TAMPA (WFLA) – Combat veteran Bryan Stern co-founded Project DYNAMO to rescue Americans left behind in Afghanistan, but for the past week, he has been on the ground in Ukraine preparing for potential evacuations there amid the escalating crisis with Russia.

“The only common denominator is the potential for Americans left behind now potentially in another war zone with an embassy that is closed,” Stern said, speaking with News Channel 8 from his hotel in Kiev.

Stern said the biggest challenge he faces planning operations out of Ukraine is the uncertainty of what Russian President Vladimir Putin decides to do next.

“(Putin) has proven before that he will shoot down a civilian airliner,” Stern said.

Stern said the mood is tenser in Kiev after Putin formally recognized two pro-Russian regions of Eastern Ukraine as independent states.

“(Putin) can call it whatever he wants,” Stern said, “but it is an invasion.”

Stern said the possible evacuations of Americans from Ukraine could include flights out of the country or border crossings into the closest NATO ally, Poland.

“It is unknown what the Russian army does,” Stern said. “Are there gonna be tanks rolling through the street? Are they gonna bomb the airport? Cyber attacks where cell phones and GPS goes down.”

Stern traveled to Ukraine after he said the Biden administration made it clear the US government won’t be coming to assist Americans stuck in the region.

An American company with business ties to Ukraine that’s supported Project DYNAMO’s rescue of thousands of Americans and Green Card holders in Afghanistan also reached out.

No matter what happens in Ukraine in the coming days and weeks, Stern said his non-profit is not pivoting away from Afghanistan where evacuation missions continue.

“We remain an Afghanistan-centric organization for sure,” he said, “but the reality is there’s a whole lot more Ukrainian Americans in the world than there are Afghan Americans in the world.”

Stern said there are not many Americans in Eastern Ukraine near the Russia border; most are in the capital of Kiev.

He added people are already self-evacuating and that will only intensify after Putin’s speech on Monday.

Project DYNAMO depends on donations and Stern said Ukraine evacuations will cost more than Afghanistan.