Military chaplains from Ukraine have finished their training with the British Army before returning to the country to provide a “spiritual umbrella” for frontline soldiers.
In the first batch of the two-week training, 10 Ukrainians trained at a camp in south-west England under the direction of the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department (RAChD).
The attendees gained knowledge on how to provide pastoral care, spiritual support, and moral instruction to soldiers on the front lines.
One of the officers who participated was Lieutenant Dmytro Povorotnyi, a clergyman from the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro.
“Once when Russia bombed Dnipro, my granddaughter who is four years old put her toys under the stairs and covered them with an umbrella,” said Lt Povorotnyi, who decided to become a military chaplain after the occupation of Crimea in 2014.
“We have the understanding that the umbrella that covers Ukraine, it’s our armed forces. Our men and women are so strong because they protect Ukraine from the enemies that are so cruel, that came to Ukraine to kill and rape a lot of people.
“But even those men and women who are fighting, they also need some protection.
“The main aim of chaplaincy is to give a spiritual umbrella to the personnel who are fighting for us. It’s not just about the weapons and rockets, it’s about spiritual support.”
The military chaplain and lieutenant Taras Kotsyuba outlined the significance of religion to Ukrainian soldiers serving on the front lines.
“There is a saying that there is no atheism in war,” he said.
“The main aim of chaplaincy, it’s not to make a person come back to God, it’s to help them find a way to God.
“It’s true that I’m a priest and can’t carry a weapon, but I can be with the soldiers who couldn’t accept the idea of Russian occupation and decided that they had to be a part of that war.”
Lt Kotsyuba, like Lt Povorotnyi, left his family to aid Ukrainian troops fighting Russia.
His wife and their kids are still living in their homeland west of the country, close to Lviv.
“I wanted to do something for their future,” he said.
By April 2023, 160 chaplains who had previously served as embedded civilians rather than officers will have entered the military’s command structure.
However, a great deal more are required, according to Colonel Vitalii Skrybets, head of the Military Chaplaincy Service of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, to provide soldiers suffering the horrors of war with the right support.
“We need more than 700 chaplains, at the moment we have more than 100 chaplains in position but it’s still not enough,” he said.
“It’s important to have a good quality of training,” he added.
“Chaplains are from different departments like the navy, the infantry, special forces and medical department as well.
“They have passed six weeks training in Ukraine and now just want to improve their skills here.
“If you have situations where you don’t see any chance and options, chaplains give hope to move on,” Col Skrybets said.
“The soldiers are more open with the chaplains than their commanders.”
Military chaplains represent a diverse range of religious traditions and carry out tasks like consoling grieving soldiers and families, officiating at religious ceremonies, and offering private counseling.
Chaplains have always played a crucial role in providing British soldiers with assistance, acting as professionally qualified commanders wherever personnel are dispatched.
After the First World War, King George V gave the RAChD its royal prefix, but it had already been around for more than a century, having been founded in 1796.
A chaplain at the RAChD who assisted in creating and delivering the training to the Ukrainian visitors, Reverend Robin Richardson, expressed his hope that more chaplains will be able to take the course.
“These chaplains who we have on the course at the moment are the leading edge of the chaplains’ department they’ve been developing over the last two years,” he told the PA news agency.
“They want to be providing spiritual support to people of all beliefs. When people have ‘first order’ questions – why am I here, what is my purpose, what’s going on, what’s beyond the horizon, how can I have hope – they’re there to offer spiritual support to people of all beliefs, but they also offer pastoral support.”
Soldier morale is strong because to the assistance of military chaplains, according to Col. Skrybets.
He continued by expressing his “358%” belief in the success of Ukraine’s long-awaited counteroffensive against Russia.
“Counter-attack isn’t something that happens suddenly, they need to work on that,” he said.
“Personnel have a high morale because they understand what they are fighting for, they are fighting for their land.
“This is why we need the chaplaincy in the army to support our soldiers.”