Shura Vyatrzhik, head of the hospital service of military chaplains: “Wounded soldiers in hospitals are not sick”

At the KEMO summer prayer retreat, we talked with the head of the hospital department of the KhSP military chaplain corps, hospital chaplain trainer Shura Vyatrzhik – from the Christian Rescue Service. Shura talked about how she got into this service, how the military views female chaplains, what wounded soldiers think about prayer and faith, and what to do for those who feel God has called them to the chaplaincy.

Military chaplaincy is thought to be a man’s job. However, there are already quite a lot of women in the service of military chaplains in Ukraine. Shura, please tell me how you got into chaplaincy? How did you come up with the idea to do this?

– Actually, this thought never occurred to me :) I was simply called to this service. Six months before the start of the full-scale war, Andrei Merkulov invited me to take part in it.

Didn’t the invitation bother you?

-No, I was born and raised spiritually in the church, so I got used to it – “I got a task and I went to fulfill it.” I’ll try, why not?

We have a very cool military psychologist in the army chaplain corps, a practitioner, he has been serving the guys at the front since 2014. And it all started with him teaching us little by little. Then no one knew or imagined that such a war would come.

Do you remember February 24, 2022? What was that day and indeed the first few weeks of full-scale war like in your life?

– Oh, it was cool… I think every Ukrainian remembers that day as if it all happened five minutes ago…

At 4 o’clock my son woke me up and said: “Mom, the war has started, you have 4 hours to leave Kiev.” All my life I dreamed of leaving Kiev somewhere. Especially to America – I was ready to go even in my pyjamas. But deep down on the inside I knew right away that I wasn’t going anywhere. I waited until 8 o’clock, called our whole house – 5 floors, 6 main entrances – down, took everyone outside, assigned an outside door for each main entrance, opened all the basements… Generally, I gave our neighbors some duties because it was all very scary. People were confused, didn’t know where to go. And so: I gave them all the tasks and everyone was busy with doing something …

– Did you already do it as a chaplain?

I understand now that yes it was that type of chaplaincy. We did a house chat on the Telegram channel and checked every day if the front door was locked from the inside during the curfew. Everyone in the chat stated that it was. Now the whole house remembers those times fondly :)

One of the tenants agreed with his restaurateur friend and brought us lunches for the children and a few old people every day. And I distributed all these jobs, people came out of every front door and got food. All the children at home gathered in our apartment, my daughter drew with them – their parents were kind of weak-minded at that time, after all these news…

It also turned out that there were two bedridden elderly men in our house. When the war broke out, their nurses got scared and ran away, but who will take care of these elderly people? So we dealt with them too, ran to the store for them and so on.

I remember that on March 8, the children drew cards and we went to congratulate all the aunts and grandmothers on Women’s Day with these drawn cards.

– Did the chaplain ministry continue parallel to that?

Somewhere in early April, when it was already possible to move around the city, we had a meeting of chaplains. And our leader Andrei Mishchenko said: “But Shura helps me in serving in the hospitals.” And I’m like, “Uh, okay? Well yes, I can help. Here I am.” Although to be honest, hospitals and field hospitals were the last thing I wanted to do. Because when you come in and don’t know how to help a person, it always tore me up inside…

When I first went to the hospital myself, I didn’t have a uniform – just a badge. Well, it’s okay, we started hooking up with the guys. And from April 2022, God began to open doors for us.

Do you remember your first experiences? Thoughts such as: “What am I going to tell them now?” arose.

Of course, there were many such thoughts. But in general, many people make this mistake – you don’t have to think about what you say. Just don’t think about it, that’s all. We don’t even have to say anything when we enter the hospital. In general, the chaplain’s job is to listen more than to talk.

I remember that the first wounded were among the defenders of the Kiev region. Young people, mostly even conscripts. I remember one incident was difficult – a sniper hit him directly in the neck. Another was in the repair brigade – they repaired tanks. And he too was seriously injured and was in a wheelchair.

Did you visit the military hospital?

No, at first we didn’t have access to it. We started from Medgorodok. But we really wanted to go to the hospital and go there officially through the main entrance. And soon the Lord miraculously opened the doors for us, and we have already been serving in the hospital for a year. I am very grateful to God for giving us a full-time chaplain in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Father Oleg is a very good brother, an Orthodox priest. He speaks excellent Hebrew and has participated in archeological excavations in Israel… In general, thank God!

