stuck in Ukraine, One U.S. Family Fights to Bring Their Child Home

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Russian invasion of Ukraine. DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty

Colas said he is ready to stay at the factory for as long as it takes for Vladislava to catch a bus through the Russian lines and meet him — something that is not certain to happen.

"When we spoke on the phone, she said she needed a little more time to think about it," Colas told the Times. "I hope she really wants to escape to France with me and that our love story won't turn into a tragedy."

He was holding out hope. What else was he to do?

"I am 90% sure she'll take the bus tomorrow to meet me," he said. "The other 10% is too awful to think about."

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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