Brewer helping Ukrainians prepare for winter

Nov. 4, 2022, midnight ·

Sen. Tom Brewer, second from right, with aid workers who delivered a tiny house to Ukrainian woman, center. (Courtesy photo)
Sen. Tom Brewer, second from right, with aid workers who delivered a tiny house to Ukrainian woman, center. (Courtesy photo)

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Call Tom Brewer in Ukraine, and ask him how he’s doing.

“Well, it’s been a very long day.”

That’s Brewer’s understated way of saying that he and his traveling companions had almost been blown up by a Russian missile that slammed into a ditch next to their vehicle earlier this week.

“As we looked over there, the fins were sticking up out of the ground, and there was smoke and sparks coming out of the tail of the rockets. And I thought it was all over. It looked like it was just going to instantly detonate,” he said.

But, Brewer added, the missile failed to explode.

“When we went back by there a little later they had it all taped off and they had the demolition team putting charges by it to blow it up,” he said. “We’ve kind of dodged the bullet this morning.”

This kind of danger is nothing new for Brewer, a retired career Army officer who received two Purple Hearts after being seriously wounded in Afghanistan.

Now a Nebraska state senator, Brewer is traveling as a private citizen with Ukrainian Army chaplains, helping people in that war-torn country prepare for winter. He’s also observing -- and experiencing – the military situation.

The group is delivering Bibles to wounded soldiers as well as portable stoves and cold-weather gear to military members on the front lines.

“The Ukrainian army is an army that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen because they’re poor. They may wear three different colors of camouflage, and it’s because there’s three different parts of a uniform. And now, with winter coming on, they’re really struggling. Anything to help insulate them, they’ll take. They don’t care where it came from. They don’t care what it looks like. If it keeps them from freezing to death, they’ll go for it,” Brewer said.

The group is also helping civilians prepare for winter, delivering tiny houses to people whose former homes were destroyed by the Russians before they retreated. The new houses are equipped to have water and electricity, but those are in short supply because of Russian attacks on the infrastructure.

Still, Brewer said, people who get them will be better off.

“If they’re not out, exposed to the weather, or in a basement that’s kind of damp and has a dirt floor, it’s a lot better life than what they were living before we put the little homes in,” he explained.

Earlier this week, Brewer and the chaplains were in the town of Bakhmut, in the partially-Russian-occupied province of Donetsk. He said areas like that, where the Ukrainians have regained previously captured territory, are a priority for aid deliveries.

“That’s where the most need is —-- the most homes have been destroyed. And there are soldiers there that are trying to, you know, hold the front so that they (the Russians) don’t come back,” he said.

Brewer acknowledged he’s putting himself in a risky position.

“You are close to the front line. I mean tonight, as I’m setting here, there’s an artillery duel going off behind us between the Ukrainians and the Russians. And, you know, it’s just – if you’re going to be close to the front line, that’s what happens,” he said.

The State Department has advised Americans not to travel to Ukraine because of the risk, and because, it says, there are reports of Russians and their proxies targeting Americans.

But Brewer said military action is far from the only risk.

“You could die over here a hundred ways in a day. How you don’t die in auto accidents every hour of every day I don’t know, because they drive insane over here,” he said.

However, he added “I don’t see many accidents. They’re aggressive drivers but they’re good drivers. But it still scares the daylights out of you.”

Still, Brewer plans to keep traveling around the country before returning to the United States Monday, in time to vote on Tuesday.