Paul Majkut was a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, just on the cusp of becoming a lieutenant colonel, when he resigned his commission as a chaplain to take his 15 years of experience and training to Ukraine to help a beleaguered nation fight off what he called, “a terrorist state.”
“When you are dealing with people who could be in situations that make their hope deteriorate, when they are dealing with death not just for themselves but their family and friends, and the psychological effects it has on them, to be able to instill hope and instill God’s love and help increase people’s faith is something critically needed in Ukraine right now,” said Majkut, who resigned from the Reserve on Oct. 2. “I saw that the skill set that I learned in the Army Reserve beautifully integrates with what the needs are in Ukraine and especially the chaplain corps there.”
A fully ordained Pentecostal minister, Majkut will speak Sunday at the Bethesda Ukrainian Pentecostal Church in West Springfield at 10 a.m. about his time in Ukraine, working with military chaplains there to refine their counseling skills to better serve the front-line Ukrainian soldiers and to uplift the people of Ukraine.
Majkut’s interest in Ukraine is personal, too: He traces his own lineage there. One grandfather was captured by German forces while he served with the Polish Army, while the three other grandparents from near Lviv in western Ukraine were held as slave labor by German occupying forces. All four survived to immigrate to the United States following the war.
While 80 percent of Ukrainians are Orthodox, and Majkut is Pentecostal, he said there was no problem sharing their faiths. He had traveled to Ukraine five times as a short-term missionary before his October trip.
“We all have Jesus as a common denominator there,” he said. “The defenders of their country on the front lines, they always appreciate any help from chaplains. … The big thing I did out there with the Ukrainian soldiers, especially those on the front lines, was prayer.”
On his last trip, Majkut spent three weeks in Kyiv and near the front lines in the Donetsk Oblast region. Working with an American nonprofit called Heroes International and a Ukrainian NGO called “My House,” Majkut and other former American chaplains traveled to Ukraine to work with Ukrainian chaplains.
“In the U.S. Army, we are taught that the three core components of a chaplain are to nurture the living, care for the wounded and to honor the dead,” he said. “In the United States, commanders know that chaplains are force multipliers, and we have chaplains who are trained up already. The military gave us counseling training and techniques, so when the need arises, we are ready to go. In Ukraine, they have been at war for only 18 months, and before the war, these people were priests and ministers, like the soldiers who were school teachers or laborers, and now are defending their country. In the United States military, perhaps 80 percent of what chaplains do is counseling. Over there, they don’t have that kind of background, so they need to be trained up. “
Just like in the U.S., Ukrainian soldiers might have the same issues coping with combat and then reintegrating back into society after their military service.
“When people come back from the front line, how do you get them to transition back into society when they have been in military mode for the past year or maybe years? They have seen things that normal people don’t see, don’t experience. There is potentially trauma, and PTSD is not something that shows up right away sometimes,” he said. “I was able to give them some techniques they can use in a group setting, to ask key questions that help the troops talk about their experiences, their jobs, their marriages, even child rearing after they have been away.”
Not far from the Donetsk Oblast front lines, 1 or 2 kilometers from Russian combat soldiers, Majkut got a chance to meet troops just back from the trenches, when he and other chaplains brought drones, medical supplies, tourniquets, winter military clothing and food. Through translators, Majkut said he was able to talk with troops and found morale to be high.
“We have a litmus test we use to gauge how unit morale is doing, and from what I saw, these are soldiers who are in their right minds, who are capable, who love their country, who love their families and love God, and want to do their best to defend their country, to defend their values,” he said.
Part of the high morale among Ukrainians comes from the international support received since Russian troops invaded in 2022.
“Ukrainians are doing the best that they can with the whole world supporting them. You know, in the military, we learn about what a just war is, we understand the rules of engagement. That’s something Russia is not following,” he said. “But Ukraine is being supported by NATO, the E.U., the United States specifically. They are getting critical support, and that keeps morale high.”
In Kyiv, nonprofit organizations provide a wide range of services to the people of Ukraine, and one called Veterans Hub provides specialized care for veterans, much like the United States provides through the Veterans Affairs. The Veterans Hub offers counseling, employment services and even an on-site attorney, and the services are not limited to combat soldiers but extended to Gold Star families, as well.
Majkut said he sees his role in helping Ukrainians as “God’s work.”
“Absolutely. I wouldn’t be there otherwise. To be able to help instill hope, instill God’s love and help increase a people’s faith. I know I can help be a great part of that. And not only that, but I can train other chaplains, as well. That’s one thing chaplains always bring out is hope. The love of hope and the love of Christ.”
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