Letter from Jarosław Krawiec OP in Ukraine, Saturday, March 19, 2022
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
After almost an hour of driving from Kyiv, Father Thomas and I have reached Fastiv. I always visit this city and the brothers and sisters working there with great pleasure. Just before I left this morning, I met a woman who had managed to evacuate a few days earlier from one of the cities outside of Kyiv that had been destroyed by the Russians. She and her husband, together with an elderly mother, decided to stay in Kyiv, despite their friends in Poland urging them to leave. They don’t want to run anymore. They love this city and Ukraine. I understand them. Now they need some support because while they were saving their lives, they couldn’t take anything for the road. Just like many, many refugees from all the destroyed cities and villages of Ukraine. On the way to Fastiv, Father Thomas and I celebrated Mass for the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, those of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The sisters in Kyiv feed the poor and provide shelter for almost a hundred homeless. During the time of war, they live in the basement of the priory. In a tiny corner of the basement, they arranged the chapel. During the night, one of the sisters sleeps there. She explained to me with a smile that she is rather short, so she fits well. The superior of the community is from Poland; other sisters are from India and Lithuania. Amazing women.
Someone asked me recently what’s going on with our candidate to the Order. It’s true — while writing a lot about Kyiv and Fastiv, I haven’t mentioned Nikita from Kharkiv. When the situation in the city was progressively becoming more tragic — their neighborhood was bombed, and every night meant the necessity to stay in the subway station — Nikita and his parents left Kharkiv. Using not the shortest, but definitely the safest way, they managed to reach Khmelnytskyi, a city in western Ukraine located over 800 km from Kharkiv. It is much safer there, although like in most territories of Ukraine, one can hear the blaring of sirens and daily air raid alarms. Unlike Kharkiv, Kyiv, or Fastiv, this city has not been bombed nor fired on by artillery.
Kirill, another boy from Kharkiv connected to the Dominicans, also found himself in Khmelnytskyi. Yesterday was the liturgical feast day of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, which is his name day. When I called him, he was in good spirits and with gratitude mentioned how much he values the opportunity to live in our priory with brothers Jakub and Wlodzimierz. Daily Eucharist and prayer, as well as a wartime community with the Dominicans, are very important to him. I thought about him when I was reading the catechesis of Saint Cyril in the breviary: “Do not dress yourself in gleaming white garments but rather in the devotion of a clean conscience.” During our conversation, he was laughing at me a little because in one of the first letters, I praised his courage of staying in our priory in Kharkiv, which was destroyed by the Russians. “Father, you wrote those things, and the next day I left the city.” He did very well. Courage and heroism are not about letting oneself be killed by Russian bombs. Courage means that one makes the right decision at the right time.
Stay or leave? It is now a serious dilemma for many people in the war-destroyed territories. Some save their lives by running to secure locations. Others stay and want to protect their home here. I understand both.
The university in Kharkiv, where Kirill is a student, resumed its activities, and the classes are online. I heard about it from Anton, who moved to our priory in Kyiv at the beginning of the war. He teaches at one of the Kyiv universities. He admitted that not all students participate in classes, but at least a few of them manage to connect with the professor. Our two Brothers Peters, both from Kyiv, also teach, continuing their classes for eastern rite seminarians. These seminarians dispersed for security reasons to many places, but the seminary still continues remotely. However, the classes are shorter, since many of them are involved in volunteering. Our Dominican Institute of Saint Thomas operates in a similar way.
It is already the third week of war, and after the first days of huge shock, stress, and panic, we are starting to settle into the new reality. Everyone is coming back to work as much as they can: some of them online, and some of them are coming back to work in person, as the authorities encourage those who are lucky enough to still have places of work that were not destroyed. It is not a simple matter. Many people left, so the companies are missing employees to the point of sometimes not being able to function. Kyiv is a big metropolitan city. If someone lives far away and doesn’t have his own transportation, it is very hard to go to work. Because of that, despite the winter temperatures, one can see many people on the streets traveling on bicycles, scooters, etc. Yesterday I was admiring a young boy riding a scooter while carrying a musical instrument in a huge case. He was moving pretty fast, skillfully avoiding holes in the road.
I, too, am getting more and more accustomed to the situation of war. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I don’t think there is any other way because, despite the alarms and explosions, one has to live somehow. Of course, all of this could instantly be interrupted and smashed into pieces by an outburst of fighting or a stray rocket exploding in the neighborhood. In the last three days, I’ve seen a number of places demolished by the morning “winged guests” coming from the east. They usually arrive at dawn, between 5 and 6 in the morning. Practically every day I wake up to an explosion, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. There are moments when I feel like I’m in a movie, but unfortunately all of this is very real and very close.
I recently received a very moving witness from Belarus, shared with me by someone in Poland. We know very well how difficult their situation is. Belarus got involved in this war, and although the Belarussian army doesn’t take an active part in the attack on Ukraine, the death-carrying rockets and airplanes take off from the territory of their country. Here are fragments of what this person confessed: “There are not enough words to express the pain and helplessness that we feel because of the war in Ukraine. This pain is so much the greater since our country was dragged into this war. We are endlessly worried about what is happening to you, and we pray that peace finally comes back. If this eastern monster doesn’t fall, it could be that Belarus will suffer even more and, as a result, lose its self-awareness. The fight that the Ukrainians fight gives us hope that good will prevail over evil. We are admiring the heroism and brotherly unanimity of your nation, and we believe that God will reward you for it. One would like to cry out: ‘My God, how long; how many people must die!’ But God’s ways are inscrutable. We are wishing your whole nation even more strength of spirit, and we pray day and night for the victory of Ukraine (some of us with the Rosary of Pompeii). I hope that one day I will be able to travel to a free Ukraine from a free Belarus.” After the voice from Russia that I recently quoted, this is another testimony of a person of faith who suffers because of war. I am very grateful for these words. I trust that we will never lack righteous people in Belarus and Russia.
With warm greetings and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Fastiv, March 19, 2022, 5:30 pm
Shem Center for Interfaith Spirituality
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Oak Park, IL 60302
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