DALLAS — Hearing John Spor explain how he escaped the war-torn city of Mariupol is like hearing a pitch for a fictional Hollywood film.
But, according to the nuclear scientist from Rowlett, Texas, who built a career in the Dallas-Fort Worth area designing advanced technology for laser-guided weapons systems used by the U.S. military, there's nothing Hollywood about it.
"I honestly didn't think they were going to get me out of there," Spor told WFAA Thursday. "Being rescued was like total boredom and terror at the same time, and nobody's prepared for that."
Spor was smuggled out of Ukraine by Tampa-based Project DYNAMO on Tuesday. The non-profit is veteran-owned, privately funded and was founded after the U.S. began pulling out of Afghanistan suddenly.
The group, made up of volunteers (many former military), started going into Afghanistan to rescue Americans and allies who were trapped and didn't make it out as the military left.
Per co-founder Bryan Stern, who is also ex-military, the non-profit has helped rescue over 2,000 people from Ukraine.
The idea? The non-profit exfiltrates people from areas where the U.S. troops can't go.
"My sister was trying to find someone or anyone who could get me out because it had come to the point where I was not going to be able to get out on my own," Spor said. "Finally, she got a referral to Bryan after contacting the State Department and Sen. Ted Cruz."
"He contacted me, and I told him I didn't think he could get me out. I even thought he might be Russian FSB at one point, but he got me out," Spor said.
Spor has been living in Mariupol for several years after choosing to retire there.
"I just wanted to chill out, retire and have a good life. But things intervened," Spor said.
He told WFAA he met his Ukrainian wife in 2008, speaks Russian, has traveled to the area for over a decade and purchased a home in Mariupol by the sea.
But he's been in hiding for almost four months after Russian forces took over the area.
Spor knew if he were captured, he would likely become a prisoner and be interrogated or tortured.
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a nuclear physics degree, Spor started Texas Photonics Inc. in 2003, per documents filed with the state. It still has an office in Rowlett.
Spor specializes in electro-optics and helped design the detector for the laser-guided Paveway bombs. He's also helped on the F-35 stealth combat aircraft and other laser range-finding equipment.
Needless to say, what he knows about military equipment used by the United States would be helpful to a foreign country America is at odds with.
Spor says Chechen fighters visited his house twice looking for him.
"Thankfully, I wasn't there," Spor said. "But they were hunting me."
Once Stern and members of DYNAMO made contact with Spor in Ukraine, the team hid him in a van through more than 30 Russian checkpoints.
Stern was in-country for all of the rescue.
"Just on the road, time-wise, was over 20 hours, and that doesn't include the Russian-occupied time, which was another 10 or 15. So that's a lot of time on the road to be exposed when the whole world is looking for you," Stern said.
Spor said he had to trust Stern, which wasn't easy.
"I don't even know this guy, and I had to trust him," Spor said. "That was tough, that was really tough."
Spor and Stern are now safe in Poland, and Spor says he'll be back in Texas by next week.
Project DYNAMO is in need of more donations, if you'd like to help visit their website.