Kyiv: This is an update from Jarosław Krawiec, OP, the Vicar Provincial who lives in Kyiv that was sent March 30. While the situation is depressing, the faith of the Dominicans and others who have done so much to sustain the faith of the people is amazing.
If you would like to help the Dominican friars serving in Kyiv and in other places in Ukraine, there is a website that is facilitating this. Go to https://helpukraine.dominikanie.pl/.
Kyiv: The Latest
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
It’s been a bit longer than usual since my last letter. Looking at what’s going on around us, it seems like we’re witnessing a transition from a certain kind of romanticism of the first days of war to the realism and pragmatism of the second month. What do I mean? First of all, that we’re getting used to living in different conditions. I see it clearly in Kyiv. On Monday, the curfew was shortened. Now it lasts from 9pm to 6am.
The number of open stores and services is also slowly increasing. Our neighborhood barber shop doesn’t even have a line in front of it, which used to be the norm. The shop’s owner put up a sign saying that the military, police, and territorial defense are served free of charge. Father Alexander told me he recently saw a similar sign at the dentist’s office.
There’s a fitness club across the street from the priory. I’ve never been there. But you could see inside through the large glass windows. The windows are covered with paper right now, so you can’t see in, but the door has a sign that says anyone can come to work out there three times per week. I suspect there will be customers. After all, not all bodybuilders are satisfied with just putting sand into bags and laying them around monuments, which is one of the ways of protecting the art from damage.
Speaking of monuments, we had a poetry reading on Sunday with Oleksandr Irvanets in the library of the Saint Thomas Institute in Kyiv. Oleksandr is a Ukrainian poet, writer, playwright, and translator. A few days earlier, I had met his wife Oksana who is also an artist, and I invited them to our Sunday dinner. Oksana and Oleksandr used to live in Irpin, a city that’s been destroyed by the Russian army and then was under occupation for a couple weeks. Just yesterday the Ukrainian army managed to take it back from the enemy.
Our guests, along with Oksana’s 90-year-old mother and her cat, were evacuated by volunteers after a couple weeks of living under Russian control. The city had no electricity, gas, or water. Oleksandr didn’t stop writing poems, though. When they had to escape, they could take almost nothing for the road. He told me, “As I was leaving home, I only grabbed one volume of my poetry.”
It was very moving to listen to war poetry read by its author in our priory. One of the poems, in a somewhat comical way, described how even the monuments are fighting for Ukraine these days. Alexander explained to us: “In the center of Bucha [the city neighboring Irpin], there was an armored vehicle on a large cement base. It was a monument commemorating Ukrainian soldiers who died in Afghanistan during the time of the Soviet Union. When Russians attacked Bucha, they saw the monument from a distance and started shooting. They used up all their ammunition, and that’s when our army came and destroyed them.” Another poem was a reflection on forgiveness.
“From the city shattered by rockets,
Today I call out to the whole world:
This year on the Sunday of Reconciliation,
Not all might I be able to forgive!”
When Oleksandr finished reading his poem he was silent for a moment, then added, “I know one must forgive, but that’s what I wrote in the poem.” Big questions about forgiveness, about guilt, about common responsibility of the nations of Russia and Belarus from which destructive rockets fly daily to Ukraine, certainly will remain with us for years to come, and they will urge us toward a difficult search for answers.
For me, the cross of Jesus Christ is the answer. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:19-20) Yesterday I was in Fastiv, and Father Misha asked me for a favor: “Could you go to the Carmelites and bring the relics of the Holy Cross, which they promised us?” How could I say no?
From Fastiv, I took the relics of Blessed Mother Roza Czacka, which Father Misha and I had previously brought from Warsaw and which are now with the Carmelites in Kyiv. This was my little “crusade” to Svyatoshyn, a Kyiv neighborhood where the Camelite priory and parish are located. The western suburbs of the city are exceptionally loud, since the battle is being fought only a couple kilometers away. The Carmelites seem used to it, though. I felt like I was at a shooting range.
Fortunately, nothing has exploded very close to the priory so far. Father Mark opened the reliquary in my presence and removed a little sliver of the Holy Cross for the church in Fastiv. The Fastiv church is named The Triumph of the Holy Cross, and Father Misha has been dreaming for a long time of having the relics in it. They will arrive soon, in the midst of horrible war, during the Year of the Holy Cross that we are now celebrating in Ukraine. How amazing are your ways, oh God!
In Fastiv yesterday, I witnessed the departure of another bus for the Polish border. Every time, it means sadness because of separation from loved ones, familiar soil, familiar houses, favorite places, animals, and things; but at the same it’s a sign of hope and liberation. Every one of these departures also means the hard work of many people in Poland and in Ukraine. It also means a lot of money that someone donated to rescue the lives of innocent children, women, and elderly. Finally, it means the delivery of food, medicine, and all those necessary things that arrive from Poland. Thank you!
The phenomenon of getting used to life in war doesn’t mean that it’s getting safer or quieter. Last night was exceptionally loud. The explosions and shooting were heard without any pause. “Our boys” from the Kyiv anti-aircraft defense work tirelessly day and night. They bring to my mind an image of the sword and shield carried by the Archangel Michael, whose depiction is standing in the city center at Maidan Independence Square, on Sophia’s gate, and in our priory’s chapel.
At breakfast, I heard a story about this especially loud night from Pietro, a journalist for an Italian newspaper who’s staying in our priory for a few days. By the way, I have great respect for this Italian man who never once complained about Ukrainian cuisine, even though this is his first time here.
The transition from the romanticism of the first days of war to this pragmatism of the second month means also people returning to the homes and apartments they had abandoned. Every day I walk late at night in our priory courtyard with a rosary in my hand. I don’t always manage to say the rosary completely because overwhelming thoughts interfere with meditation on the mysteries.
I look at the apartment buildings surrounding our priory. One of them is more than 20 stories high. The number of lights in the windows is growing. People are coming back, although it hasn’t gotten safer or quieter. Those who still have a place to come back to are fortunate. This war has taken away the homes of hundreds of thousands of people. Mariupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Irpin, Hostomel… the long litany of ruin and human tragedy.
I am convinced that the majority of refugees from Ukraine, even those who were deprived of shelter by bombs, don’t feel homeless — they have their own country and their own hope that their country will be free and will be raised from the ruins. Let me end with the words of the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski who was born in Lviv and had to escape with his parents in 1945:
“To be homeless, therefore, does not mean that one lives under a bridge or on the platform of a less frequented Metro station (as for instance, nomen omen, the station Europe on the line Pont de Levallois-Gallieni); it means only that the person having this defect cannot indicate the streets, cities, or community that might be his home, his, as one is wont to say, miniature homeland.” (Two Cities, tr. L. Vallee)
I guess my letter came out a little poetic today…
With warm greetings from Kyiv and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 30, 7 pm
For updates on the situation in Ukraine you can check out this section of the friar. Also, if you would like to help the Dominican friars serving in Ukraine, there is a website that is facilitating this. Go to https://helpukraine.dominikanie.pl/.
One benefit of helping here is that it is not only cash donations that are sought, but also items that are helpful for people in need. You can collect items and send them to the Dominicans in Poland who will bring them to the priories where they can be used. You can also learn more about the presence of Dominican friars, sisters, nuns and laity, as well as things that are really needed to help them continue to serve the people suffering so much. These updates come from Kyiv. The Dominicans have been in Kyiv for centuries.