Cork security expert completes two month search and rescue mission in Ukraine

A man who joined the French Foreign Legion as a teenager before working as a security expert all over the world has completed a two-month search and rescue mission in Ukraine with his specially trained K9 rescue dog.
Cork security expert completes two month search and rescue mission in Ukraine

Olivia Kelleher

A man who joined the French Foreign Legion as a teenager before working as a security expert all over the world has completed a two-month search and rescue mission in Ukraine with his specially trained K9 rescue dog.

Padraig O'Keeffe, from Kiskeam, served with the French military in the early 1990s with deployments to Cambodia and the Balkans. He has also worked in Iraq, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Kurdistan, Benin and Ghana in a private security capacity.

Mr O'Keeffe, and his canine companion Cooper, spent over 60 days searching through rubble in Ukraine in the hope of finding survivors or bodies for burial.

Mr O'Keeffe fundraised for the mission with donors contributing in excess of €14,000 to his Go Fund me page.

He said in his two months in Ukraine they conducted over 30 searches, recovered two cadavers and a substantial amount of soft tissue at various sites.

Padraig O'Keeffe with K9 rescue dog Cooper.

"We have also invested in the community kitchen and school, the horse rescue shelter, the Vostomel Animal Shelter and the apartments at Gorenka.

"We have invested in a number of volunteers who have given their all since the end of February in assisting their fellow Ukrainians. With all that the funding has run dry and what is left will get us home."

One of his last endeavours involved scouring the site of a Russian armoured column which was destroyed where they had set up camp.

"The fatalities had been removed, but we took the opportunity to sweep the area as we had come across small items of charred human remains.

I was shown photographs of the location after it had been hit. It was horrendous. Material and human remains scattered across the site."

Like many people I have watched in horror at the devastation unfolding in the Ukraine and it was eating me up inside.

Mr O'Keeffe says the work was "arduous and gruelling" and that he and Cooper often worked in 32 degree heat.

He admits that he couldn't ignore what was happening in Ukraine and felt compelled to help.

"I wanted to help I any way that I could and felt that our training and experience could be of immense use to teams searching for survivors and recovering bodies from bombed out buildings.

"Like many people I have watched in horror at the devastation unfolding in the Ukraine and it was eating me up inside."

Mr O'Keeffe first came across K9 rescue dogs in 2010 whilst working in Haiti in a protected services role for the BBC and the European Commission Humanitarian Organisation after a massive earthquake hit the country.

There he saw first hand the work undertaken by the international search and rescue teams, in particular the Urban Search and Rescue Dogs and their handlers.

Mr O’Keeffe later trained as a K9 handler in the US and had his own German Shepherd called Mambo for a decade.

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