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Dear sisters, dear brothers,
On Sunday, the world learned about the horrible war crimes committed against the defenseless civilian population in Bucha, the city located less than 20 km west of Kyiv. Until recently, it had been an oasis of peace. Now this beautifully located town has become part of the history of human wickedness.
That evening, I was listening to the Ukrainian radio. The things that the Russian bandits did — I call them bandits because I wouldn’t call people who are murderers and rapists soldiers — were compared to the events at Srebrenica.
During the Bosnian War in 1995, a massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims was committed there. Sadly, Bucha is not the only such place in this war. Yesterday I visited Fastiv. When I walked down to the cafe at the Center of Saint Martin, Father Misha was assigning daily duties to the volunteers. Sister Augustine, with a notebook in her hand, was writing down how much, to whom, and where things needed to be delivered. Somebody asked about the Makarivs, to which Misha responded: “They are burying the dead today.”
Many people since the beginning of the war had been buried in mass graves because cemeteries were not available, and the number of victims was very high. I was listening to a story told by a police officer who had driven on the Zhytomyr Road immediately after it was retaken from the hands of the occupying forces.
Until very recently, this road was one of the main highways outside of Kyiv leading west. The cop told me how he tried to reach the families of people who were executed to tell them where their loved ones were buried. Thanks to that information, they might be able to find the bodies and prepare a regular funeral.
Yesterday I spent most of my day in the car on the way from Kyiv to Khmelnytskyi. I was passing by a few cemeteries in the villages and small towns. One could see fresh tombs decorated with plastic, colorful wreaths that are so popular in Ukraine. I don’t know if the tombs contained victims of the war. But it’s very likely; just like in Zhovkva, where Father Wojciech from Lviv visited yesterday.
I must add that I’ve always been very moved by the way the Ukranians say farewell to their soldiers, how they treat them like real heros. When the coffins with their remains are being transported, people come out on the streets [to] kneel. The same pictures could be seen in 2014 when all of Ukraine was saying farewell to the so-called “Heavenly Sotnia,” the people who were killed in Kyiv at Maidan Independence Square during the Revolution of Dignity.
I took part in one of these farewell ceremonies a few years ago in Ivano-Frankivsk. I will never forget it. The protests that happened at that time at the Maidan and President Yanukovych’s removal from power could be considered an impulse that was used as a cause of the aggression of Russia against Ukraine. This war has already lasted for eight years, and its victims could be counted not in thousands, but in tens of thousands of people.
On the way to Khmelnytskyi, when the navigation app on my phone led me through a variety of tangled streets, I noticed mothers strolling with children in the villages. I’ve never seen this before to such an extent, and I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of kilometers on Ukrainian roads. I spoke recently with the Polish ambassador in Kyiv who told me that during war, one notices children with a particular intensity. He is absolutely correct!
It could be that we do this because of some subconscious compassion, some particular concentration of attention on these little persons who wander now with their mothers and grandmothers through the quieter parts of Ukraine and the world. Others sit in dark, cold basements of Mariupol like shadows, to avoid being found by the murderous army.
One can see many cars heading toward Kyiv. The withdrawal of the Russian army and another peaceful day in the capital clearly caused some of the inhabitants to return. I saw city buses yesterday morning on the streets of Kyiv and a notice saying that one can cross the Dnieper on the subway. It seems like a small detail, but for the daily lives of normal people, functioning public transportation is essential. The mayor of the city, however, advises the citizens of Kyiv who are now living in safe neighborhoods not to rush their return, for at least a few more days. The city is still not completely safe.
Busses from Poland and Back
Many humanitarian convoys are going in the direction of Kyiv, and from there, farther to the east, north, and south. They consist of long lines of trucks, just like the one I passed in Letychiv that was bringing aid from Turkey; but they also include vans and passenger cars with volunteers. There are also coach buses regularly shuttling people from Poland. One particularly drew my attention. The sign behind the windshield said, “Slupsk — Mariupol.”
I could see cars filled with people and luggage, sometimes attached to the roof, with registration plates from the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, and Kharkiv. How far they’ve already driven! They have decided to leave, as people from these regions are strenuously urged by the authorities, since heavy fighting might take place there very soon. Two buses filled with people from Mykolaiv and Kherson left Fastiv yesterday. Sadly, the Russian army uses civilians as living shields; that’s why the authorities ask people to leave and allow our army to fight the enemy with dignity.
In the outskirts of Khmelnytskyi, a smiling young volunteer girl was pointing to a thermos, offering hot tea to passersby. It’s a very simple gesture but very important for these people, because it means that someone is awaiting them.
Since the very beginning, one of the weapons of this war has been words. I will not describe Russian propaganda, since everyone knows it well. Instead, let me mention some signs and billboards on the highway. In many places in Khmelnytskyi, I’ve seen posters in English saying, “Russians are killing our children.” There are also religious themes.
On one of the billboards along the highway, the soldiers of the occupying army were depicted as servants of the biblical Herod. Some time ago, on one of the barricades in Kyiv, I saw a copy of the so-called “Saint Javelina”, which is an icon of Our Lady adorned with Ukrainian symbols and holding, instead of the Child Jesus, an American handheld anti-tank missile, the Javelin.
I understand the perhaps noble intentions of the author of this painting, but I really don’t like it. I think the same way about the saying that’s been painted and repeated almost everywhere since the beginning of the war: “To the Russian warship, go ___.” Many wise Ukrainians who I respect enormously started protesting against vulgarity in public debate. Eastern Rite Bishop Taras Senkiv said it best: “It’s not an instrument of war; it’s a sign of defeat.”
I am sending today’s letter in the morning from the priory in Khmelnytskyi. I came here to meet with Brothers Jakub and Wlodzimierz. This place has become a shelter for refugees from Kyiv and Kharkiv, like many religious houses that have opened their doors to become homes for people escaping from war. We are not only giving to them. Especially since most of these things we offer we have received from others.
But as I discover over and over again, it is they who are a gift to us. I experienced this for the first time a couple months ago when our Kyiv community hosted refugees from Kabul. It’s a little like the poem “Justice” by Father Jan Twardowski, which I’ve been carrying with me throughout my life:
If everyone had four apples
If everyone was strong as a horse
If everyone was equally defenseless in love If everyone had the same thing No one would need anyone.
It looks like we live in the time of God’s Justice, when we need each other.
With warm greetings and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Khmelnytskyi, Tuesday, April 5, 8am
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.