Volodymyr, a gaunt 44-year-old, recently returned from the front lines of eastern Ukraine and now needs psychological help for his post-traumatic stress disorder.

A contusion makes him slightly stutter.

He voraciously reads news from the cracked screen of his mobile phone – and has a firm opinion about recent headlines on the role of China, the only remaining heavy-weight partner in Russia’s corner, in the war.

“China prefers to stay away from this mess,” Volodymyr tells Al Jazeera, withholding his last name because he is still on active duty. “They’ll never openly support Russia.”

“Openly” is a keyword.

As the Russian-Ukrainian war approaches its 15th month, China still considers President Vladimir Putin an irreplaceable, “strategic” ally.