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Low donations leave Project Dynamo to reprioritize rescue missions in Ukraine

“The money problem at this point is almost catastrophic," the non-profit's founder Bryan Stern said. "Tons of people need help, but we are limited on funding."

TAMPA, Fla. — After spending a few weeks back in the Bay area, Project Dynamo founder Bryan Stern is leaving Tampa on Thursday for more missions in Ukraine.

The non-profit is comprised of just four American former-military volunteers but has rescued nearly 5,000 people from war zones in Ukraine since February.

"If you are in a bad spot and I can get you out, and I have the funding to do so, we do," Stern said.

Finding that funding has been Stern's focus during these past few weeks at home. He has been appealing to donors by email and through various interviews. 

"Tons and tons of people need help, but we are limited on funding and funding alone," Stern said. "Our donations have dwindled down to basically nothing. and unfortunately, we have to prioritize."

In March, Project Dynamo raised 2.1 million dollars in online donations, but month by month, donations have slowed.

In April, $80,000 was raised. In May, $71,000. In June, $30,000 was raised, and in July, $51,000.

These numbers represent the amounts raised through online donations, which are just one of the ways Project Dynamo raises funds.

The 501(c)(3) non-profit organization is also able to accept ACH transactions, wire transfers, cash, checks and more.

For perspective, a Project Dynamo spokesperson says the cost of a rescue can range from a few thousand dollars per mission to more than $200,000 per mission, depending on the parameters, including threat environment, types of vehicles needed, fuel costs, safe house locations, if aircraft are necessary and other variables. 

The logistical challenge of rescuing people from remote Russian-occupied territories is where Stern says the costs add up. 

"It takes a lot of work," Stern said. "We're not a bus service, you know, it's not buying a bus ticket and hoping for the best. We have to defeat a lot of challenges. And those challenges take a lot of creativity, a lot of talent, a lot of skill."

"I wish I could rescue everyone that’s in my database, I just don’t have the money for it," Stern explained. "The money issue is almost catastrophic for us, and we’re really having to pick and choose what we do and what we don’t do and it’s heartbreaking."

While the demand for rescues has slowed, Stern says Project Dynamo will be focused on more intricate rescues in this next phase. 

"We're really only involved in getting people out of Russian-controlled territories now," Stern said. "We pull people out from the Russian-occupied areas through dozens and dozens of Russian-controlled checkpoints, and it is incredibly scary, especially if you're an American. If you're an American and you're stopped you'll be arrested for espionage if you're lucky."

Motivated by patriotism, if the dollars allow it, Stern and the other volunteers will press forward.

"It's in my blood. I drank the red, white, and blue Kool-Aid a long time ago," he said. "And as hokey as that sounds, in the military we're taught: don't leave a man behind."

For more information about Project Dynamo and to donate, click here.

Editor's note: A Project Dynamo spokesperson says the donations figures they initially provided do not accurately reflect all of the donations the non-profit has received. This article has been adjusted to reflect a closer estimation of donations and the cost to perform an evacuation.

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