September 27, 2023

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Ukraine. I’ve been waiting to send this letter until Father Misha and his volunteers from the House of Saint Martin de Porres are safely on their way back to Fastiv. They left yesterday with the humanitarian transport to Kherson. Unfortunately I couldn’t join them, so I’m only getting reports over the telephone. These days Kherson is very dangerous because both the city and the vicinity around it are being shelled daily/ According to Father Maksym from the Kherson parish, yesterday was one of the worst days yet.

Kyiv: This is an update from Jarosław Krawiec, OP, the Vicar Provincial who lives in Kyiv that was sent January 21. 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 noah eleazar on Unsplash

Ukraine Update

Dear sisters, dear brothers,

I’ve been waiting to send this letter until Father Misha and his volunteers from the House of Saint Martin de Porres are safely on their way back to Fastiv. They left yesterday with the humanitarian transport to Kherson. Unfortunately I couldn’t join them, so I’m only getting reports over the telephone. These days Kherson is very dangerous because both the city and the vicinity around it are being shelled daily.

According to Father Maksym from the Kherson parish, yesterday was one of the worst days yet. Apart from multiple attacks from across the Dnipro River where the Russian army is stationed, one could also hear shots in the streets. It’s no wonder that many inhabitants left Kherson recently. “In the morning we were distributing food in the neighborhood close to the river. Within the fifteen-apartment section of the building, only three families remained,” says Father Misha.

One might ask if it’s worth it to risk your health and life traveling to these places. After all, humanitarian supplies can be delivered in a different way. With the help of trusted local volunteers, one could still provide supplies to the needy. It would be simpler, cheaper, and certainly safer.

However, anyone who has experienced a face-to-face encounter with people living near the frontlines — for whom regular shelling, lack of electricity, cold, uncertainty about tomorrow are a daily experience — anyone who has seen their joy in being visited, knows that one should and one must travel to them. It’s a mandate of the heart and of love. Food, medicine, and warm clothes can be delivered through other people’s hands; hope in difficult times can only be brought by a
personal presence.

Father Misha told me about a meeting with the inhabitants of Chornobaivka, where a few months ago a heavy battle was fought between the Russian and Ukrainian armies. This village is considered the northern gateway to Kherson, and its airport became a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity. One of the women was celebrating her birthday. Apparently she had been awaiting guests since the morning, with a bottle of champagne!

The war has also created its own dress code, ways of dressing in these difficult times. For instance, the t-shirts that President Zelenskyy wears have become legendary. And we have the sweatshirts for volunteers of the Foundation and the House of Saint Martin de Porres.

“Get one like that for me,” I asked Misha, noticing his new black shirt that says “Jas. 4:17”. “Just make sure it’s at least triple XL!” “What quote is that from the letter of Saint James?” I added. “‘For one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin’,” responded Father Misha. Strong words! I will remember them for a long time.

I notice that people often hug each other when they meet. During wartime this form of greeting has become very popular. Before the war, only very closely related people would dare to make such a gesture publically in Ukraine. It seems to me that we simply realized how important we are to each other and how much we need each other. We also realized how fragile and uncertain our life is.

Some time ago, at the farewell with a married couple who had been our guides, somewhere around Izium in the dark foggy road leading to Kharkiv, we hugged each other. I had only known them for a couple hours, but the experience of the road we had traveled and the bread we had shared with the needy brought us together.

I wrote my previous letter before Christmas. A lot has happened since then. For instance, we were visited by Cardinal Krajewski who brought supplies from the Vatican to Ukraine. This time it was power generators and thermal underclothes, so needed in the winter. We hadn’t planned to meet, but when we learned that he was traveling to Kyiv, I called him and invited him to Fastiv.

During one of his previous visits, the cardinal had already met the Dominican community from Kyiv. The papal almoner spent Christmas Eve with the sisters, brothers, volunteers, and refugees from the House of Saint Martin, and during the midnight Mass he delivered a very moving homily.

When he spoke of Jesus’ invitation: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28), he emphasized the word “all”; and it’s so true that the war can open us to the other and make us go together to serve those in need. I think this is what the cardinal experienced in his conversations with the refugees and volunteers.

