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Volunteers and veteran groups have headed into one of the most dangerous locations on the planet to help evacuate orphaned children caught in the crosshairs of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in eastern Ukraine.
Speaking to Fox News Digital Saturday, Ukrainian native Vlad Finn and Army veteran Tyler Merritt discussed the harrowing work they and a unit of U.S. veterans volunteering with the Aerial Recovery Group are doing to help some of the most vulnerable in Ukraine.
“The idea is to take them out of an area that is besieged and or very dangerous, right — shelling, gunshots, bad humans killing women and kids,” Merritt explained. “Get them out of those controlled areas.”
As a former member of the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Merritt said he has seen his share of war-torn nations like Iraq, Afghanistan, South America and countries he could not name.
But the Army vet-turned founder of the Nine Line Foundation said the action he has seen during previous armed conflicts is “nothing in comparison to what’s going on in eastern Ukraine.”
“It’s a modern-day holocaust with modern warfare,” he said.
Finn, who tragically found himself in a Ukrainian orphanage at the age of 10, serves as a translator and volunteer working to get orphaned children out from dangerous areas – often in eastern Ukraine – to safe points in western Ukraine.
The Ukrainian native was adopted by an American couple at the age of 15, but he says he sees himself in the children who have been left to cope with the harsh reality brought on by Putin’s invasion.
“Let’s say this happened 15 years ago, 16 years ago — I would have been one of these orphans being rescued by Aerial Recovery and everyone that’s helping with these rescue missions,” he explained.
Finn’s background not only means he knows how to navigate eastern Ukraine, he has a unique perspective on what it’s like to be an orphan.
The pair explained that the group of volunteers does not place orphans outside of Ukraine for two reasons – community and legal reasons.
International adoptions become trickier and slower when a third nation gets involved, Merritt eplained. And keeping the orphaned kids grouped together is a priority for the Aerial Recovery Group.
“When they are transported to the western part — to safer areas — you try to find similar environments so that way they can be in a group, stay together,” Finn said, adding that “Aerial Recovery doesn’t separate orphanages or kids or anything that were in a group already.”
The pair noted that the situation throughout Ukraine is extremely dangerous. If people want to help, they should not head to the war-torn nation on their own. Instead, they should contact humanitarian groups, donate funds or offer medical services if they are able, they said.
Over 600 orphaned children have been evacuated by the volunteers since the war began more than six weeks ago. Despite recent warnings that the already deadly war is expected to become even more brutal, the volunteers say they aren’t going anywhere.
“Where there’s a will there’s a way,” Merritt told Fox News Digital.
The pair were unable to share specifics on areas of operation or how they work to get children to safety due to extreme security risks.
“They’re strategically targeting non-governmental organizations. They’re specifically targeting women and children, and they are specifically targeting news reporters,” Merritt explained. “You have mercenaries that are backing the Russian military that are doing things that no human should ever do to another human.”
Despite Putin’s brutal efforts that have been deemed war crimes by the U.S., Ukraine and NATO officials, the Army veteran said there is still a “strong will to fight them.”
U.S. defense officials have warned that Russia is looking to add another 60,000 recruits to its fighting force as it looks to home in on eastern Ukraine, with one official warning that it will be a “knife fight.”
Merritt said the war in Ukraine is a “pure test of good and evil,” adding that, despite the atrocities inflicted throughout the country, he sees “their spirit as extremely high.”
Both Finn and Merritt intend to head back to Ukraine to continue their support in the near future.