It’s a long way from the picturesque Irish city of Cork to the ruins of Borodyanka, going on 2000 miles if one cares to check. But this was the distance covered by road during the journey made by Irishman Padraig O’Keeffe and his search and rescue dog Cooper, who crowdfunded their volunteer operation to help search for those missing in the urban devastation brought about by the war in both Borodyanka and neighbouring Bucha where also some of the worst atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in the war have occurred.

O’Keeffe’s road trip alone even before arriving in Ukraine turned into something of an ordeal when he almost died after driving for hours with a ruptured appendix to a hospital in Hungary where he collapsed but was treated in the nick of time according to doctors. After convalescing for a few weeks in Budapest he and Cooper were back on the road and their mission to Borodyanka.

O’Keeffe is undoubtedly a tough cookie and no stranger to hardship. After joining the French Foreign Legion at the age of 20 he served in Bosnia and Cambodia before leaving the service to become a private security contractor. The sole survivor of a bloody ambush in Iraq he also worked in an anti-kidnapping role and with local police as part of a presidential security detail in a rapid response unit in the volatile Haitian capital Port au Prince.

READ DAVID PRATT'S FULL UKRAINE REPORT: 'I was here with my family when the tanks destroyed our house'

All these dangerous roles O’Keeffe has documented in an autobiographical book entitled Hidden Soldier before becoming involved with search and rescue back in Ireland.

I asked him how his role here in Ukraine compared with other search and rescue missions he had undertaken?

“Well, we’ve been here going on three months now, and I guess we're more integrated into the community, O’Keeffe explains.

“With a job like this, we're dependent on the community for the tip offs and the call-out. And with that connection, we have taken on a lot of the emotional side of things, everyone's got a story and it always comes out. So, I can feel that a lot that immersion in the community.”

He also says the big difference is that unlike in situations arising from natural disasters he and the dog must contend with the dangers of unexploded ordnance.

Three months in he admits to being pretty “wiped out” as is he says Cooper the three-year-old golden Labrador that has been his constant companion on the road and while going through the ruins of Borodyanka and Bucha.

“He’s my working partner so you're emotionally connected to him he feeds off your energies and if he senses me walking the search site my hands in my pockets with no interest, he's going to be the same”.

As we talk, he points out a nearby apartment block where the bodies of eight people are still believed to be under the rubble five of them family members of a local city administrator. He speaks too of the disappointment of negative searches such as when they spent some time going through mounds of rubble after locals told of an awful smell only to find an industrial freezer packed with rotting meat.

All these negative searches, he says, have an impact on Cooper whose motivational training is very much based around positive outcomes even if it’s only discovering a corpse as opposed to a survivor. After many months even finding any human remains now in Borodyanka is proving near impossible and O’Keeffe and Cooper are due soon to return to Ireland.

“It’s been very high tempo doing this here, and we put a lot of weight on his shoulders, poor fella,” he says, loading Cooper into the dog's crate in the back of the vehicle.

Once back in Ireland he hopes to continue fund raising for Ukraine and though Cooper will be retired as a young dog, he hopes to take him round schools to tell the story of Ukraine.

“He’s moving from operations to PR,” jokes O’Keeffe as he prepares to leave the site and we say our goodbyes.

For now, Borodyanka and what remains of its pre-war inhabitants the biggest concern is that the scars of war will continue to haunt them unless a swift process is followed to clear the town of rubble and services returned by the government.

Before leaving the city, I asked Natalia Kovalchuk what she thinks the immediate future holds for her given that she recently lost her husband who was killed fighting on the frontline.

“There are no plans except to work and keep on living,” she tells me. “Things are coming back, it was very hard at the beginning, but life goes on.”