Kyiv: This is an update from Jarosław Krawiec, OP, the Vicar Provincial who lives in Kyiv that was sent February 5. 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.
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
My last letter contained a moving testimony of the pain that is tearing apart the hearts of many Ukrainian women. Men are suffering in the same way — because their girlfriends, mothers, and wives are also dying on the front lines. Many of them are serving in the ranks of the Ukrainian Army as medical personnel. There are young women as well as many who already have significant medical experience as doctors or nurses. January 22 was celebrated as a national holiday — the Day of Ukrainian Unity. I went to a concert of Taras Kompanichenko and Chorea Kozacka. It took place in a place special to Kyiv, the Pechersk Lavra.
Taras Kompanichenko is one of the most popular performers of traditional Ukrainian music, a bandurist, a lira player, and a poet. When the war started he joined the territorial defense of Kyiv, which is now part of the Ukrainian army. And he’s not the only one from among the local artists and intelligentsia — which I could see with my own eyes at the concert.
I spotted among them Mrs. Alisa. The beautiful young woman in a military uniform drew friendly glances from many people. From time to time she would dance a little, a few steps maybe, while holding her tiny daughter against her heart. In these sacred halls of the Lavra, she looked like a living icon of hope. After the concert I approached her to thank her for everything she is doing for Ukraine.
In an article in Kyiv’s “The Weekend” I learned that Alisa Szramko is a teacher and museum curator by profession. She has two daughters, the youngest born during the Russian invasion. Before she became a mother, she would use her vacation time to travel to volunteer as a nurse in eastern Ukraine, where the fighting had already been going on for many years.
Mrs. Alisa belongs to the organization of volunteer medical responders that was established after the commencement of the war in 2014. The “hospitalers” consist of almost 360 medical professionals, organize trainings in emergency medical response, and evacuate wounded. There are other similar organizations in Ukraine. They are amazingly courageous people, true angels rescuing lives even in the most difficult conditions.
After the end of every rocket attack alarm, my phone tells me the statistics that speak eloquently about the daily lives of the people in Kyiv. Since the beginning of the war, the sirens have sounded 661 times. All together, the alarms have lasted 735 hours and 56 minutes. If we divide by 24, the number of hours in a day, we get a number close to 31 days. A month!
Since the war began on February 24, three hundred and forty seven days have passed, a whole month of which the inhabitants of the capital of Ukraine lived in immediate threat to their lives and safety, many in constant stress with constant interruptions to their daily activities like school, work, shopping, or play (for the kindergarten children) with the uncertainty of whether it’s just a threat or whether more rockets are on their way. Could anyone get used to this? We kind of are.
On the last day of January, Iryna and Wiktor got married. They hadn’t known each other before the war, but after they joined the group a couple dozen people who moved into our Kyiv priory temporarily, they could be seen together more and more often. It’s not surprising that they chose the Dominican chapel and the aula of our Institute as the locations for their wedding and wedding reception. It was a very simple celebration.
The guests consisted of their closest family and a few friends. And obviously the brothers who happened to be in the priory that day. Our prior Fr. Petro pointed out in the wedding homily that the names of the bride and the groom have hidden in them the two most important desires the people of Ukraine have now: “peace”, the meaning of the Greek name Iryna, and “victory”, the translation of the Latin name Wiktor. Iryna and Wiktor are bound by love and sacramental marriage. I hope that we will live to see the day when, together with the free and democratic world, we will celebrate peace and the victory of Ukraine.
Iryna is from Kherson. During the wedding reception, her cousin, holding her three-month-old daughter in her arms, told everyone about her departure from the city occupied by the Russians. With many difficulties, stress, uncertainty, and already late in her pregnancy, she managed to find a way through Zaporizhzhia to the territories controlled by Ukraine. If the child had been born in Kherson, which was illegally annexed by Russia as part of its territory, he would have received Russian documents and leaving the city could have been very difficult if not impossible.
