“I told my wife I would like to go to Ukraine to see what I can do” – Irishman helps evacuate citizens from conflict zone
Dathan Brennan had no romanticized or naïve view of what awaited him when he arrived in Ukraine last May.
With over 20 years experience as a field medic in the Irish Armed Forces, he had seen first-hand modern conflict zones in Syria, Kosovo, Sierra Leone during the 2014 Ebola crisis and in Lebanon while serving at the United Nations.
Shortly after leaving the Defense Forces in 2020, he worked for a private medical company providing services to military personnel monitoring the ceasefire between Ukrainians and Russian separatists in the Donbass region of Ukraine.
Since returning to Ukraine, he has been working with a unit of ex-Western military specialists called The Mozart Group, which Brennan says is a strictly non-combat organization.
Although he did not fire a shot in the conflict, Mozart was portrayed as a rival to the pro-Moscow shadowy mercenary group Wagner.
According to Brennan, the false comparison between the two has resulted in “a price being put on us and being deliberately targeted by Wagner and the Russian forces”.
Brennan began teaching Ukrainian recruits how to provide medical care to troops injured in combat. His role later changed when he was appointed to lead Mozart’s evacuation team, which “is exactly what I want to do.”
Almost every day, his team evacuates civilians who unwittingly find themselves caught up in the ever-changing fronts of the bloody conflict in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine.
He said that when Russia invaded, he knew it was going to be a difficult war.
“You could see what Russia was going to do, you could see they were targeting infrastructure, civilians, everything,” he said. “So I told my wife I’d like to go back to see what I could do, to see if I had anything to offer from a medical or military perspective. I really wanted to go back as this was just a disaster.
“She agreed to let me go but told me she wasn’t happy about it, which was fine. My goal wasn’t to go over there and kill Russians, I wanted to go over there and help.”
A native of Co Offaly, Mozart, made up of former Western military special forces, found Mozart on the internet and liked what it was about — training and basically anything that can help the Ukrainian military “win the battle and stay alive.”
After considering his experience, Mozart’s founder, retired US Navy Colonel Andy Milburn, hired him to teach Ukrainians how to deal with trauma on the battlefield.
“Typically, Mozart has two units that train the Ukrainians and one unit that is involved in evacuating civilians from the front lines,” Brennan said.
His evacuation team has earned a reputation for “always trying to get in and trying, even if we have to wait for gaps in the shelling.”
His team not only helps rescue civilians, but also distributes help from other groups in areas where “other organizations don’t operate.”
“We also went into areas to get bodies,” he said
They carry no weapons, despite the obvious danger of working near the front lines where shell fire is “everyone’s enemy”. Carrying guns would “muddy the waters” and “allow the Russians to say we are combatants”.
“Wearing weapons isn’t going to do us much good anyway, since the main danger comes from artillery fire. We are not PCM [private military contractor], we are basically a volunteer organization. We are completely dependent on donors. No money is coming in from any government no matter what the Russians will tell you.”
His team will “go to the doorsteps of civilians who are only a few hundred yards from the front line.”
“In urban areas, lines can shift very quickly. Capturing a building or two can dramatically change the line of fire.
“Half the battle isn’t reaching out to the vulnerable, but trying to persuade people, especially the elderly, to leave the only home they’ve ever known. It is surprising how many will not go.”
Some leave relatively quickly, others only think about leaving at the last minute.
“If there’s an area under fire, you get a call saying people are ready to pack and we’re taking them out.”
All Brennan’s team can offer is a guarantee that they will be taken to a safe place. His team takes evacuees to reception centers for a short time, where they are given a bed and something to eat.
“People just don’t realize how bad it is” when it comes to the large-scale demolition of residential buildings. The Russians “will hit anything” and “their mindset is to flatten and clean up an entire area.”
“They want to wreak havoc and tie up resources to get the Ukrainian people to end the war faster,” Brennan said.
“We [Mozart] just trying to help people in a really bad situation and get them out of immediate danger. It’s a big responsibility for us, but we have to do it.”
After a stint at home, Brennan, who greatly admires Ukraine’s determination and “stubbornness,” has returned to the conflict zone. The Ukrainians, he believes, have an advantage over Russian troops on the battlefield.
As the conflict enters its second year, it doesn’t know when it will end. A lot depends on what Vladimir Putin does and how long he stays there. For now, Brennan and his team will continue to risk their necks for the common people of Ukraine.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/news/i-told-my-wife-id-like-to-go-to-ukraine-to-see-what-i-could-do-irishman-helping-to-evacuate-citizens-from-conflict-zone-42287203.html “I told my wife I would like to go to Ukraine to see what I can do” – Irishman helps evacuate citizens from conflict zone