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A Tampa-based organization is planning to help American citizens escape from Ukraine

People wearing winter jackets sit in a vehicle
Project Dynamo / Judge PR
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Members of Project Dynamo and some of the first group of Americans that they are rescuing from Ukraine are seen in a photo sent out by the Tampa-based non-profit Thursday, Feb. 24.

As tensions mount following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Project Dynamo is on the ground in Ukraine for American rescue operations.

As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine intensifies, members of a Tampa-based non-profit group have begun American rescue operations.

Project Dynamo, which consists mainly of military veterans, got its start earlier last year when it helped rescue Americans and their allies from Afghanistan after the U.S. military withdrew and Kabul fell under Taliban control.

On Wednesday night, shortly after Russia began its invasion, the organization began its rescue operations. In a statement on Thursday, Project Dynamo said they are helping the first group of nearly two dozen American citizens and residents to get out of Ukraine.

Project co-founder Brian Stern said members from his group arrived in Kabul in the middle of chaos and attacks; this time, they arrived “early” in Ukraine — before full-scale hostilities break out.

READ MORE: Russia invades Ukraine; explosions are heard in Kyiv and other cities

Speaking from Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, the retired combat veteran said they are trying to start preparations early to avoid hysteria.

Stern explained that Poland and Romania are the only feasible countries that Ukraine borders that people could escape to during an evacuation.

“To the north is Belarus, which is the bad guys; and to the east is Russia, which are the bad guys; and to the south is the Russian navy, which are the bad guys,” he said “There's only one direction.”

Project Dynamo’s efforts come following the Biden administration’s repeated requests for American citizens to leave the country and the closure of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv.

Stern said his group is spreading information about the operation by encouraging Americans still there to meet at large monuments, like churches.

He added that they’re trying to work strategically.

“The Polish and the Romanians have said, ‘We can't afford a refugee crisis and if you're Ukrainian, no vacancy,’” he said. “So in the middle of all that is going to be a group of Americans trying to get through that mob scene, and it's going to be terrible.”

One issue Stern said he’s anticipating is more cyber-attacks.

“Russia has superior soft skills — meaning GPS jammers, cell phone jammers, taking down power grids, and misinformation,” he said, adding that they’re anticipating having to operate in a “communication-denied environment.”

Stern is adamant that if American citizens in Kyiv are scared, they should leave now if they are able to.

“Don't wait for Dynamo to rescue you, because I'm not gonna be able to rescue everybody,” he said.

For people in the Tampa Bay area looking to help, Stern encourages them to visit the Project Dynamo website, where they can donate or fill out a request for any friends or family they know who need help evacuating.

I am WUSF’s Rush Family Radio News Intern for spring 2022.
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