“I’m doing 90 [mph] doing a rescue in the middle of World War Three. That’s how it’s going,” Project Dynamo co-founder Bryan Stern told Military Times Thursday from Ukraine when asked how operations were developing.
The organization drove 24 people to safety on Thursday and evacuated another nine people on Friday, According to Matthew Herring, co-founder of Project Dynamo. Executing an evacuation in the middle of conventional war is no small feat, and as the situation deteriorates in Ukraine, Dynamo says the requests for help continue to mount.
In the last 24-hours, Herring says the “backlog” of Americans seeking Dynamo’s help securing an exit from Ukraine has grown to over 1,000 people.
“It’s just a matter of us getting folks organized,” Herring told Military Times. “Getting them to vehicles and getting them to safety.”
Herring and Bryan Stern created Dynamo as a non-governmental means of evacuating U.S. citizens from Afghanistan. According to Herring, Project Dynamo comprises some two dozen volunteers, many of whom are current and former members of the U.S. military.
According to a January press release from Dynamo, the organization has evacuated dozens of Americans from Afghanistan since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August. Now, the group is turning its attention to Americans stranded in Ukraine.
As tensions between Russia and Ukraine built to a boiling point in January, Project Dynamo began inserting volunteers into Ukraine to plan a potential rescue. Following the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy last week in the capital of Kyiv, Dynamo began to intensify planning and coordination efforts.
When the first explosions began to rock the Ukrainian capital Wednesday, signaling the start of a Russian invasion, Dynamo almost immediately launched its first evacuation run.
“If there are Americans that need help,” Herring said, “then we’re the Americans that are going to help them.”
The routes to safety, Herring says, are in constant flux as the situation on the ground in Ukraine continues to change. Additionally, all evacuation efforts are limited to the ground due to the ongoing air war inside Ukraine. Dynamo, according to Herring, is also coordinating with the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine’s four neighboring countries, often on the fly.
“Right now, we have folks waiting to get into Romania,” Herring said. “The border crossings into Poland are super backed up. So, we’re trying to adjust fires as necessary.”
U.S. troops in Poland are poised to assist with Americans leaving Ukraine, setting up assembly areas along the border.
While tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been fleeing, the Pentagon said that roughly several hundred have been American citizens or those with dual citizenship.
It’s unclear how many of those people, if any, wound up going through 82nd Airborne Division assembly areas or drove themselves out.
Also, the ever-changing ground truth in Ukraine is a challenge for Dynamo’s evacuation efforts. According to Herring, the Ukrainian government is sympathetic to Americans on the ground and has done nothing to hinder the evacuation efforts. Only long distances and heavy traffic generated by those fleeing the fighting have hindered Dynamo’s operations.
With an additional 1,000 Americans seeking an exit from Ukraine through a fluid and violent battlefield, Herring said that on the ground, flexibility will be essential for Project Dynamo moving forward. However, Herring says that no matter what happens, Project Dynamo will keep moving forward.
“We’re not going to stop. We’re going to keep going,” Herring said.
James R. Webb is a rapid response reporter for Military Times. He served as a US Marine infantryman in Iraq. Additionally, he has worked as a Legislative Assistant in the US Senate and as an embedded photographer in Afghanistan.