TAMPA (WFLA) — Combat veteran Bryan Stern co-founded Project DYNAMO to rescue Americans left behind in Afghanistan, but since last week has been on the ground in Ukraine preparing for possible evacuations there amid of the escalation of the crisis with Russia.
“The only common denominator is the potential for Americans being left behind now potentially in another war zone with an embassy that’s closed,” Stern said, speaking to News Channel 8 from his hotel in Kyiv.
Stern said the biggest challenge he faces in planning operations outside Ukraine is the uncertainty of what Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to do next.
“(Putin) has already proven that he would shoot down a civilian airliner,” Stern said.
Stern said the mood was more tense in Kyiv after Putin officially recognized two pro-Russian regions in eastern Ukraine as independent states.
“(Putin) can call it whatever he wants,” Stern said, “but it’s an invasion.”
Stern said possible evacuations of Americans from Ukraine could include flights out of the country or border crossings to NATO’s closest ally, Poland.
“We don’t know what the Russian military is doing,” Stern said. “Are there going to be tanks rolling down the street? Are they going to bomb the airport? Cyberattacks where cellphones and GPS fail.
Stern visited Ukraine after saying the Biden administration had made it clear that the US government would not come to help Americans stranded in the region.
A US company with business ties to Ukraine that supported Project DYNAMO’s rescue of thousands of Americans and green card holders in Afghanistan has also reached out.
No matter what happens in Ukraine in the days and weeks to come, Stern said his nonprofit is not turning away from Afghanistan where evacuation missions continue.
“We of course remain an Afghanistan-centric organization,” he said, “but the reality is that there are far more Ukrainian Americans in the world than there are Americans. Afghans around the world.”
Stern said there were not many Americans in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border; most are in the capital city of Kiev.
He added that people are already self-evacuating and that will only intensify after Putin’s speech on Monday.
Project DYNAMO depends on donations and Stern said evacuations in Ukraine would cost more than in Afghanistan.