Project Dynamo makes plans for possible Ukrainian evacuations

More than 10,000 Ukrainian-Americans in the Tampa Bay area are deeply concerned about Russia’s aggression against their homeland

NORTH PORT, Fla. — United States leaders are working with allied nations to get Russia to withdraw its troops and firepower to Ukraine’s borders.

On Friday, President Joe Biden said he was “convinced” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine. Biden made the statement on the possible invasion in a speech from the White House.

Tensions continue to rise along Ukraine’s militarized border where attacks that have been branded as false flag operations to create a pretext for invasion have become the order of the day, according to leaders of the western nations. Vice President Kamala Harris also met with allies on these developments.

Despite claiming it was withdrawing, Russia has mustered more than 150,000 troops along its border with neighboring Ukraine.

As the drumbeats of war grow louder overseas, Ukrainian Americans in our region feel the impact and worry for their family members there. A local non-profit organization has also begun preparations to help with evacuations if and when needed.

“If Russia attacks Ukraine, there is no guarantee that it will not continue to cross Ukraine’s borders into other sovereign nations,” said Ihor Heron of North Port. Heron is a Ukrainian-American who has lived in North Port for 20 years.

More than 10,000 Ukrainian-Americans like him, who live in the Suncoast and Tampa Bay area, are deeply concerned about Russia’s aggression against their homeland. Some even said they had relatives in the Ukrainian army who were already facing hostilities on the eastern borders where an armed conflict has been going on for years.

“It’s always very stressful to know, day by day, what is happening at the front with the bombardments that are taking place,” said Orest Bilous. He was one of the leaders of the Ukrainian-American community who attended St. Mary’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in North Port.

President Biden said Putin was postulating the military for imminent attack after he surrounded Ukraine with troops and artillery, including the navy.

He said he had “reason to believe” it could happen in the “coming days” and will include an assault on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

“The Ukrainian navy doesn’t exist. Russia is stationed right next to the port. They don’t really have a good answer to that, so they’ll wait for those troops to come ashore and the next step is anyone’s guess.” , said Bryan Stern, founder of Project Dynamo.

The Tampa-based Dynamo Project, which played a key role in evacuating Americans from Afghanistan after the abrupt withdrawal of US troops, plans to do the same in Ukraine if things get out of hand. He said that because there’s a lot to do when planning and executing evacuations, his team has to anticipate this months in advance.

“Ground transport. You need security teams, you need buses, you need vaccines, you need a way out. With the dynamo, we will only transport people in a safe and legal way”, Stern said.

He said people who live in places under immediate threat in Ukraine or who have relatives in those places also need to plan ahead.

“If you think they’re going to have to be evacuated they should go, they should go. I can’t save the whole world. On our website we have a Ukrainian button. Sign up and if we can you move and it’s terrible that we do, we’ll do our best,” he said.

As the world watches to see if the diplomatic talks would change ground in favor of Ukraine and the allied nations, parishioners have planned mass and vigils at St. Mary’s. For now, their only hope is to pray while they wait for Putin’s next play.

“It’s not a Ukrainian problem, it’s a global problem, it’s a European problem and it’s also an American problem,” Bilous said.

Stern said Project Dynamo’s evacuation efforts rely on donations from sponsors, supporters and members of the public. Click here if you wish.

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