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US combat veteran who was a 9/11 first responder is now rescuing Ukrainians from war

One of the team's toughest rescues involved three premature infants, the youngest born on February 25.

US combat veteran who was a 9/11 first responder is now rescuing Ukrainians from war
Image source: Youtube screenshot/NBC News | Project Dynamo

A U.S. combat veteran is working to rescue civilians from Ukraine in the wake of Russia's attack. Bryan Stern, an Army and Navy combat veteran, traveled to Kyiv a week before Russia's attack in anticipation of aggression and has been working with Project Dynamo to rescue people. Stern is a co-founder of Project Dynamo, a nonprofit organization led by combat vets, who work toward rescuing civilians from combat regions all over the world. The veteran rescue group was founded in 2021 as a response to American civilians and U.S. allies being stuck in Afghanistan after President Joe Biden withdrew all U.S. troops from the country. Stern, who served as a U.S. Navy intelligence officer, was also a 9/11 first responder on the morning of September 11, 2001, reported TODAY.


Project Dynamo, led by Stern, was already carrying out his first rescue operation within 90 minutes of the first bomb being dropped in Ukraine. He has since been helping civilians trapped in Kyiv. Project Dynamo has successfully carried out 19 rescue missions. The group has already received more than 14,000 requests for evacuation. "We have kids on almost every run. Wouldn’t say every single (one), but the vast majority, because they’re families," said Stern in an interview with TODAY from a safe house. "And families come with kids." More than three million Ukrainians have been displaced from the country in the wake of Russia's attack. Project Dynamo is one of many American groups trying to help people in Ukraine and seeks to help those who are unable to evacuate due to a variety of reasons. Stern has rescued people of various nationalities including American, Canadian, Polish, Dutch and Ukrainian. "It was kind of strange. Oddly, one of my guys is an Afghan-American and speaks Dari. So from a language barrier perspective, it wasn't an issue,” said Stern.

CHOP, UKRAINE - MARCH 16: People fleeing Ukraine travel on a humanitarian train organised by the Slovak Rail Company (ZSSK) to bring refugees from Ukraine to Kosice, Slovakia on March 16, 2022 in Chop, Ukraine. The humanitarian train departs Slovakia twice a day bringing hundreds from the railway station of Chop on the Ukraine border with Hungary. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)


Stern said a majority of the operations involve two men from his team along with him. He recently went alone to rescue a person in a wheelchair. "I'm on about 90% of the operations, but Ukraine is a huge place so we kind of divide and conquer a little bit," he added. The rescue operations take a lot of planning because of how complex they are. "We find them in Kyiv, and then bring them to one of our safe locations inside of Ukraine," he said. "We bed down there usually for the night—sometimes a few hours, sometimes a night. It depends." Getting people to safety can take as long as 23 hours, with the shortest rescue mission taking 13 hours. 


"Ukraine is an absolute, active war zone," he said. "Depending on the circumstances, we either drive across the border or walk across the border—walking is actually better. It’s a lot quicker." Project Dynamo has a team on the other side of the border to receive civilians being rescued and to take them to safe locations. "(Then) we get them on buses and we go to Bucharest and they’re home free," he said. 


He keeps a track of everyone the team has rescued, noting down their name and phone number. One of the rescues closest to his heart and the toughest was when he successfully rescued three premature infants. He said it was “by far one of the most stressful things I’ve ever done in my life.” The youngest of the babies they saved was Sophie who was born on the 25th of February. In the case of the infants, the team had to act swiftly, because they could have died if the hospital had lost power or even if dust managed to infiltrate the NICU rooms. "Premature babies are scary in the best of circumstances. When everything is good and they're in the NICU in Florida, it's still scary," he said. "So now let's put them in a war zone—really scary. And now let's evacuate them in a war zone—extra special scary. But the parents and I? We're bonded for life.'"

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