Nebraska Sen. Brewer headed back to Ukraine, this time to take Bibles, evacuate elderly

By: - October 6, 2022 5:45 am

Ukrainian pothole. (Courtesy of State Sen. Tom Brewer)

LINCOLN — An old soldier is headed back to the front lines in Ukraine, saying that at certain times in history, you need to get involved.

“You can either sit on the sidelines and watch history go by or dive in and try to make a difference,” said State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, a decorated military veteran, who represents Nebraska’s Sandhills in the State Legislature.

Brewer, 64, will return to Ukraine on Oct. 14, just after undergoing another chemotherapy treatment for an ongoing bout with leukemia.

Battling cancer, COVID

A month ago, he was battling a combination of COVID-19, pneumonia and a sinus infection, but on Wednesday Brewer pronounced himself “good to go.”

State Sen. Tom Brewer
State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon. (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office

Brewer, a sniper by training, spent a month this summer touring the war-torn country, delivering humanitarian supplies and talking to soldiers and civilians.

But this time, his mission will be to deliver electronic Bibles to Ukrainian soldiers and chaplains through a Kyiv-based Christian outreach group, Youth With a Mission (YWAM). He said he has also been asked, because of his military experience, to help evacuate some elderly people in “no-man’s land” between the Ukrainian and Russian lines.

“They’re trapped,” Brewer said. “They have no electricity and no natural gas, and little access to food. So it would be unlikely they they could survive the winter.”

Chaplains ask for Bibles

Military chaplains he met in Ukraine during his summer trip said they needed Bibles they could read in the dark, at the front, without drawing the attention of enemy fire, he said.

So the senator, who was wounded twice during deployments to Afghanistan, said he did some research and found some electronic Bibles on Kindle-type devices, as well as some solar-power Bibles that the 49 chaplains that serve the Ukrainian military can use.

YWAM is paying for the 1,000 Bibles, according to Brewer, while he is paying for the expenses of the trip.

“I think it will be a nice thing to share, especially for the guys in hospital,” said the senator, who was raised a Baptist in the Gordon area.

U.S. aid has made a big difference

Brewer dodged a few artillery rounds on his last trip, which took him near the battle lines in eastern and southern Ukraine, and he expects this trip will present the same kinds of hazards.

Part of the trip, he said, will take him near the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southeast Ukraine, which the Russians have occupied since March and where fighting has been fierce in recent weeks.

Brewer said U.S. military aid has made a big difference for Ukraine in the war, especially the highly accurate High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) systems sent over.

If it wasn’t for us, they would be speaking Russian right now,” he said.

Fears nuclear bomb use

Brewer said he would support sending longer range rocket systems to Ukraine, so troops could knock out Russian missile launch facilities. But he fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin would use tactical nuclear bombs to retaliate, after his troops lost some territory they had captured during the six-month-long war.

“I fear that he’s boxed in a corner and he has to do something,” Brewer said.

The senator said he expects to be back in Nebraska in time for a sinus surgery in early December and then meetings with new state senators in advance of the 2023 legislative session, which will begin Jan. 4.

“When I was over there the first time, I saw a need for some things,” he said. “Now, I have a window before the session (starts).”


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.