TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A year and a day since Russia invaded Ukraine, and neither country – nor the rest of the world – has been the same.
Tampa nonprofit Project Dynamo was in Ukraine before the first shots were fired, and has been evacuating people since the beginning.
“For eight days in a Russian prison,” said Terry Gateley, a Christian missionary who was helped by the organization. “They put nails in my food. It was quite an ordeal.”
Gateley never thought his work helping underprivileged children in a Ukrainian orphanage would put his life in danger.
“The first three days, they kept me up,” Gateley said. “They would beat on the door, open it, and go, ‘No sleep’ about every 15 minutes.”
Gateley was in the southern city of Kherson when bombs started flying.
“And all of the sudden there was a huge, huge explosion,” Gateley recalled. “It rocked my girlfriend’s building.”
As he was on a bus out of the Russian-occupied territory, he was picked up and held by Russians for more than a week. He was able to leave, after he confirmed his identity, but he still had to make it to safety.
That’s where Project Dynamo came in — they go where few else will.
“Bryan was the only one,” Gateley said. “He goes to the dirty side and gets you.”
Bryan Stern is the the founder of Project Dynamo. He was in Ukraine for the one-year anniversary.
“People die out here every single day,” Stern said. “We had artillery today and we had missiles today.”
Stern and his team have rescued more than 6,000 people from Ukraine and Russia in the last 366 days, carrying out more than 400 operations for everyone from babies to busloads of people.
“We’re here because the war is still here,” said Stern. “People still need help, there’s Americans that are still stuck. There’s Ukrainians that are getting shelled and bombed.”
And he’ll continue to be there until the war is over.
“He’s the only one that actually comes to get you, wherever you are, wherever that is,” said Gateley. “And quite frankly, I was in hell.”
Project Dynamo just finished a nearly 100 person operation and have another coming soon.
If you’d like to donate or learn more about Project Dynamo you can do so here.