And here you need to understand that the chaplain does not focus on his denomination or creed. We are more of an interfaith ministry. And the guys don’t come to us, but we come to them, and in this the chaplaincy is a little different from the usual military clergy.

And how do the military feel about you and other female chaplains? Isn’t it unusual for them?

On the contrary! Soldiers are more open to female chaplains than male chaplains. More recently, we had a thanksgiving day for the Armed Forces of Ukraine and there was an SSO officer. And I saw that he made a little fun of me, scolded me because I’m in uniform … But they are all “masis” to me, just boys … And then he wrote a whole post on Facebook: “I was skeptical about it, but I saw it myself, how much easier it is for guys to relate to a female chaplain than to a male one. Because in front of a man it is necessary to maintain a certain image: well, I am a man … But in front of a girl-chaplain, you can relax, you can say what hurts, etc. “

That’s why we have a lot of chaplain girls and even since 2014, but they don’t do much PR for themselves, so to speak.

If you visit the wounded, you will probably come into contact with their relatives – spouses, mothers… Tell us about it in terms of service. Who is more difficult, the soldiers or their mothers?

“Of course, it is more difficult with mothers. The mother is very worried – her son is lying, everything is broken, and the poor woman doesn’t know how to help him, her heart breaks… When we go to the ward, I don’t even ask them, I immediately say: “But I’ll hug the girls right away!” And I hug every mother, I try to ask them something and they understand that I am also a mother and that my son also serves. And because of that, it’s easier for them to open up to me because they understand that I understand them.

And now the church, which is located on the grounds of the hospital, is a kind of spiritual center for us, so to speak. Sometimes we go there and there are mothers or wives there and I’m not shy, I go up to each one, offer to pray for them.

And just recently we met one such mother, her son is currently undergoing surgery, covered with tubes, still not eating on his own… So we try to keep in touch, make friends and communicate with her. And now the son has one wound healed, the other… He is already smiling. In general, it’s going normally.

Can you tell another story about your ministry that you particularly remember?

Yes, I remember, in the beginning there was a boy whom Tolik Emma and I went to see. He himself is from Kalush, he had a double high amputation, no eyes and no fingers. And he was understandably in a very sad and depressed state. And at first it was even difficult to engage him in conversation. But we didn’t give up, we still tried to communicate with him and see what he reacts to. And he reacted to the car topic, I realized that he had a ldriving license, and I said: “That’s all, Andryukha, you will teach me to drive a car! I can’t…” This made him laugh a lot, but still…

And so we started walking with him in the fresh air. And Tolik once said: “Then let’s go to church.” And there, near the church, on the grounds of the hospital, there is a large metal cross with a crucifix. And there’s a whole story about this cross – back in 2016 or 2018, the guys in the ATO zone took it away because the Russians drove it into the ground with tanks, but it wasn’t even damaged. Well, it was brought to the hospital and painted over beautifully. And so Tolik took Andrei to the cross and said: “Pray that you have the best prostheses, that you have the best rehabilitation” and so on. Well, of course he was sad, but he prayed.

And thank God – the Lord did a miracle. Andrei is now in America and although it was really hard for him – a double high amputation! – but he’s trying, his eyes have been treated and they’re recovering in any way possible. In this regard, the United States is a great opportunity for people with disabilities. Because he doesn’t have rich parents, he’s not a guy from the capital, but from the countryside, not some kind of general…

Yes, thank God! But there is such a sentence: “There are no unbelievers in the trenches.” What about hospitals?

In the hospital, it’s a bit more complicated. A soldier who was in the front trench told me that they have enough tattooed, runic, heathen guys there – and when everything is calm, everyone is so cool, everyone brags… “But when we sit in the trench and the bombardment starts, everyone remembers immediately The Lords prayer … “And when the boys reach the hospital and the wound is not very strong, they are still bragging. They are waiting to go back to the front.”

But still I can say that 90% are believers, even in the hospital. Perhaps not so clearly, but no one refuses to pray. It happens that they say: “I believe in something else”, but they do not refuse the prayer.

