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“Side by side” : Here’s how the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office will help Ukrainians
Ukraine DCSO
Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson, far right, commemorates his agency’s donation of ballistic supplies to Ukraine with a picture alongside Ukrainian police Maj. Mykhailo Vershynin holding his country’s flag, center; local supporters and the BOC members. - photo by Julia Hansen

During Russia’s ongoing war with their country, every piece of equipment helps the people of Ukraine protect what’s precious to them. 

Locals got a first-hand look Thursday at how the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office’s donation of surplus ballistic equipment will help Ukrainians fighting against the Russian invasion.

This story continues below.

The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved DCSO’s request during their March 2 voting session to surplus the equipment and send it to Ukraine.

Ukrainian police Maj. Mykhailo Vershynin smiled as he recounted the board’s vote.

“It was a big honor for me to be in this room,” Vershynin said. “And it was an honor for me to look straight into the eye of [the] people with whom we fight side by side. It just proves that we’re on one side and together, we’re undefeatable.”

Suwanee-based New Life Church associate pastor Aleksandr Gerasimov translated for the Ukrainian major.  

Dawson County Dr. Larry Anderson helped arrange the donation as a continuation of his heartfelt mission to help Ukrainians involved in the war. 

The contribution will come at no cost to DCSO. 

Meanwhile, the year-long war in Ukraine has come at a high cost to the country’s residents, according to a Feb. 21 update from the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Over 21,293 civilian casualties have been recorded, with a little over 8,000 of those being deaths. The actual numbers for casualties and deaths could be higher, the update added. 

More than eight million Ukrainians have fled abroad in the ensuing chaos, and Russia has been accused of war crimes in the Kyiv region, explained a February 2023 report from wire news service the Associated Press.

Extensive damage has also been reported to infrastructure, particularly in areas like outside of the Ukrainian capital. World supply of grain has been impacted by the conflict, as have energy and fertilizer availability, leading to shortages with all three resources, the AP report stated. 

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and a bridge connecting Crimea with Russia have also been targeted, though nobody has claimed responsibility for the latter, the AP report added.

While Ukraine has been able to regain land east of Kharkiv and land north of Kherson, Russia still holds about a fifth of the other country’s territory, including the area around that nuclear power plant, according to the report. 

The war in Ukraine follows almost a decade of preexisting conflict with Russia over the country’s Crimea region.

Previously, DCN and its partner publications have reported on local civic groups and churches’ efforts to help Ukrainians, such as when the Rotary Club of Dawson County helped secure a grant to get a car for refugee families in the metro Atlanta area. 

During a Feb. 27 interview, Dr. Larry Anderson explained that he approached DCSO about potentially donating gear to help Ukrainians. About three months ago, Anderson went on a trip to Ukraine to help establish a chaplain program for the country’s police divisions. 

While on that trip, the doctor met with several chiefs of police, where he was told that ballistics equipment was needed for Ukrainian civilians. 

In Ukraine, the national police have similar uniforms to members of the military, and responsibilities can include guarding military prisoners who’ve been captured or fighting Russians in an area if regular military isn’t present, Anderson said. 

Hence comes the crunch on equipment for many of the Ukrainians fighting and/or protecting their country’s people and land. 

And as it so happened, DCSO had available ballistic vests and helmets to give. 

Although the equipment retains “much of its intended protective properties,” it’s considered no longer serviceable and expires once its warranty ends, stated DCSO’s surplus request. 

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“If approved, these items will be donated with the clear understanding that these items are expired per the manufacturer’s dates,” DCSO’s request added. 

At the board’s March 2 work session, Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson explained that some of his personnel had taken the equipment “out on the range and tested it on an unofficial basis” in order to verify its sturdiness.

“I can’t imagine trying to police in that war-torn state or area that they’re in,” Johnson said. “Obviously, they’ve had difficulties with [obtaining] equipment, and we’re blessed with what we have here.” 

The items will be sent with Ukrainian chaplains back to Kyiv and stored until Anderson can travel over in the fall to personally deliver the equipment to a general there. 

Officials with the country’s national police will decide who’s most in need and distribute the vests and helmets on that basis, Anderson said.

The doctor later shared his gratitude for the board’s support as well as that of Sheriff Johnson, other Dawson County citizens and hospital systems like his own place of work, Northside.

Johnson reiterated DCSO’s fortune at having good equipment and said that though it’s expired, it’s still of sufficient quality. The sheriff could tell just by looking at the grateful reactions of the agency’s donation. 

“Seeing the reaction of the major at the quality of the equipment speaks a lot to me, it does,” Johnson said.