Nebraska state senator returns to Ukraine to deliver Bibles, stove, food — and message of support

A dud missile landed only a few yards from truck carrying Brewer’s group and supplies

By: - November 1, 2022 5:45 am
Tom Brewer

State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon is back in Ukraine, this time delivering stoves to soldiers at the front to heat water and stay warm. (Courtesy of Tom Brewer)

LINCOLN — State Sen. Tom Brewer, a decorated military veteran, is back in Ukraine, this time delivering solar Bibles and portable cookstoves to soldiers at the front, while narrowly escaping a missile strike.

Two Russian missiles hit about 300 yards on either side of a highway Monday as Brewer’s party was leaving Zaporizhzhia, the site of heavy fighting in southeast Ukraine, Brewer said in a telephone interview.

This is all that remains of a building in Zaporizhzhia, near the front lines in eastern Ukraine. (Courtesy of Tom Brewer)

Russian missiles usually strike in pairs, he said, but suddenly a third S-300 missile slammed into the opposite side of the road on which his group was traveling. Their heavy delivery truck jumped into the air on impact.

Missile was a dud

Luckily, he said, the missile was a dud, spitting out sparks and smoke instead of a 300-pound payload of explosives.

“It would have taken the entire road out,” Brewer said. “You would have been pieces of the road.”

“It would have been a bad day,” he said.

This is the second trip to Ukraine since the war started for Brewer, a two-term state senator who represents Nebraska’s vast Sandhills. He has experience with battlefields, after being deployed six times to Afghanistan, including once when he was seriously wounded.

Delivering Bibles, food

Along with a Ukrainian pastor and a buddy from Elmwood, Nebraska, Brewer is delivering solar-powered Bibles to wounded soldiers and passing out food and small cookstoves to those on the frontlines, so they can warm water for coffee and tea and provide warmth as temperatures fall into the 30s.

The 64-year-old senator, who is battling leukemia and a serious sinus infection, said he’s trying not to get shot.

“But the deliveries are where the soldiers at, and the soldiers are at the front,” he said.

Brewer said his mission, in part, is to provide a hands-on look at what’s happening at the front of the Ukrainian’s war with Russia. The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv is abandoned and staff is in Poland, so he is preparing his own “trip report” for members of Congress — as he did this summer — about conditions at the front and whether American military aid is helping.

Ukrainians advanced since August

Since he last visited in early August, the Ukrainians have retaken large swaths of land from the Russians, aided by short-range HIMARS rocket launchers provided by the U.S.

Early morning meetings are held by candlelight because electricity has been knocked out in eastern Ukraine. (Courtesy of Tom Brewer)

Ukrainian soldiers are emboldened by their advance, Brewer said, but they need more artillery and better uniforms for the upcoming winter.

“It’s rare to see two soldiers with the same uniform,” he said. “I gave my stocking cap away to a guy the other day who looked cold, but now I’m kind of regretting it.”

Brewer said he’s arriving at a pivotal time in the war. The battle to retake Kherson, a southern Ukrainian city and regional capital captured early by the Russians, is going to “decide the war,” he said.

‘A Stalingrad-type battle’

“That is going to be a Stalingrad-type battle,” Brewer said, referring to the bloodiest battle of World War II, in which the Russians repelled the Nazis, turning the tide against Germany.

This time, though, the senator said it is the Ukrainians who need to be victorious. To do that, Brewer said the U.S. should supply them with longer-range missiles that can knock out rocket-launching facilities outside of Ukraine. Such sites, in Belarus and Russia, are raining down attacks on Ukrainian cities, knocking out power plants, train tracks and other infrastructure.

Provide longer-range rockets

“If we don’t (provide long-range rockets), then we guarantee them a cold, dark winter,” he said. “They will eventually lose their ability to generate electricity and pump water. Without water, things degrade pretty quickly.”

The Biden administration has thus far been reluctant to provide longer-range rockets that could strike into Russia, instead focusing on defensive weapons that don’t risk an escalation and spread of the war.

Can a state senator from a small Plains state have an impact on an international conflict, half a world away?

Yes, Brewer believes.

Must be there

“No one can tell the story and share what’s going on here unless you go and see it,” he said.

ukraine mini house
Some displaced Ukrainians are being provided with mini-houses as temporary shelter. (Courtesy of Tom Brewer)

Brewer said he is in regular contact with Nebraska’s U.S. House members and plans to travel to Washington, D.C., to share what he has learned after he returns.

“We have a chance to help them, by just giving them the tools, to defeat the top army in the world. Without filling one American body bag,” he said.

“They want to defeat the Russians, and they’re fighting with a vengeance like I’ve never seen,” Brewer added.

He said he was afforded a visit with a top Ukrainian intelligence officer, who is guiding the country’s defense, and regularly gets “mobbed” by Ukrainians he sees in towns near the front.

“When they see the Stars and Stripes they want nothing more than to let you know that they are thankful,” Brewer said. “They go out of their way to thank you.”

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.