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US volunteers rescue victims of Russian invasion of Ukraine

A Michigan man living in Ukraine with his wife and mother-in-law has spent more than a month in detention after Russian invaders accused him of being a spy.

Kirillo Alexandrov, 27, was about to be moved to Moscow, where he could have been imprisoned for decades, when a Florida-based nonprofit abducted him last month and put him in safe.

Mr. Alexandrov, who has been reunited with his family in Poland, is among nearly 2,000 people who have been rescued from the war zone in Ukraine by volunteers from Project DYNAMO, a Florida-based private group originally formed to secure the release of Afghan allies left behind after the United States pulled out last year.

“We are really busy. We have a lot to do,” Bryan Stern, co-founder of Project DYNAMO, said from Ukraine in a phone interview with The Washington Times. “We perform operations pretty much every day.”

Their name comes from Operation Dynamo, the May 1940 mission to rescue British, French and Belgian troops trapped by the invading German army on the French coast near Dunkirk.

Mr Alexandrov told his rescuers that Russian soldiers handcuffed him, carried out mock executions and repeatedly beat him during his captivity. After his mother contacted them, Project DYNAMO volunteers began working with their contacts and eventually found where he was being held: an area under Russian control more than 60 miles behind the lines. The area was surrounded by landmines, Russian troops and artillery.

“Rescues are difficult. There’s no easy way to do that,” Stern said. “As a guy who’s been doing rescues day and night for the past 11 months, there’s really no perfect way to do these things.”

The DYNAMO PROJECT team negotiated with Mr. Alexandrov’s kidnappers for more than a month when the conversations came to an abrupt halt. That’s when the team came in and grabbed him. Because their operations are still ongoing, Project DYNAMO is reluctant to explain exactly how the rescue — dubbed Detroit Lions because Mr. Alexandrov is from Michigan — was accomplished.

Mr. Stern draws on his experience as a former Navy intelligence officer to plan rescues, which frequently occur behind enemy lines. They set up shelters, arrange transportation, and plan the routes they will take for each mission.

“We understand the battlefield, so we exploit those holes in their armor for rescue operations,” he said. “If I know the bridges are mined, I don’t take the bridges.”

It took nearly 15 hours for the rescue team to get Mr Alexandrov across the Polish border. Not only were they keen to avoid Russian troops, but Project DYNAMO volunteers were also on the lookout for Ukrainian soldiers who might be wary of a convoy of civilian vehicles weaving through the woods.

“It’s a country at war and they’re looking for bad guys. Ukrainian forces will kill you just as easily if you do something wrong,” Stern said. “If there’s a Ukrainian sniper, maybe he’s as easy to trigger as a dirty Russian.”

Mariupol, a critical port city on the Sea of ​​Azov now under Russian control after months of siege and artillery bombardment, is now a major focus of the DYNAMO project team. They rescued almost 500 people from the devastated town and continue to bring people to safety.

“I can’t imagine any other city in Ukraine that needs help more than Mariupol,” Stern said, calling the city “Ground Zero” in Russia’s strategy of targeting civilians. “Everywhere you look, all you can see are the remnants of what was once a thriving town. Now almost everything lies in smoke and ruins.

Project DYNAMO launched more than 30 missions across war-torn Mariupol to rescue civilians trying to flee the Russian onslaught. Using a fleet of over 50 different vehicles, they would collect them from their homes or prearranged locations and then begin the journey to safety.

The teams had to pass through dozens of Russian checkpoints during perilous journeys that usually lasted several nights before arriving at the Romanian border.

Mr. Stern described himself as a “small business owner” in Tampa and said Project DYNAMO was meant to be a project lasting only a few weeks. It was a way for veterans of America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — like Mr. Stern — to help bring their local allies to safety. He acknowledged that the mission, which runs solely on donations, seems to have taken on a life of its own.

“When I presented this to my friends, I told everyone that we would be home in a few weeks. This will be a fun story to tell our kids,” he said. , 11 months later, we are still on the road.”


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Post expires at 12:53pm on Tuesday June 21st, 2022

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