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Local takes humanitarian team to Ukraine, needs donations 

San Luis Obispo local Burke Bryant, founder of the Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project (HARP), has spent the past decade traveling to war-torn or disaster-stricken countries, from Haiti to Afghanistan, providing emergency aid and rescue with a team of skilled military specialists and first responders.

Now, Bryant and HARP have taken their mission to Ukraine, where a team of eight is currently coordinating with local organizations there to provide critical supplies, rescues and evacuations, and medical care to vulnerable Ukrainian civilians.

click to enlarge DISASTER AID Burke Bryant, local founder of the Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project (HARP), takes trained rescue teams around the world to help countries in crisis. - PHOTO COURTESY OF TETIANA BROWN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Tetiana Brown
  • DISASTER AID Burke Bryant, local founder of the Humanitarian Aid and Rescue Project (HARP), takes trained rescue teams around the world to help countries in crisis.

"They're transporting Ukrainians out of harm's way to safety, and risking their own lives every day and night," said Kenny Gazin, a close friend of Bryant's and HARP volunteer based in SLO.

Since HARP entered Ukraine via Poland around March 3, it has traveled across the country on different missions. It started in Ukraine's southern region, coordinating evacuations of children out of the country.

"We're working in tandem with another organization that's basically feeding us locations, and we go in there and we do extractions and pass people off to handlers who get them across the border," Bryant said in a pre-recorded voice memo to New Times.

By March 9, HARP had entered Kyiv—Ukraine's capital—where it came to the aid of an orphanage recently hit by a Russian attack.

Tetiana Brown—a Los Osos resident, Ukraine native, and Bryant's girlfriend—said she's speaking with Ukrainians on the ground to try to help HARP coordinate its response. Before talking with New Times, Brown had recently gotten off the phone with the orphanage's director.

"She's desperate for help. They have nothing right now," Brown said. "They [HARP] will be helping those kids with food, clothes, and diapers. It's children who are 1 month old to 4 years old. They are heading that way."

Originally from Pryluky, Ukraine, a city east of Kyiv, Brown said she's lived in SLO County for the past 11 years. Since the invasion, Brown has been in constant touch with her family back home.

"My town is still safe but everything is closed and people are in their homes," she said. "My cousin is in a bomb shelter right now because she lives in Kyiv, and it's just scary."

Brown said that she's really proud of Bryant and the HARP team for the work they're doing, and noted that they are all highly trained, qualified, and prepared. Bryant is a former Navy member, and his HARP team includes two military surgeons. HARP's website states that its members are trained in combat search and rescue, exfiltration, swift water rescue, and combat medical and logistics.

"I support him 100 percent. It's not for everyone—not everyone can do that—but I know it's in his blood," Brown said. "Right now, I'm sitting here very anxious and, in a way, jealous that I can't be there."

In order to continue with its work, HARP needs money and resources—which is where SLO County can help. Locals can make a donation to HARP by going to its website, harprescue.org. Every cent will help fund its life-saving work in Ukraine, Gazin said.

"We really need to get the word out, primarily to let them be able to stay. They need funding," Gazin said. "They could be in Ukraine for who knows how long."

Brown said that she's appreciated the outpouring of support she's received from the SLO County community as a local Ukrainian.

"People have been asking how I'm doing and supporting me and praying," Brown said. "A lot of friends reach out every day."

Gazin hopes that Americans everywhere take note of Ukrainians' show of unity and fight.

"All of us should be changed forever watching how a country can pull together," he said. Δ

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