Biden will discuss the fashion of Ukraine and the impact of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine – Sullivan
More than 20 Russian checkpoints, 18 hours of fast driving on the roads of Ukraine, an overnight stay in a secret apartment – and American citizen Kirill Alexandrov and his family arrived in Poland. On April 2, 27-year-old Alexandrov, accused of espionage, his Ukrainian wife and mother-in-law, who lived in the Kherson region, remained in the Russian military and were detained for a month.
A forceful operation to free Alexandrov, as well as other missions to rescue people of all ages and nationalities in danger, was conducted by the private organization Project Dynamo.
Brian Stern, a U.S. Army veteran and co-founder, tells the Voice of America why they are risking their lives to evacuate people from war-torn areas of Ukraine, as well as what they need most.
Voice of America: How did you start rescuing people?
Brian Stern: Project Dynamo is a non-profit, donor-funded international rescue organization formed in August 2021 in response to the withdrawal of troops (US and Allies – GA) from Afghanistan. We carried out operations there and continued to do so – we did not switch to Ukraine, but expanded our activities in Ukraine.
When did you start your operations in Ukraine?
We started working in Ukraine when the Russians began to accumulate their forces on the borders of Ukraine. One of our donors who generously helps us out missions in Afghanistan, he asked if we would go to Ukraine. I said we considered it, but we didn’t plan much. He said: “I don’t know anyone in Afghanistan and I was still happy to help you, and in Ukraine I have a business and many Ukrainian friends. Do you think Dainamo will go there? “
We thought about it. We were very successful in Afghanistan, doing what no one else could. My team in the United States and Canada was the first in many things in Afghanistan. But in reality, when we got to Afghanistan, from the point of view of the rescue mission, everything was already difficult, it was very bad.
With Ukraine, we had the opportunity to go there before the war. As in the Bible from Noah’s ark to the flood. This is how we thought about it. What if we get there before the war? But suddenly there will be no war, we hoped there would be no war. But it turned out that we were right.
We were on our first rescue mission when the first missiles fell in Kyiv on February 24, we started the operation a year later, and a year and a half ago we left the city. We were ready. Nobody knows what war is like.
It seems like it’s been so long, as if the war has been going on for years. But in reality it is a few months, which by military standards is fast. So we didn’t know if we could all fly, if the airspace would be closed, or if it would be just east, south or.
We had a lot of ideas, so we built the infrastructure – physical and human, we found people, places, transportation, everything – before it all started, hoping we would never need to use it. So since then we have been operating on the skin there, every day.
How many people did you save?
About 700. These are different people, babies, seniors, pregnant women, people who are accused of being “American spies.” We are not just saving Americans. that’s right, we saved a family that we had previously evacuated from Afghanistan to Ukraine, and now we’ve taken them to Switzerland.
We had Israeli citizens, war veterans, children, dogs, cats, we even rescued a parrot from the man we pulled out.
We are thinking about how to get as many people out of the danger zone as possible. We are not bus transportation, so if you need to go from Lviv to the border, this is not what we do. We do complicated things.
We prioritize depending on that, it can be that in general, it can be a place. If it is Mariupol, if it is an accusation of espionage, we pay more attention.
First of all, we have babies and children. There are many children born to surrogate mothers in Ukraine. They do not have a passport, and their parents are not with them. We have had very, very many such cases.
And how do you deal with this situation?
In this case, three things must happen – simultaneously, in harmony. In the administrative issue you need to have permission to choose a child, get a passport, all the documents to cross the border. The medical component is babies, so we need doctors, nurses, neonatal specialists, people who understand the children we find.
And there is an executive component – to take the child, safely transport it through the combat zone, cross the border and hand it over to the family. All these things must be perfect.
Your organization calls the rescue of the American citizen Kirill Alexandrov and his wife and mother-in-law from captivity in the Kherson region the most difficult operation. Tell us how it happened.
Cyril was wrongly accused of being a spy, simply because he was an American. He didn’t do anything just because he was an American citizen, everyone in his community knew he was an American – because why hide it.
We worked in two directions. We were in contact with Cyril two days before his end, which was great, and we were in touch with his family in America. It helped a lot.
We had 2 ideas: to negotiate the release. Unfortunately, I have no leverage. If it’s a ransom, they’ll want millions, and we don’t have that. When you negotiate, you have to have something that can be given to them, and we didn’t have that, so it was very difficult. We have no Russian prisoners to exchange, I am not a government. But it was the foreground – it was negotiations.
Another plan we were developing at the time was a one-way operation: finding an option to pick it from where it is and forward it where you need it. So that’s what we did.
We worked out many options. They talked about where he was kept – it was right on the Dnieper. I could take a small boat, go down the river, pick it up with my wife and sail back. We talked about the operation from the air or on the ground.
The operation began on Victory Day, while everyone in Moscow watched the parade, watched Putin on television, and applauded. We joke that the Russians had their own day of victory, and the next day we had our own.
The Russian negotiator with whom we discussed Kirill’s release called us after he was already with us. And he did not know that he was with us, and said: “Let’s continue negotiations.” I said, “It’s closed.” He asked, “And what should I do with him?” I replied, “He’s already with me.” He said, “What?”
How many people are in your group?
We do not give out our number, the Russians do not like us very much, and they are smart. But we are a very, very small group, smaller than many people think. We also have Ukrainian partners with whom we work on the ground.
Do most of your team members have a military background?
Yes, now my whole American group has a military past.
Isn’t everyone in your group Ukrainian? Why do you risk saving Ukrainians?
For us, there is no difference between Ukrainian or American civilians. When a country is at war, politicians and the military are involved. But in the middle remain peaceful people who pay the highest price.
Cyril and his family lived happily on a beautiful farm in a beautiful place, they did nothing wrong to anyone – neither Ukraine nor Russia. They just lived, happy, did not touch anyone. Until a brutal, brutal force came and made them victims of war crimes. That’s what happened.
So does it matter if he is Polish, Ukrainian, American or Chinese? Nobody deserves such an attitude. That is why this is a war crime. Because it is violence against humanity. Cyril and his family – the first American victims of war crimes who survived, there were many people who did not survive.
For what purpose do you talk about your activities in the media?
It sounds ridiculous, but we really need funding. We are ready to work with the team, we love to perform these operations. But the reality is that we need money, it costs a lot.
We are volunteers, we are not paid. We are with the team on the road – from August 2021. And we do not earn. Maybe at some point this will change, we are talking about it because it is a long time, and our family is not very happy, because at home you have to pay the bills. But our operations are very expensive. But if I have a choice – to take a hundred dollars or pay for gasoline in Ukraine to get Kirill, how can I make money on it?