TAMPA, Fla. — A Tampa-based nonprofit has successfully rescued and exfiltrated an American nuclear scientist from Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine.
According to Project DYNAMO, Texas native John Spor was driven nearly 20 hours straight across Ukraine before crossing into Poland and reuniting with his family.
He reunited with his sister, Laurie, and his son, Sean, around 2 p.m. local time.
Project DYNAMO says Spor, who founded Texas Photonics Inc., has been hunted by Russian forces for months.
Spor was in Mariupol when Russia attacked in February. He's been in hiding ever since.
"Think of it like you’re being hunted because that’s kind of it felt. I couldn’t make a mistake" Spor said.
He is credited with designing "sensitive technology found in dozens of laser-guided weapons systems used by the U.S. military," a spokesperson for Project DYNAMO explained.
"It changes things, because most people that get captured by the Russians are nobody’s that they think are somebody’s. John’s actually somebody," co-founder of Project DYNAMO Bryan Stern said.
The organization says the Russians consider Spor a "high-value target" and that Chechen-Russian forces have ransacked his home and tried to find him in recent months.
"I had pretty well assumed that there was not a way to get out," Spor said. "I was skeptical that they was going to be able to get me out because of where I was I was way behind the Russian lines."
"Spor’s knowledge of sensitive U.S. military technology is of tremendous intelligence value to Russia," Project DYNAMO wrote in an email. "If he was captured and interrogated, his knowledge would cause exceptionally grave damage to U.S. national security and NATO forces."
Spor's sister Laurie asked lawmakers and the U.S. State Department for help rescuing Spor.
"There was no way for him to travel alone," she explained.
The State Department, in turn, recommended Project DYNAMO. The nonprofit has made headlines repeatedly in recent months. Project DYNAMO is veteran-run and donor-funded. It works to exfiltrate people from dangerous places around the world.
The mission to rescue Spor included more than a month of planning.
"On Tuesday, the team from Project DYNAMO led by Bryan Stern, co-founder of Project DYNAMO and a highly decorated U.S. military officer, moved Spor through Russian territory, crossing more than 30 Russian checkpoints and into Ukraine," the nonprofit said. "Stern employed a series of complex tactics and techniques, honed over many years of government service, to mask Spor, his location, and his movement from the clutches of Russian security services."
“Project DYNAMO has been with our family every step of the way through this nightmare. DYNAMO has been the answer to our family’s prayers,” Lauri Weigle, Spor’s sister, told Project DYNAMO. “We are in amazement that he is finally on his way to us and safe after months of hoping and praying.”
“I’m so grateful for Project DYNAMO and the support they have provided to me and my family during this time,” Sean told the nonprofit.
Project DYNAMO says it has now rescued more than 2,000 people from Ukraine. Anyone needing help is asked to register with the State Department's STEP program and then with Project DYNAMO here.