September 21, 2023

Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@maxkuk?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Max Kukurudziak</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/ukraine?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a>

Kyiv: This is an update from Jarosław Krawiec, OP, the Vicar Provincial who lives in Kyiv that was sent November 15. 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.

Photo by Yura Khomitskyi on Unsplash

Latest Update from Ukraine

Dear Sisters, Dear Brothers,

I did not expect how euphoric the Ukrainians’ joy would be after the liberation of Kherson. This city, one of the most important in the south, had been under Russian occupation for 256 days. I’ve heard many times from Father Misha about his dream to finally load the cars and personally deliver aid to the people of that city. Now Misha is just waiting for the signal from his friends over there, before starting the drive.

Last week I traveled with Sister Augustina, Father Misha, and volunteers from the House of Saint Martin in Fastiv to Kharkiv and beyond to southeast Ukraine in order to deliver humanitarian supplies to Balakliya, Izium, and the surrounding countryside. These territories had been liberated from Russian occupation two months ago.

I have to admit, I’ve never been to these distant regions of Ukraine. The world here is a little different than the one I knew, especially now. The war has brought enormous destruction. The center of Izium is completely in ruins. Destroyed and burned-out buildings, apartment complexes, the destroyed huge bridge over the river Donetsk — all these cause fear even in us, who are used to such sights.

We were heading to three different regions of the city. Crowds of people gathered around our cars. Local leaders helped us distribute aid. They keep lists of people, and they know who is in greatest need. As happens in life from time to time, small debates arose among people in the line. We were giving away boxes of food, cleaning supplies, warm clothes, pillows, and blankets. Balakliya will also receive almost twenty windows from Poland. Vera set up a table to distribute basic medicines, which are greatly needed.

Immediately a crowd of people stood by her, mostly older ones. A young mother asked me if we have something for her child’s cold. Luckily, we did. Although some stores are already open in Izium and other liberated places, the prolonged period of lack of work and high prices make shopping impossible for a lot of people. “It is much more expensive here than in Fastiv,” I heard from one of the volunteers who had just returned from the store.

“Thank you for coming to us. The last time we received aid was two weeks ago.” “Where are you from? What is your faith?” people were asking us, curious about the white Dominican habits. Before we started distributing aid, Father Misha invited everyone to pray the “Our Father” together. Everyone prayed in the way they know. Some were silent.

On the way to Izium, we stopped by the village of Vesele. Among the people coming to receive help, I saw a lot of children. I greeted a group of boys. We were shaking hands, and I asked their names and whether they go to school. Unfortunately the school in the village had been destroyed when the Russians were stationed there, so they have to study remotely.

It isn’t simple. The village doesn’t have any internet connection, so every day both teachers and students go to the surrounding roads looking for a connection. When they manage to “catch the net” they send and download exercises and homework. Unfortunately there are now many places like this in Ukraine.

While distributing humanitarian aid, the volunteers were surrounded by dogs and cats. I haven’t seen anyone trying to make them go away. After all, they have survived the war, too. Many animals are starved, many are terrified. We had some animal food and spread it around. Cats along with dogs greedily swallowed the tiny brown pieces, without paying attention to anything else.

We were guided to our posts by local volunteers. Bogdan and his wife are young people from Balakliya. He had spent a few days as a prisoner. Local traitors who had been selling food in order to get rid of competition had reported him to the Russians for giving away bread for free.

I spent last weekend walking back and forth between the priory and the movie theater located in the old Kyiv neighborhood of Padol. That’s where the first Dominican priory was located long ago. On Friday afternoon, partly by chance, I learned that “Docudays UA”, or the International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, was beginning in “Zhovten” theater. I decided to watch the film “Mariupolis 2”.

It is a moving 2-hour documentary on the lives of average people in Russian-occupied and barbarically destroyed Mariupol. The film was created using saved recordings made by the Lithuanian director Mantas Kvedaravicius. At the beginning of the war he arrived in Mariupol to make his second documentary about the city. Sadly, Kvedaravicius became one of the victims of the war. Initially the information given was that he died in the car he was driving, as a result of shelling. However, this was an incorrect narrative passed to the public to allow the wife of the director to recover his body. Soon it was revealed that the Lithuanian director had been arrested at the end of February and was then tortured and shot by the Russians.

