Ukrainian military chaplains have completed training with the British Army and are heading to the frontline to give troops fighting the Russian invasion a "spiritual umbrella".
The two-week programme run by the Royal Army Chaplains' Department (RAChD) saw an initial group of ten Ukrainians train at a camp in south-west England.
The participants learned how to deliver pastoral care, spiritual support and moral guidance to soldiers on the battlefield.
Their return to the war-ravaged country comes as Moscow claims Ukrainian forces are making a major effort to punch through Russian defensive lines in south-east.
“We have these clergy from different faith backgrounds, all of whom are solely united in serving their personnel, as chaplains willing to go unarmed, right to the frontline, to be among their people," Rev Robin Robertson told Premier Christian News.
“That's their heart's desire. And it's, it is utterly humbling. I feel quite, quite unworthy to the task” he said about the training programme.
The government in Kyiv have not confirmed the attacks claimed by Russia, who say they beat back advancing Ukrainian battalions attempting to take back territory President Vladimir Putin claimed as Russian last autumn and which it partially controls. But the Ukrainian authorities have suggested the claim was a Russian misinformation ruse.
“It's been anticipated for a long time. So there has been a build-up and a concentration”, David Martin of Budapest’s Danube Institute told Premier Christian News.
“This would be the time that the Ukrainians could potentially launch a tank offensive with the armaments they've got”, continued Martin, who is Visiting Professor of War Studies at King’s College, London. “Because it's the time of year when tank warfare is highly likely, given the conditions on the ground are good for heavy vehicle movement”, he added.
Explaining the objectives of an unconfirmed but long awaited summer offensive, Professor Martin said: “They're hoping to break the Russian front and it's a long front. And if they can split the Russian forces, by forcing a breakthrough, presumably to the Sea of Azov, the Russian forces would be split in two," he said.
“And the ones on the wrong side of the split, could be increasingly put under pressure and the assumption is that by making that breakthrough, there could be the possibility then of negotiations on Ukraine's terms for a settlement," he explained.
But for the military chaplains, it’s the spiritual aspect which is priority. Lieutenant Dmytro Povorotnyi, a priest from Dnipro in central Ukraine, was one of the officers who took part in the training programme for military chaplains.
"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."
According to Professor David Martin, if there's not a major breakthrough by the western equipped Ukrainian army, an attritional situation will follow, with Russia bedding down for a long war: “The best thing to pray for is some stability," he said.
“Some decision on both sides to negotiate the terms of an agree agreement that might not be to the likings of either Russia or the Ukraine, but would be the most pragmatic and prudent solution that would spare any more lives," he said.