I remember a man we brought to our congregation for Pesach (Passover). And from the first minute we entered the hall, he started filming – obviously with wild joy! “So you have everything just like us!” – said. “Hey, you guys are so cool…”

In general, I never pay attention to whether he is a heathen or not a heathen … all that bravado goes away when they get scared or when they need answers to some questions. I never focus on that. As my mother said, “It’s a certain age and it passes.”

A year and a half has passed since the beginning of the war. In fact, all this time you have been involved with the chaplaincy. Tell me, what did the Lord teach you during this period? What special thing did He show you?

First of all, guys who are in hospitals and theaters are not sick. These are people in recovery. It makes a big difference. If you come to a terminally ill person, that’s one thing. And when a person recovers, it is completely different.

I had a boy with a triple amputation: two arms and one leg are missing, the other leg is fixed. In addition, one eye is missing. He says, “Now I’m going to stretch a little and go back to fight!” In other words, you can count such, completely depressed, on your fingers, for a whole year and a half. Basically, they are all true fighters. We have really good guys.

Second, we have learned to listen more. We talk less and listen more. We come to them to be close to them. Sooner or later people start asking: why are we doing this?

And we have such a united team in the hospital church, since the beginning of the full-scale war: boys from our parish, Greek Catholics, Orthodox and Baptists. And here we are doing one thing together – it’s so nice! No one to argue, no one to prove anything – no matter what, we’re doing one thing. And it’s very cool. And it would be cool if all believers would unite like this without clarifying any relationships.

– During this time, you must have seen cases when people came to this ministry and leave. And if a person reads this interview and asks the question: “Perhaps the Lord is calling me to this ministry?” How to recognize God’s call? What would you say to such people?

Until you try, you won’t understand. We have to go and try. There is basically nothing complicated here. You simply choose one day a week and walk right through the wards. And of course, we must not forget that we are military chaplains. It is clear that no one motivates you, convinces you, asks you… You have a task, you complete it, that’s all.

Many simply have such a delusion as: “What am I going to tell them?”. Especially the brothers – “I’m not in the war, but what will I tell them there… What if they ask me: why don’t you fight?” No one ever asks that.

And thank God, there are many faithful in this service, we already have a big team and that is all over Ukraine. We try to be friends with the full-time chaplains of the Armed Forces of Ukraine who are in hospitals and help them. Because really, it’s hard to reach every guy… Sometimes it happens that you can be stuck in one room for the whole day. And sometimes you can reach only five wards.

Therefore, I believe that the more chaplains, the better. But it is clear that this ministry is for more mature believers. You must have at least a little experience in pastoral ministry and counseling. You have to realize that you care about this guy spiritually. Sometimes you have to consider the difference between people: one is more bratty, the other is more talkative – they are all different… But they are all unbelieving sinners. And we must understand that each of them still needs to be saved.

In general, you need to become friends with them. It is necessary for them to see that we are normal people, not some horrible sectarians.

So if there is such an impulse, try… We do training, we test clergy. I personally visit the wards the first time with each team. We currently have a team of Hillsong and Seventh-day Adventists who are learning about our work. And there’s nothing—yes, these are interdenominational groups—but what’s the difference? We do one thing.

Interviewer – Alex Fishman


Andrei Mishchenko, Messianic Jewish Chaplain of the Armed Forces of Ukraine: “The profession of chaplains really saves people”

For more than a year, the chaplain service has been developing in the congregation of Messianic Jews in .....

Oleg Shcherbakov: War in Ukraine and Israel, miracles of God, revival in the church and Bible prophecies

From October 30 to November 3, 2023. an annual international pastoral retreat took place in Kyiv. We spoke .....

He will call on me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him.

A number of soldiers in Iowa´s 113th Cavalry – an outfit that fought superbly in the European war .....

Rick Johnson, Vietnam

In 1966 I decided to drop out of college and join the Marine Corps so I could go .....

God wants to deliver us from every evil known to mankind

And that protection does not stop just because we might be on foreign soil, alone on a dangerous .....

LT. Chaplain Terry Sponzholz. The stories that demand to be told.

LT. Chaplain Terry Sponzholz President, firefighters for Christ, Citrus County Florida. We had finished a Code Two run .....

Terror by night

The terror by night. This next story is a perfect example of being delivered from the terror by .....