Everything will just begin for Christian ministers as the war ends:ATO soldiers and their families tofacethe need for rehabilitation
On June 7, the RISU journalist witnessed a milestone event. A new member, DmytroSmyrny, was admitted to the civic organization called Military Chaplains’ Interfaith Batalion. He was blessed to serve as military chaplain at the firing ground by the Christian Evangelical Church ‘Incense’, led by Pastor Vitaliy Papushoy. According to the newly ordained chaplain Dmitry, it took him 10 years to realize his dream of becoming an army chaplain. That is the way he wants to serve God and neighbor.
We interviewed Vitaliy PAPUSHOY, a military chaplain at Velyky Lan firing ground in Mykolaiv region on the new mission of military chaplains - spiritual care of the conscripts who are trained on training grounds and future service at rehabilitation centers for ATO participants.
- Mr. Vitaliy, could you please tell us when the chaplain service will beginat training grounds?
- On June 2, the project approved by the Ministry of Defensewas launched all over Ukraine. It provides a common psychological and pastoral supportof the training of conscriptsatpractice grounds.
- Who initiated the project?
- It is difficult to determine who exactly came up with this idea. It emerged in the course of cooperation between psychologists, chaplains and the Ministry of Defense. We became aware that we needed each other. The Ministry has a clear understanding that the battle-worthy armyshould have not only highly skilled military personnel, modern technical equipment, the morale and health of the fighters is also of extreme importance.
As military commanders testify, the ATO units where chaplains are servinghave higher morale, better discipline and coordination among the soldiers, fewer people get injured and killed.
A renowned volunteer Tetiana Rychkova, who now works at the Ministry of Defense, combined divergent views and became a curator in effect.
- What is the established procedurefor chaplains and psychologists at the practice ground?
- A list of psychologists and chaplains was drawn up in advance. It was approved by the Ministry of Defense and brought to the attention of heads of thepractice grounds. As a company commander of the Military Chaplains’ Interfaith Battalion in Mykolayiv, I made up a list for Shyrokyy Lan practice ground.
We are working on a voluntary basis, i.e. we do not get paid, and we evenpay our own travel expenses. At the same time, our teamshave been placed on detached service. We live in the location of training facilities or in the field environment along with soldiers. Mind you that not everyone willing to work at the firing ground can abandon the usual everyday comfort and serve the people for free, so there is a naturalselection of applicants.
- Please, describe the contingent of conscripts at Shyrokyy Lan
- The conscripts are a segment of society that includes all kinds of people: rural and urban residents, directors of companies, workers and the unemployed, respectable citizens and those who are serving sentences under certain articles of the Criminal Code. All are brought together. At the practice ground one can distinguish all the moods that exist in the country and society. I like officer personnel;I have grounds to compare, as I served as naval doctor in Soviet times. There is nored code, there is good attitude, the discipline is observed, and there are responsible commanders. I witnessed a case when the fighter refused to do the exercise in a trench when the tank was to passoverhead. The senior officer, Lieutenant Colonel personally showed how to do it. And then the guy coped with the task. I am impressed that in addition to pastoral work, I hold classes on tactical medicine for recruits.
- What tasks do the psychologists and chaplains resolve in the conditions of the firing ground?
- Our objective is the soul and spirit of conscripts, i.e. their mental, emotional balance, mental and spiritual balance of each person and individual units.
We, psychologists and chaplains, teach recruits what the first fight, stupor, hysterics, panic are, how to overcome these conditions during the battle and after it. Incidentally, I work in a team with psychologists Ihor Kozoriz and Olena Batynska. Elena is a real professional, visited the ATO “hot spots”, including the Donetsk airport. She even teaches military aces to overcome crisis conditions. The unbreakable taboo on drinking is a prerequisitein addressing such situations.
The conscripts also talk about the dangers of alcohol. Its use in combat conditions leads to loss of vigilance, which means death or captivity by the enemy. We give specific examples from the history of the ATO.
In addition, the people often return alcoholics from the ATO zone, because they were able to cope withpsychological stress and deal with fear only through alcohol abuse. So today we have cases of divorce, because the family gets a completely different person.
But alcohol is not the sole problem. There can be different political views. We even partiallytake up a political instructor’s functions. We must explain that it is the war, though it is called ATO. The country faces a complicated economic situation, because the state spends almost a hundred millioneach day on the army provision, tens of thousands of people called up for military service have left their jobs therefore, there are more than a million immigrants from the East and so on. All this must be understood. We instill a tolerant attitude to temporary disturbances so the men had no aggression and frustration.
We try to rally the guys in a team, as consolidation is the foundation of the army’s functioning and a guarantee of high survival in combatconditions. In my opinion, proper pastoral work also contributes to consolidation.
Through the Holy Spirit God unites his warriors, raises their morale and soldierly spirit. Therefore we preachGod, teach soldiers how to pray so they could do it at the frontline, give them the Gospel, prayerbooks, cards with "Our Father" prayer, the 90th psalm, and offer the crosses. We say that it is not a talisman but a reminder that you belong to God, God protects you.
In extreme situations, such as fire, fight, soldiers cry onto God. I believe that God protects them through their prayers.
Another note from experience with ATOparticipants, some clerics allow unacceptable extremitiesinthe interpretation of military duty during combat. In some cases soldiers are told that war is sent by God and they are the saintswho will immediately get to paradise if they die. Or there isanother extremity, when soldiers are called murderers who violate the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” So be sure to explain the Christian understanding of war, defense of the homeland, sin of murder and more.
- In connection with your last words, the question arises, what code of ethics should military chaplains abide by?
