Arroyo Grande resident Burke Bryant is in war-torn Ukraine, working through his non-profit organization, HARP, to rescue injured people.
“It is very sad to see my country being destroyed,” said Bryant's girlfriend, Tetiana Brown. She was born in Ukraine and now lives on the Central Coast.
These days, she holds her phone tight, waiting for updates from Bryant. All too often, what she sees are shocking videos showing mass destruction.
“He’s American and he’s there now, and for me it was really hard to let him go,” explained Brown. “Pretty much everyone I care and love is there. He gathered other ex-military men to go with him.”
Burke Bryant founded Humanitarian Aid And Rescue Project (HARP) in 2012. Using his background as a U.S. Navy Operations Specialist, Bryant is leading Operation Winter Shadow to extract Ukrainians stuck in the rubble.
“What good would we be as men, if we didn’t contribute our specific skillset that allowed another man, woman or child to wake up and see another day,” said Bryant.
For safety reasons and because of connectivity issues, Bryant described his experience through audio messages.
“When we first got into Kyiv, now there’s definitely a lack of people,” said Bryant. “I’d say ¾ of the population has already left this area. At night the streets are completely empty, you don’t hear anything except the shelling and the bombings.”
Bryant is on the ground with a team of 28 individuals mainly in Kyiv, but they are willing to relocate depending on where help is needed.
“The dangers we are facing on a regular basis around the clock are anywhere from Russian strike teams, tanks, regiments,” described Bryant.
Brown’s entire family, including her parents, chose to stay in Ukraine.
“They don’t want to leave, my dad is an ex-military and he said he was born in Ukraine, and he will die in Ukraine,” said Brown.
But she has an important reason to stay in the U.S., her 4-year-old son, Warren.
“He lost his dad, and he can’t lose another parent. That’s the only reason I'm here,” added Brown.
She hopes Warren grows up with the same kind of love for his country.
“He goes to his school and he tells his friends, you need to pray for Ukraine, and we pray with him every night,” said Brown.
Even half a world away, Brown continues to help her boyfriend.
“I helped coordinate things with him, translations, get connections for them,” explained Brown.
Another HARP volunteer, Kenny Gazin, said they are spreading awareness and hoping to raise funds.
“HARP runs 100% on donations, all the money goes strictly to buy supplies and equipment,” added Gazin.
As Russian forces close in, Ukrainians remain strong.
“The morale of the Ukrainian shockingly remans high for those who are at the front lines as well as those supporting those in the front lines,” described Bryant.
“We are a very strong nation, and it will only help us to be stronger and appreciative and love each other more,” concluded Brown.
Bryant is planning to stay at least eight more weeks in Ukraine but that could change based on the fighting.
HARP is raising funds to support this rescue mission. If you want to help, you can donate through their website: click here.