© 2024 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You Count on Us, We Count on You: Donate to WUSF to support free, accessible journalism for yourself and the community.

Tampa-based Project Dynamo rescues more than 150 people from Russian-occupied Ukraine

People rescued from Kherson, Russian-occupied Ukraine
Courtesy: Project Dynamo
People rescued from Kherson, Russian-occupied Ukraine

Project Dynamo says it has now rescued more than 550 people from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

Officials with a Tampa-based rescue group say they have taken more than 150 people to safety from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine over the past two weeks. They say those included five American and British babies.

The operation took place in Kherson, a Black Sea port just north of Russian-occupied Crimea. The region had been occupied by Russian forces since early March.

Justin Clements is with the Tampa-basedProject Dynamo. He says they have only three people on the ground in Ukraine, but they work with other organizations to help people escape the country.

"Some of these folks that they are rescuing have medical issues that they have to work around. Some of them are immobile. Some of them are elderly and can't move from the spot that they're in," Clements said. "Some of those cases, they're able to get individual cars to them, gather them and bring them to a rally point where they get on buses."

Clements says a majority of the people who are rescued have family ties to someone in the U.S.

He says while planning these evacuation routes, they have to take into account Russian and Ukrainian checkpoints and everything from artillery strikes to recent troop movements.

"They got a map all designed out, almost like a heat map of where these requests are coming in from," he said. "And then looking at the volume of people in particular areas that are requesting evacuation, and planning around that. And really just trying to fill every seat that they have available with someone who's willing and able to evacuate."

Photo of damage on the road to Kherson, Russian-occupied Ukraine
Photo courtesy of Project Dynamo
Damage on the road to Kherson, Russian-occupied Ukraine

He says the rescue team and evacuees must avoid artillery shelling and mine-laced evacuation routes as they cross more than half a dozen Russian military checkpoints and over 40 Ukrainian checkpoints.

Project Dynamo says it has now rescued more than 550 people from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

The Kherson operation took a week to plan and less than one day to get each evacuee to safety across the border from Ukraine.

“As with most of rescue missions in non-permissive and dangerous areas, the timing is critically important; we have to operate within these small windows of opportunity,” said Bryan Stern, co-founder of Project Dynamo. “For example, if we would have tried to conduct this rescue operation today, we would have been unable to get these people out due to the deteriorating situation on the ground and significant increase in violence by the Russian forces.”

Just hours after the evacuation from Kherson, Russian troops prohibited all civilians from evacuating the city. Some military experts are claiming it is an attempt to deter Ukrainian attacks by using innocent civilians as cover or human shields to mitigate Ukrainian artillery and the ground forces counter-offensive.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.