- I always use the words of the current hospital chaplain from the US, Ms. Stanislava: “Chaplain is a quiet, unobtrusive servant of God.” They accurately convey the essence of chaplain’s ministry. The chaplain has no right to engage in conversion, search ofhis flock, proselytism. We were forbidden to speak to which denomination we belong as a person can have intolerant attitude towards this or that denomination. I explain this: we pray for you, we teach you to pray. When you return home, you go to the church you choose.
We teach soldiers to treat with tolerancethe believers of other religions - Islam, Judaism - and non-believers, atheists. For myself, I clearly divide: here I am a minister of the Church, a pastor, at the firing ground I am a chaplain who cares for the spiritual and moral health of fighters.
- Fr. Chaplain, how can anyone become an army priest?
- Apart from willingness, there are many requirements to candidates. Future chaplain must attend courses of chaplains and tactical medicine, get the consent of the church, which he belongs to, and the consent of his closest relatives, primarily of the wife. For instance, the wife may be against the service in the ATO area, but agree to work in conditions of a practice ground.
A candidate should realize that on entering a battalion of military chaplains, which seems an NGO at first glance, he actually joins the army as a spiritual community, which has its central leadership, subordination, discipline, personal responsibility etc. Such a procedure exists in the Military Chaplains’ Interfaith Battalion and in our partner UkrainianChaplaincy.
- How long will the project on the firing grounds of Ukraine last?
- The pastoral and psychological support will be offeredas long as the war continues. But military chaplaincy will remain forever, as we see it in developed countries. Chaplains are present in the army, hospitals, and prisons.
Moreover, among themselves, the chaplains often say that as the war ends it only begins for us, Christian ministers. Our war is a struggle for healing of crippled souls. A lot of people are returning home, we need to work with them and their families. According to our estimates, about a million people, including military families will need psychological and spiritual rehabilitation.
So the leaders of the UkrainianChaplaincy and Military Chaplains’ Interfaith Battalion developed a joint rehabilitationproject, which was presented at the International Conference on comprehensive assistance to combatants in Ukraine in returning to civilian life, held in Kyiv on June 2. I had a chance to take part in its work.
- What is the point of rehabilitation project put forward by your chaplains’ organizations at the conference?
- The participants - public and charity funds - presented 20 projects. Most of them are aimed at restoring physical health of military personnel. Our joint project presented by Pavlo Tsarevsky, a military chaplain, vice president of the Ukrainian Chaplaincy, provides comprehensive rehabilitation of combatants. Moreover, this model is being tested in practice in Olexandria city, Kirovohrad region.
Judging by Mykolayiv example, where medical and psychological aidto ATO combatants is being provided at the Hospital for war veterans, I note that today a different level of rehabilitation is needed. People, who were in the ATO are, return withtheir souls crippled, with changes in consciousness and unvoiced pain. In addition to medical and psychological care they need psychotherapeutic support and sometimes psychiatric intervention. But most importantly, their healing requiresfavorable environment – the military counterparts they trust, who fully understand their problems and the well-trained caring medical personnel. It is here that the chaplain vocationshall be implemented in the Christian ministry to neighbor friend, with whom you survived some tragic moments. I should add that even close ones cannot always accept and understand emotional changes, disturbances that occurred with their husbands, children, parents, loved ones, much less to handle them alone.
Thus, the point of the project is addressing the complex rehabilitation of the ATO combatants. It provides for medical and preventive measures, psychological and spiritual care, and physical rehabilitation through exercise, psychological support of the military servicemen’s families, career guidance and employment priority.
On June 23,the State Service of Ukraine for war veterans and ATO members will hold the projectstender, the winner organization will receive a grantfor the implementation of its plans. We hope this will be our project.
We also have an idea of setting up recruitment centers with an obligatory chaplain, military conscription officers, psychologists, psychiatrists. Now, some caught-out recruits maycause trouble instead of defending the homeland so far. The number of people serving sentences among the recruits increased, they also should be given more attention.
- At the end of the conversation, please, could you tell how did the Evangelical Church pastor become a military chaplain?
- I always wanted to be a soldier, but it did not happen. I became a doctor. After the annexation of Crimea I talked a lot with the military who came from Belbek and continued their service in Mykolayiv. Itraveled to the ATO as a volunteer. I constantly offered the military to pray together. The first time it happened on the Crimean border, where Mykolayiv volunteers helped make redoubts. Not everyone accepted the offer. Eventually, when these soldiers were sent to the ATO, we all raised the prayer together. People went to the frontline, they knew they could die; therefore prayerful appeal to God has gained importancefor them.
ThenI made friends online with Ihor Storm, the Military Chaplains’ Interfaith Battalion commander. He helped me make the final choice. It was the chaplains from Shulika’s battalion (Ihor Storm’s call sign) were with the soldiers at Donetsk airport. So he, like anyone else, understands the importance of spiritual care in the army. In August marks a year since I became a military chaplain of Ihor Storm’s battalion. Today the family of military chaplains, including the two partner organizations, is about 450-500 people, of whom 100 are serving in the ATO area.
Vitaliy Papushoy is a military chaplain at the firing range of the Armed Forces of Ukraine called ShyrokyLan, a pastor of the Christian Evangelical Church “Incense” in Mykolayiv. He graduated from the Crimean Medical Institute in 1987. Later he graduated from Odessa Theological Academy (Baptist) in 2004. He took the training of tactical medicine according to NATO standards at Kyiv Bohomolets National Medical University, February in 2015 and the tactical medicine raining according to NATO standards with the British team in Kyiv, in March 2015. He teaches tactical medicine at the courses for military chaplains. He is also a volunteer assistant to MP of Ukraine Yuliy Mamchur.