LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — State Sen. Tom Brewer is on his way back from a personal, fact-finding mission in Ukraine with a new appreciation of the passion of Ukrainians to repel and defeat the Russian invasion.
“They won’t lose this war if we just give them a few tools,” Brewer said. “I don’t think the Ukrainians will ever give up.”
The 63-year-old senator, a decorated war veteran who was wounded twice during deployments to Afghanistan, spoke by telephone on Thursday. He had just left the heart of the battlefront in the eastern and southern portions of Ukraine and is scheduled to board a plane in Poland on Saturday for his return to Nebraska.
Once here, Brewer said he plans to generate a 40- to- 50-page “trip report” to present to Nebraska’s U.S. senators on his observations of the humanitarian needs in Ukraine and how to help the country win the war.
That report, he hopes, will find its way to the U.S. Department of State, which he said, should be doing what he’s been doing but isn’t.
“We need our embassy to do what the embassy needs to be doing,” Brewer said. “Right now, it’s a big void.”
If they slow roll this too long, it will be just be a travesty.
– State Sen. Tom Brewer, on the delivery of U.S. military aid
He stopped at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv a month ago as his trip began but said he found it unstaffed, except for security personnel.
A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said Friday that operations at the embassy have been limited, with officials working remotely, but that the embassy engages with “partners in the field” to ensure aid is reaching the right recipients.
“We take all possible steps to ensure that U.S.-funded assistance reaches those for whom it is intended and carefully monitor the risks associated with providing aid,” a statement from the State Department said.
“We once again reiterate: U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine, due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials,” the statement read.
U.S. officials need to know
Brewer said he filled out the necessary paperwork to visit Ukraine and said several mayors of embattled towns have met with him, eager to speak to an American and seek help.
One asset that has been helpful, he said, is a precision-guided, U.S. rocket system, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), that the Ukrainians have used to take out regional headquarters and ammunition dumps. But only half of the 12 sent by the U.S. are “on the ground.”
“I honestly believe if you gave them 50 of those, they’d take back the land they lost,” Brewer said.
But delivery of American munitions has been slow because the Ukrainians must travel to Poland to pick them up, he said. Brewer is hoping his report helps spur the U.S. find a faster way to deliver military aid, such as using military contractors or retired military.
“If they slow roll this too long, it will be just be a travesty,” he said.
Pounding cities into rubble
Right now, the Russians are shelling cities in eastern Ukraine into rubble, while local residents without the means to evacuate huddle in basements, cooking food over small fires.
Most humanitarian aid is coming through private donations, he said, prompting worries that such help will dry up as the war drags on and fatigue sets in.
But the Ukrainians are resilient. One, 18-year-old man Brewer said he met at a hospital told him he wants to join the fight, even after he was shot four times in a vehicle in which his mother, brother and dog were all shot and killed.
“When the guy finished talking to me, I was just dumbfounded. … He should have been a basket case. But his desire is to go into the army and fight the Russians,” Brewer said. “That is the passion here.”
Still, he sees a long and protracted war — the Ukrainians are motivated to take back their homeland, and the Russians have more troops to sacrifice. Still, he said, even the Russian army, which he estimates has lost twice as many soldiers (40,000) as Ukraine, can endure only so many losses.
Brewer said there were some harrowing moments during his trip.
Shells whistle overhead
Once, he said, he and his party traveled past the Ukrainian lines, within a couple hundred yards of the Russians, in “no-man’s land” to deliver food and other humanitarian aid.
A cluster bomb fell nearby one time, and cruise missiles have landed a few hundred yards away, he said. His party has driven through Russian fire at times, Brewer said, and heard shells whistling overhead. It leaves your ears ringing, he said.
“You do get a little jumpy. But if you go to the places you need to go, that will happen,” said the senator, who retired from the Army as a colonel after 36 years.
Brewer, who is battling leukemia, said he is scheduled for a cancer treatment next week. Depending on how that goes, he said, he may be heading back to Ukraine.
“Of all the things I’ve done, this is one of the more rewarding things,” Brewer said.
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