A Michigan man who was being held captive by Russian forces on accusations of being a U.S. spy has been reunited with his family after a rescue mission that included an 18-hour race across Ukraine, officials said.
Kirillo Alexandrov, 27, was falsely charged with espionage and illegally detained, along with his Ukrainian wife and mother-in-law, by the Russian military and security service, according to Project DYNAMO. He is the first known American victim and survivor of Russian war crimes during the Ukraine-Russian war, officials said.
Alexandrov taken captive
Alexandrov and his family were trying to evacuate his home near Kherson, Ukraine, in March when they were captured, detained, and charged with 11 “fabricated crimes” by the Russian military and security services, according to Project DYNAMO.
Kherson is more than 100 kilometers behind the front lines of the Ukraine-Russian war and is fully controlled by Russian forces, officials said.
The crimes alleged against Alexandrov and his family included spying and espionage on behalf of the United States government, the release says.
Alexandrov said Russian soldiers violently assaulted his wife, handcuffed him, beat him multiple times, and conducted mock executions. Those actions would be a direct violation of the Geneva Convention, according to officials.
Preparing for rescue
Officials with Project DYNAMO learned about Alexandrov’s situation from his mother, who lives in Jackson County, Michigan, they said.
She contacted Project DYNAMO, asking for help. Representatives from the project got in touch with the appropriate government agencies to begin preparations, according to a release.
Alexandrov’s mother spoke with FBI agents, who were already aware of Project DYNAMO’s involvement, officials said.
“Project DYNAMO, while actively forward deployed in Ukraine, engaged their extensive network of Ukrainian and Russian contacts, and started planning their most complex and dangerous rescue yet,” the release says. “Both the State Department and FBI advised that due to the overall situation and the charges alleged, that Project DYNAMO was Alexandrov’s best hope for rescue and evacuation to safety.”
Rescue mission leader Bryan Stern, co-founder of Project DYNAMO and a combat veteran of the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy, said there were negotiations with Russian officials while the rescue was being planned.
“There were two ongoing, parallel strategies during the weeks preceding the rescue,” Stern said. “The first, a negotiated agreement with the Russians, where the false charges would be appropriately dropped, Kirillo’s passport returned, and he and his family released from captivity. The second was a ground based, tactical rescue operation exercising our developed human and physical infrastructure in the denied and occupied areas to execute a secret, unilateral rescue. We ultimately went with the unilateral option and were successful to the extent that Russian negotiators engaged with us more than five hours after we already had the family.”
On May 9, after weeks of negotiations had stalled, Project DYNAMO orchestrated the plan to help Alexandrov and his family escape from Russian captivity, according to a release.
Officials learned that Alexandrov would be extradited to Moscow, where he could be leveraged for propaganda and face 20 years in Russian prison, authorities said.
Project DYNAMO officials said they identified a “narrow window of opportunity” to attempt the rescue.
“I was in the dark as to what was going on, or what else the Russians would do to me and my family, or what our fate would be,” Alexandrov said. “I thought we would be killed every day and this would be the end of us. My wife and I are the victims of war crimes at the hands of the Russian military and security services, and beg the international community to acknowledge and respond.”
During the operation, which began in eastern Ukraine, Alexandrov had to pass through more than 20 Russian checkpoints to a secure location in the vicinity of Kherson, officials said. He spent one night in a safe house before continuing to a location where they met an exfiltration team backed by an armed Ukrainian security detail, according to authorities.
Alexandrov was reunited with his family Wednesday morning (May 11) in Poland, Project DYNAMO officials said. He and his family are free.
Alexandrov and officials with Project DYNAMO are in talks with the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and the U.S. Departments of State, Justice and Defense about what happened, authorities said.
“We have heard reports of war crimes in the media,” Stern said. “We have met many victims and witnesses to these atrocities through the other operations we have conducted here. But to hear these accounts firsthand from an American citizen and his family and discovering what they endured by these forces enrages me.
“What these men did to this young couple is vile and the definition of dishonor by military standards. Their lives will forever be altered, and for no reason other than being an American. My hope is that the U.S. government and international agencies against war crimes take these accusations into account and respond accordingly. No person, American or otherwise, should ever be subjected to such brutality.”
More about rescue mission
Stern said several different options were explored, including land, air, and water rescues. The ground mission was selected, and designated “DETROIT LIONS,” he said.
Alexandrov was referred to as “LION 1″ during the rescue, according to authorities.
“I will never and could never forget any of this,” Alexandrov said. “I don’t know how I can ever repay Bryan and his team for all of this, because we would be dead if it wasn’t for them.”
Project DYNAMO officials said they conducted the very first rescue mission of the war within the first hour of hostile actions in Kyiv. They said they have since rescued almost 700 people in over 60 missions from the most hostile areas of the war zone in Ukraine.
Project DYNAMO is a donor funded, Florida-based, non-profit organization that has been operating throughout Ukraine since early February. Officials have been negotiating for Alexandrov’s release since early April, they said.
Anyone in need of evacuation should register by clicking here.
To donate or learn more about Project DYNAMO, click here.
You can see videos from the rescue mission below (WARNING: There’s explicit language in some of the footage).