Two Americans rescued from Russian captivity left to cope with trauma
TAMPA, Fla. - A couple of Americans rescued from Russian captivity in Ukraine are coping with trauma after returning safely to the U.S. with the help of the Tampa-based nonprofit, Project Dynamo.
Project Dynamo runs completely off donations, and the founder Bryan Stern said civilians, including Americans, they rescue out of war zones in Ukraine and Afghanistan are in terrible situations with no way to get out.
"The challenges are extreme because there’s no help. There’s no help for them, and there’s definitely no help for us. So we have to operate completely without a safety net," said Stern, who spent five months in Ukraine after originally planning on spending two weeks there. "There is no platoon of SEALS that are going to come and help us out and get us out if we were in a jam. If they could, they would rescue the people that we're rescuing."
Thursday marked nearly a week back in the U.S. for Terry Gateley and Kirillo Alexandrov, both Americans sharing stories of kidnapping and torture by Russian forces in Ukraine.
"I think it’s apparent that my situation was very, very bad and the only person in the galaxy who was able to really fix it was Bryan [Stern]," said Alexandrov.
Alexandrov said he was making a life with his family in Ukraine when he was kidnaped, thrown in a closet and tortured for being an American citizen in a Russian-occupied area. His family was also abused, he said.
"It hurts a lot. I was doing a lot to that house to fix it, to start my life there, and it’s been stolen," said Alexandrov.
After 37 days in captivity, Project Dynamo got him out in May.
"I’ve been out for two months. But as far as being in America goes, it still feels kind of foreign," said Alexandrov. "I’m still kind of numb to the entire situation. I think once I get back to home to Michigan, it’ll hit me in a different way."
What happened was a nightmarish ordeal for both men. Gateley said he worked as a missionary and lived in Ukraine raising his kids.
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"I was abducted off the bus, because I had an American passport. I was then taken to a facility and put in a dark room with no furniture, nothing," said Gateley, who said he was kidnaped twice while in Ukraine.
He was held captive for eight days and during that time he said the Russian Roulette began with a Russian soldier and a revolver. He said he came to terms with dying because he did not want to be tortured.
"Once I accepted death, that I was dead, for some reason it doesn’t bother me," said Gateley about how he is coping with the trauma.
The rescued men and Project Dynamo left behind a country in turmoil.
"I know people are suffering very badly. I want that to stop, and really the only way is through Bryan [Stern]," said Gateley.
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Project Dynamo’s founder said Americans don’t even know the true scope.
"There are tidbits in the media about rape, war crimes or mass graves and the reality is there’s a lot of rape. There’s a lot of mass graves. There’s a lot of bombings," said Stern.
Many others still need help in Ukraine, and Stern said he believes the war in Ukraine will get worse in the coming months. But, he said Ukraine has risen to the challenge with such limited resources.
"The resolve of the Ukrainian people is significant. One man defending his home is better than 10 hired soldiers who don’t want to be there," said Stern.
So volunteers with the nonprofit are getting ready. Project dynamo said the rescues are emotionally and physically taxing, but Stern said he knows his team is the only hope for many.