Despite a few months of evacuating civilian inhabitants from the regions of Ukraine near the front lines, many people remained — mostly elderly, sick, or handicapped. They have a limited ability to move, so they are very dependent on others for help. Last week we went to the Kharkiv region again; I joined Father Misha, Sister Augustina, and the volunteers of the House of Saint Martin de Porres in Fastiv, and we delivered a dozen tons of food, toiletries, warm clothes, medications, heaters, and energy generators.
In Balakliya we found a stowaway in our bus. During the unloading, a red cat jumped out from between the boxes. We started to wonder how he got there. He didn’t look homeless. A quick investigation revealed that he came from Fastiv. Clearly, two days earlier during the evening loading of the cars, he had jumped inside, unnoticed by anyone.
What could we do? We took an additional passenger on the way back. Apparently he was seen around the cars in Fastiv a few days later. Clearly he likes traveling. It was not the only cat that came back with us. Father Misha decided to receive into the priory a Maine Coon cat who had lost his owners somewhere around Kharkiv. The animal is deaf, and after what it went through, we will try to provide a new and safe house for it.
The trips to Kharkiv are opportunities to meet Father Andrzej. I’m filled with pride when I hear stories of my older brother’s service to soldiers on the front lines. He goes there with one of our parishioners who has been delivering food, medicine, and necessary supplies to the Ukrainian defenders ever since 2014. Father Andrzej emphasizes that the most important thing is trust. It takes time, openness, and above all, presence, to be able to build it. So far, he hasn’t met any Catholics among the soldiers. In one place, Father Andrzej celebrated Mass. A beautiful personification of the sacrifice of Christ.
On Saturday, Chortkiv was visited by the head of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. He came to bless the newly finished paintings in the sanctuary of the Sobor of Peter and Paul and the missionary cross. Father Dymytriy from our Chortkiv priory, who took part in the celebrations along with Father Svorad, told us about the warm meeting with Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who is a great friend of the Dominicans. After all, he defended his doctorate at the Angelicum.
Father Dima sent me a picture in which he stood with two Greek Catholic Metropolitans. The second was Archbishop Wasyl from Ternopil. Like Father Dima, he is from Yaremche in the Carpathian mountains, and in the old days he had worked with his father, so he always calls him Dmytryk.
On the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas — which Dominicans celebrate in an especially festive way this year because of the jubilee of the death and canonization of the patron saint of our Kyiv Institute of Higher Religious Studies — a solemn Holy Mass was celebrated, and a special discussion was organized concerning the new Ukrainian translation of “Metaphysics” by Aristotle.
“What is Ukrainian Aristotle like?” In answer to that question, the philosopher and translator of the book, Oleksij Panycz, shared a story with us about how a couple years ago they had tried to organize a day of Aristotle in the institute of philosophy. “I wanted very much to put his bust in the conference room,” recounted Professor Panycz. “We had a lot of Platos, but it took us a week to find an Aristotle in Kyiv. We decided to dress him in the Ukrainian Vyshyvanka [a traditional Ukrainian shirt]. The adult-sized shirt wouldn’t fit, so we had to put child-sized clothing on Aristotle.
So to answer your question, the Ukrainian Aristotle was born very recently, and he still has to grow up,” our guest joked, adding: “Only after some time will we be able to tell how he is received in the Ukrainian language.”
On the same day in Lviv, Natalia and Jan — a married couple and lay Dominicans — after finishing their novitiate made their first temporal promises. Jan is a soldier, and using his couple day leave of absence, he was able to come and not only visit his wife and children but also make the next important step along the way of his Dominican vocation.
Every letter is an opportunity to express gratitude for the solidarity with Ukraine and for every kind of support that you are offering us. I would very much like to thank all of our benefactors personally. It’s very difficult in the present situation, but I’m not losing hope that one day I will be able to.
With greetings and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, February 5, 2023, 11pm
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/.