A Private Company Has Evacuated 6,500 People From Ukraine
Global Guardian is now evacuating Ukrainians who work for Western companies and their families.
President Joe Biden repeatedly made clear that he would not send American troops to evacuate people stuck in Ukraine at risk of sparking a “world war.”
That doesn’t mean evacuations aren’t happening. But they’ll cost you.
Global Guardian, a private security firm, has evacuated more than 6,500 people from Ukraine over the past month, according to Dale Buckner, a former Green Beret who owns the firm. Buckner said Global Guardian completed 12 missions on Sunday and another nine on Monday. He said evacuations may be hitting their peak as the Russian invasion of Ukraine extends to its third week.
“You could literally sense the corporate headquarters went from thinking, ‘We won’t have to address our local national employee base’…to, ‘Oh God, this is real and the Russians are coming’,” he said. “People that thought they were going to stay in places like Kyiv, Dnipro, Poltava, and Odessa are now realizing they don’t have a choice. They need to get out of the way because the reality has hit that they’re going to get cut off.”
Clients can subscribe to a membership with Global Guardian, which provides pre-trip threat briefings, help with lost documents while traveling, access to emergency evacuations, and 24/7 support in case of a terrorist attack, political crisis, or natural disaster.
About a month before the invasion began, Global Guardian began to alert its clients that it was time to think about evacuating. In early February, foreigners living and working in Ukraine began leaving. By the fourth day of the invasion, most of the foreigners had left and Buckner said he began evacuating Ukrainians who were working for Western companies with offices in Ukraine, as well as their families and sometimes pets.
“There are lots of people left who never thought they would have to leave,” he said. “Now we’re just focusing on local national employees of Western corporations that, frankly, I don't think were prepared to move, and others who decided, ‘Nope, I’m not leaving,’ have now realized that was a bad decision.”
The first step in an evacuation is analyzing whether Global Guardian teams stationed around Eastern Europe, including in Ukraine, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, can reach the evacuees, Buckner said. If not, he said, they may ask people to get themselves to a location where they can be picked up. After some communication about logistics, including how many seats are needed, how much luggage each person can bring, and whether any pets are traveling, evacuees are sent a meeting time and place.
“We give them an hour or two to load or manifest,” Buckner said. “Whoever is there after two hours, we leave and drive out of the city.”
Global Guardian employees will drive as far as they can until they hit a curfew and stop to sleep for a couple hours. Then the drive continues to the border with Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, or Romania. Evacuees walk across the border to be processed, and other Global Guardian employees pick them up on the other side of the border to bring them to a major city, where they can find a hotel and figure out next steps.
Buckner said the company is also evacuating individual people and families who find the firm online and need help getting out.
The cost is determined by both the size of the vehicle and the length of the trip, Buckner said. For example, getting out of Kyiv takes between one and two days, depending on which border crossing you go to. Doing that trip with a 50-person van costs about $18,000, Buckner said.
Any bus or van that isn’t hired is tasked to drive around and find people who have made it to western Ukraine by themselves, and give them a free ride to the border crossing of their choice, Buckner said.
Global Guardian is not currently working with the American government, but Buckner predicted it could happen in the future, citing past coordination with the government during hurricanes, the 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and when COVID-19 shut down global travel in 2020.
“The government is big. It’s slow. It’s bureaucratic. They have to sign contracts that take weeks,” he said. “We are a standing emergency response force. I have teams in 134 countries, and we are already on contract with clients….That’s the reason we can move people prior to and within the first four days. The government can’t do that.”
When evacuations drop off, Buckner said the firm will pivot to transporting humanitarian aid, food, water, and body armor into the country. But Buckner said they are preparing for a months-long effort. “I think that the situation is going to get much much worse,” he said. “There was a misperception and misstep by corporate America and governments around the world. They didn’t think Russians would actually invade….Up until last week, most corporate executives thought, ‘We’ll evacuate employees and they’ll go back in a couple weeks,’…That’s not going to happen.”