A Ukrainian sniper and reconnaissance platoon operating on the front lines has a link to Central Oregon. Supporters here have dubbed them Platoon 541 and are sending as many supplies as they can.
But it’s really the story of two friends, 6,000 miles apart, and a wartime mission that keeps them connected.
It’s a bitter cold day for a walk in Redmond’s dry canyon with Artem Braginets, with more snow, wind and sub-freezing temperatures ahead.
“I thought the time for wars was way over after the second World War,” Artem says.
But it’s just a stroll and a conversation. On this day, nobody’s trying to kill us or destroy nearby power plants. But that’s exactly what’s happening to Artems‘ friends back home in Ukraine right now.
Especially his childhood friend, Nikolai.
“He’s a year older than I am so he was always the older, cool friend who lived in the capitol and i lived in the little city outside,” said Artem. “We would go fishing we would go to the village we would have lots and lots of fun. My best, funnest memories of childhood was with Nikolai.”
That childhood friend has grown up to be Lieutenant Nikolai Venglovski, leading a 30-man sniper and recon platoon against the Russian army.
“Ukraine is a tiny country compared to Russia and they said ‘No, you’re not taking our land,’” said Artem.
And they need all the help they can get. Artem and his neighbor, Michael Fassett, have been shipping supplies to Platoon 541 to help with the frontline fighting.
“We are sending another drone,” said Artem. “And dummy hand grenades for training.”
Also, long-barrel pellet guns for training
But Platoon 541 is also asking for the basics of life in a wartime winter.
“A pair of socks seems very basic but I didn’t realize until I talked to Nikolai recently — I didn’t realize how important having that pair of socks is.
So this shipment is mostly about keeping them warm.
There are some days after the bombings that they cannot get the electricity back up fast enough. And also every shelling, all the windows are gone,” said Artem.
Heated socks. Batteries to charge them. Solar chargers. Winter hats.
“They ask for colors that will be as close to military colors as possible,” said Artem.
Michael, from Sisters, has been instrumental in gathering and shipping the goods.
“You see it on TV every day and who wouldn’t be having a feeling for those poor people over there that are suffering,” said Michael. We’ll stay with it I think as long as the Ukrainians are in need which it looks like it could be a while.”
Artem says it’s people like Michael who help the most.
Nikolai shares his gratitude from afar.
“You’re not just friends, you are comrades,” Nikolai and some of his men say in a cell phone.
“The enemy doesn’t sleep,” they add, “Every minute they are trying to break and destroy every piece of our land.”
It’s a thank you from the front. From a country under siege. From a platoon tagged with a local area code.
“I am very very proud to see my people stand up and fight for their rights for their land,” said Artem.
And a long-distance thank you from a longtime friend — two men hoping for a reunion in happier times.
“I can’t wait for that moment when I can go into Ukraine and give him a huge hug. Yeah, really looking forward to it,” said Artem.
Michael has also put together a dinner fundraiser, set for the Jackelope Grill in Bend this Sunday at 5:30 p.m. You can reserve a spot here. If you can’t make it but still want to contribute, go to platoon541.org.