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War Gives Rise to Ukraine's First Military Chaplains: 'Christ in the Trenches'

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Ukraine's ongoing conflict with Russia is grinding along, entering its 17th month. As the wounded endure both visible and invisible injuries, Ukrainian chaplains are striving to offer spiritual healing to these individuals. 

CBN News acquired a Ukrainian medic's GoPro footage that highlights the war's devastating chaos. In the video, an artillery shell erupts near his car, wounding him before he can ensure his patient's safety. Despite his injuries, he persists in driving and caring for his comrades, highlighting these heroes' crucial role.

Once the wounded arrive at the aid station, Army chaplains immediately comfort and pray for them.

An Army chaplain named Katerina told us, "We call them hospitaliers. They only work in hospitals, intensive care units, amputees, psychiatric clinics... And lots of soldiers do get addicted because of the stress-PTSD that they face, and they cannot cope with it. So we need to work with them. They're there struggling. Lots of them lost their families."

Chaplain Katerina ministers to a civilian war victim.

Medics can treat physical injuries, but emotional traumas persist. With a shortage of medics, chaplains take on the responsibility, offering aid and healing to civilians and soldiers alike.

Many chaplains maintain strong personal connections to the area, which can intensify their challenges.

"Lots of them have their families in occupied territory," Katerina said. "This moment, they cannot do anything... So we have problems. The chaplains I work with, they go front lines. We go all the way across the front line and we've got in my team, we've got two women, both of us mothers of five."

Christian Hickey, an American Green Beret and ex-police officer, relocated to Ukraine last year and committed to aiding these chaplains.

"The chaplaincy is not something that's been around at all in Ukraine. It was just officially established in 2022 when after the war started; it had unofficially started in 2014. But now I sit on a board where I can actually have direct insight and give great advice on how the chaplaincy corps should work and help train those chaplains so they can go out and help soldiers who are seeking answers, who are looking for something in this, reveal Christ to them right there in the trenches," Hickey said.

The chaplains recognize the critical nature of their mission and cherish every moment.

Katerina said, "If a soldier is conscious, you know, we talk to them, we hold their hands, we try to take their attention away from their wounds... Medics like us... they like to work with chaplains because we stabilize them."

"This mission is so important and it's not geopolitical in my understanding, it's not strategic. Imagine it's the person on the ground, Russian or Ukrainian, who are fighting each other, who are dying, and who are needing some sort of help," Hickey said. "We want (to) stand in solidarity, say, 'Hey, we love you. We're here to support you,' and to give them something that's everlasting. And it's internal, not something that's going to go away after we leave."

"What we want to do is we want to preach the pure gospel, just like pray with them, lead them to Jesus, take their hands and literally pray, and they accept Jesus Christ in their hearts. It depends (on) how much time we have with them. Sometimes it's three minutes," he said.

The wartime horrors impact the chaplains as deeply as the soldiers. Katerina reflects on her emotions just after learning of a friend's death.

"One word to describe it, it's just a waste. Just a waste of money or resources. We save lives. Waste. Waste of water. Sometimes we run out of strength. It's just a waste. Waste of time. Waste of a whole country. Waste of everything. And it's absolutely pointless. At the end, nobody wins. If there was death and nobody wins. If there was people who lost their lives. What's the winning part about it?" she asked.

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