Many people came to see “Mariupolis 2”. Among them were two defenders of “Azovstal,” the huge steel manufacturing facility that became a fortress besieged by Russians and heroically defended by Ukrainian soldiers. The young men walked with crutches. One had a prosthetic leg. Another soldier from the Azov regiment is Orest, the main character of a different documentary. During the fight for Mariupol he had been responsible for communications with the outside world and had described what was happening under the siege. Thanks to Orest and his recordings, we could see the lives of civilians, including many children, in the underground cement bunkers of Azovstal. Orest’s mother was present at the showing of the movie. Actually, she sat not far from me.

During the opening remarks of the festival, the director said that “Docudays UA” are an element of normal life, for which we have already been fighting for nine months. What a true statement. Russia is continually trying to steal normal life from Ukrainians in many brutal ways. And many Ukrainians have already sacrificed their lives and well-being for it. They went to war to fight for the chance of normal life for themselves and their loved ones. I am grateful beyond imagination to all of these men and women for the moments of normalcy that I can enjoy in Kyiv thanks to their sacrifice.

“I didn’t Want to Make a Movie about War” is a documentary by Nadiya Parfan that opened on Saturday. The war had surprised Nadiya and her husband, who were in the Middle East. “It was warm, safe, and very far away from home,” she said. She couldn’t take it for long and decided to return to Kyiv, which was still surrounded by vicious fighting. I watched this movie with great interest; I saw in it many of my own experiences. There was another reason, however, for my interest.

A month ago, on my way from Warsaw to Kyiv, I was riding the train in the same compartment as the director and her husband. Usually, I don’t bother people when I travel, and at that time we had exchanged only a couple pleasantries. The trip was very long, though, so when I looked at my companions, I guessed that they must be connected to cinematography somehow. There was something in them that made me remember them well.

Who they really were I realized in the movie theater. After the show I shared with them our railroad story. Nadiya immediately invited me to the “post-show party.” At the entrance to the theater, we stood around a collapsible table and ate an apple pie that is known here as pirog. Nadiya’s mother sent it by mail yesterday by Ivano-Frankivsk, and Ilya brought it in a compartment of his motor-scooter. I hope we will meet again, not necessarily on the train. Nadiya invited me to a small projection room that Ilya runs. They show many Ukrainian movies, which makes me happy. The projection room is also a bomb shelter, so during the air-raid alarms we don’t have to stop and go anywhere.

In the chapel of the Missionaries of Charity in Kyiv there is an announcement board. The sisters write the intentions of their prayers on it with white chalk. There is Pope Francis, Bishop Vitalij; there are names of sisters and benefactors. During the morning Mass, I spotted, at the end of a long list, one written in English: “the conversion of Putin.”

I’m sure that millions of Ukrainians pray daily for the Russian dictator. Many wish him a quick death, grave disease, or some other affliction. Others, like the sisters, pray for his conversion. During the Mass today, we read the Gospel about Zacchaeus, who converted after meeting Jesus and declared, “Lord […] if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.” (Luke 19:8).

I asked Katya, the director of the elementary school at the Center of Saint Martin, if children in Fastiv pray for Putin, too. “Of course,” she said, and she sent me a recording a few minutes later. Luka, in the voice of a serious child, explains specifically what he is praying for: “That Putin give back a hundred thousand million hryvnia to rebuild Mariupol, Kharkiv, Kherson, and all the other occupied cities of Ukraine.” The boy is 7 years old and in first grade. “When he grows up, he wants to be president,” wrote Katya. I wish you could listen to the recording because, hearing the conviction with which he speaks about the repair of the losses inflicted on Ukraine by Russia, I myself start believing that his dream one day will be fulfilled.

I still ask for your prayers. I was hoping that in this letter I wouldn’t have to mention rocket attacks, destruction, and victims. Unfortunately, after dinner another mass-attack on Ukraine began. The Russians launched over a hundred rockets. I am reading news about destruction in Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Khmelnytskyi, among other towns. The energy grid has been seriously hit again. The air-raid alarm that began at 2:21pm lasted unusually long: 3 hours and 58 minutes. It just ended.

With greetings and gratitude for all help and prayer,

Jarosław Krawiec OP,

Kyiv, November 15, 7:05pm

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 this part of the world almost since their founding.

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