SAN DIEGO — An East County firefighter and U.S. Army veteran is leading an all-volunteer team in Ukraine to search for victims in the rubble. 

San Miguel Firefighter Eric Hille spoke to FOX 5 before he left for the mission. He is leading a team of 11 firefighters from across the U.S., Germany and Australia. They call themselves Project Joint Guardian.

The group says what they have seen so far has been heartbreaking. They have been sawing, digging and sifting through the rubble in Kyiv for the past five days.

“We’re predominately working in the eastern part of the Kyiv area, which was under Russian control for weeks. It is complete, utter devastation,” Hille told FOX 5.

On the first day of their mission, they rescued a dog — a first sign of hope in their search and rescue operations, working alongside Ukrainian firefighters.

“You can see it in their face,” Hille said. “They are exhausted. They are beat.”

Hille described searching for a missing father in a collapsed home, which turned from a search effort to recovery:

“It was tough because the house was complete ash. The house took a direct hit and burned for days. The only thing that would bring closure to the family is the necklace and the watch which he always wore and never took off, and we were able to recover that,” Hille said. “That’s all we could give to the family to bring closure.”

Hille says they still have much more work to do.

“The officials say there are 80,000 collapsed buildings here in Ukraine, and they’re going to have to search them all for victims once this war is over,” he explained.

Project Joint Guardian says they plan to come back to the U.S. next week.