On the Solemnity of the Epiphany we opened another house, this time for those uprooted by war. It is a cause for great joy in these difficult times and for even greater gratitude to all who contributed to its creation. More than a dozen people are already living there, including mothers with small children. It is already the third house we’re running in Fastiv to help those in need.

The Archbishop Visvaldas — the apostolic nuncio in Ukraine who came to bless the building — and I talked to Oksana and her nine-year-old son Zhena. They had come to us from Bakhmut at the beginning of the war, fleeing the bombings. Her husband, the boy’s father whose name was also Zhena, had died fighting for a free Ukraine.

Another person who took part in the opening of the house for refugees was Bartosz Cichocki, the Polish ambassador in Kyiv, and he was joined by his wife Monika. They have been personally involved in our work for a long time. Happy that another good initiative succeeded, we joyfully agreed that this “Fastiv experience” has changed us. This is how mercy works.

I was very impressed by the benefit concert given by the youth choir of the National Academy of Music in Kyiv, which was organized in the great hall of the Dominican Institute of Saint Thomas Aquinas last night. A group of young artists performed ten pieces by Ukrainian composers.

One of them was the traditional song “I go by mountain and by valley,” beautifully performed by Oleksandra Stetsiuk, that tells, in the dialect of the Carpathian Lemkos, the story of a girl crying, after losing her
love: “I go by mountain and by valley. I don’t see anyone. My heart cries. My heart cries. Out of great sorrow.” (You can listen to this song performed by Oleksandra at an earlier concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Srfp6Fj4do).

The war takes the lives of great people every day and breaks the hearts of their loved ones. As I was browsing the news that my friends share with each other, I found the obituary of Victor Onysko, a film editor who became a Ukrainian soldier a couple months ago. He died in battle on December 30, at the age of 40. I never met Victor, although I knew him in a sense through many great Ukrainian movies that he co-created. His wife Olga shared her memories of him on Facebook. She also shared her
pain that is so common now in Ukraine. I have to admit that I cannot read Olga’s words without emotion.

“My heart will always remain in this terrible 2022. Because you remain in it. My hero. My love. My everything. I don’t know how to continue living and breathing without you. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to dream again.

The only thing I want now is for this Russia-ist [In modern Ukraine, they created a word that combines the words Russia and fascism.] evil to be punished as soon as possible and for the fewest people as possible to feel this unspeakable and burning pain of loss.

I didn’t write much about you here; I was afraid, I’m ashamed to admit, to do harm. FB is not the best place for sincerity. And you always told me that your field reports from the Ukrainian front were only for me. You were supposed to edit movies, but instead ‘edited’ a military reality as a company commander. Twice in ground zero – in the Kherson region and the Donbass. Without any possibility of seeing each other.

You are very tired, but you took care of your brothers. You’ve survived every single loss. You told me that there is no greater torture in war than to inform the families of the death of their relative. Now I felt it on myself. It broke my heart when your soldier sobbed into the phone and swore to me that he didn’t know a better person and a better commander.

They say heroes never die. Unfortunately, they do. They are dying now by the thousands, forever leaving their relatives with incurable wounds in their souls. I would be grateful for injury, disability, amputation, ptsd… or anything as long as you’re alive. But unfortunately we weren’t that lucky. I will never be able to hide in your arms, hear your voice, laugh at your jokes and argue for hours about movies.

The only thing left of you is a 9-year-old girl with your gray eyes. Thanks to you she had a fantastic childhood with motorcycles, bicycles, tents, skis, music, Balkan mountains and concerts in Berlin. And when I couldn’t breathe through my tears for the whole day on the train, she patted me on the head and said that dad fought for our freedom and we will never forget him, and that dad will always be in our thoughts. My and your adult little one. One of thousands of innocent children whose parents were killed by the damned Russism.

It hurts. It hurts beyond words…”

With greetings and request for prayer for those whose loved ones were
taken by war,

Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, January 21, 2023, 4pm

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.

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/.

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