Letter from Ukaraine, August 18, 2022
Dear Sisters, Dear Brothers,
I have to admit that Saint Hyacinth becomes closer and closer to me every year. I see my ministry in Ukraine as a realization of his desire to preach the Gospel on the shores of the Dnieper. I had the great joy of visiting Rome on Holy Saturday this year, when I went to the Basilica of Santa Sabina, accompanied by Father Alain, the socius to the Master of the Order, and I could see its fresco depicting the vestition of Saint Hyacinth. These days, many people visiting this Dominican church on Aventine are praying for Ukraine, often using special prayers provided by the brothers. It’s no coincidence that I started my letter by remembering Saint Hyacinth, since just yesterday we celebrated his liturgical feast. Despite the fact that only two of us are in Kyiv now, Father Jakub and me, the evening Mass in our chapel was attended by quite a large number of people. After all, Saint Hyacinth is also a patron saint of this city of Kyiv! Following ancient tradition transplanted from Poland, we blessed the heads of wheat. This liturgical gesture expresses our connection to the miracle performed through the intercession of Saint Hyacinth, when the storm and hail destroyed the harvest and the peasants from the villages around Krakow came to beg the holy man for rescue from the famine. This year, the custom was particularly powerful. During the time of war, people sometimes pay a very high price to gather the harvest from the enormous fields of Ukraine. Many farmers lost their lives or health when the machines hit landmines or munitions left by the soldiers. I remember that some time ago I read about a tragedy like that in Andriivka. It’s a popular name for villages in Ukraine, so I called Father Misha and asked if it’s the same Andriivka where he’s been helping people for months, with the support of the volunteers from the House of Saint Martin in Fastiv. “Yes, that’s the one,” he confirmed. I prayed yesterday, therefore, through the intercession of Saint Hyacinth, that this year’s harvest can be harvested from the fields of Ukraine and won’t be destroyed by the Russian bombs and fires caused by war, so that the grain can safely travel throughout the world from Ukrainian ports. Saint Hyacinth has his work cut out for him. Ave, florum flos, Hyacinthe… Ave, protector omnium ad te confugientium…
Last night we were visited by priests from the diocese of Kamianets-Podilskyi. They brought a parishioner, a soldier who was heavily wounded in the fight. After months of treatment, the surgeons managed to fix and strengthen his hands and legs crushed by the explosion, although there is still a long way ahead of him. Since the whole group had to travel over 400 km, they arrived late. I was very moved when the soldier didn’t let us simply leave his room, but first asked one of his priests for a blessing and prayers. Anyone who has ever been sick for a long time knows that the nights are the most difficult. “What should I do when it gets really bad?” he asked the priest who was praying over him. “Simply repeat: Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.” It’s so good that Jesus has so many wise and dedicated priests in Ukraine working for him. I was also grateful that I wasn’t asked, since I probably would say something clever but shallow.
After breakfast I had a conversation with the wounded soldier’s wife. She told me that after months of staying in the hospital, both the soldiers and patients are becoming a little like family to each other. Her husband even heard once from a young doctor who treated him in Ternopil, “Last night my wife and I prayed for you.” I keep hearing from her how deeply needed is the humanitarian help arriving in Ukrainian hospitals — thanks to it the doctors have resources to help heal so many wounded and suffering patients. I asked her how she can keep going in a situation like this. She responded, “We have to stay strong. We have children. I’m only worried about my husband, that he can survive, psychologically as well.” I hope that his visit to the Kyiv neurological clinic, where they went after breakfast, will help him return to full health. He’s a very brave man who saved the lives of many of his comrades in combat.
In my previous letter, I mentioned Nikita from Kharkiv who began the novitiate in our Order on August 14. I was hoping that before I finished my stay in Poland I would see him in a white habit. Unfortunately the brothers were infected by Covid-19 and the vestition this year was moved to tomorrow. It is a very unusual and “habitless” novitiate for the Polish Dominicans this year.
On my way from Warsaw to Kyiv, I stopped in Lviv where the weeklong Alive Music Festival began last Saturday, organized by the Dominicans. A year ago, due to Father Wojciech’s energy, a Christian music concert was held on one of the squares in Lviv. That was the way we celebrated the 800th anniversary of the death of Saint Dominic. This year Father Wojciech, together with lay volunteers, organized a concert tour to bring the Word of Life in this difficult time for Ukraine to the cities of Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk, Khmelnytskyi, Vinnytsia, and Fastiv. On Saturday, Alive will also play in Borodyanka, which is one of the most destroyed towns around Kyiv. The first concert took place in the noble walls of the Lviv Cathedral. This year the festival features a band Lux Mundi, consisting of musicians of different denominations from a variety of regions in Ukraine, as well as two singers — Sandra from Zacharpattia and Olga from Khmelnytskyi. Father Oleksandr, who preaches conferences during the festival, emphasizes that one of the goals of its organizers is to invite all of us to learn to see God in what we are experiencing. “We believe that God stands on the side of the weak and wounded, encouraging us to raise our eyes to him. God leads us, and despite sacrifices, losses, and pain, he is always present. He walks with us, following the way of the cross, the resurrection, and the victory,” Father Oleksandr told the journalist of the Catholic website Creed.
I spent the night in Lviv with the Paulist Fathers so that I could meet my own brother, Father Mariusz. Their priory is located next to Lychakiv Cemetery and the Field of Mars. At present, it’s a burial place for soldiers who died in the recent months, but others were buried here in the past: Austrian soldiers who died during the First World War and, later, soldiers of the Soviet army and NKVD. On Sunday morning, the Field of Mars was covered by the leftovers of the night’s fog, and the rows of fresh tombs looked like rows of soldiers just about to start a parade. Every week, new tombs are being added. I could count more than a hundred. In one of the tombs a few days ago, twenty-five-year-old lieutenant Yuri Strelcov was buried. He died in Zaporizhzhia on August 6. On the way to visit the priory of our brothers in Lviv, I parked my car at the building of the bishop’s curia. The building’s concierge wanted to point out to me that I had dirty shoes. “I’m on my way from the Field of Mars,” I tried to explain. “Some time ago, on the wall separating this place from Lychakiv Cemetery” — the concierge told me the story — “there used to be a great sign in Russian: ‘In the middle of the planet, among the stormy clouds, they are dead and look to the skies, believing in the wisdom of the living.’ Everyone riding the streetcar could see these words. Even the mothers of children from the children’s hospital, still located across from the Field of Mars.”
On the way to Kyiv, I drove past Fastiv. Fathers Misha and Pawel were just sitting in the classroom with Father Ruslan, the rector of the seminary for the diocese of Kyiv and Zhytomyr. Ruslan had just returned from the Carpathian mountains where he accompanied a group of refugees who took shelter in the House of Saint Martin de Porres in Fastiv. Although it’s still a hot summer, I spoke with Father Misha about the coming winter. It will certainly be a difficult time for people whose houses were destroyed by war. The temporary housing fulfills its role in the summer but can’t protect people from frost and snow. “It’s a great challenge for us,” emphasized Father Misha. “We have to help the largest possible number of people survive the winter, those whom we are already helping as well as those who will come to us from the east and south of the country.”
During the last three days, I was listening to the online retreat preached at the Basilica of the Holy Trinity by Fathers Timothy Radcliffe and Lukasz Popko. Their words are full of wisdom, and I personally respect and like them both. They spoke of, among other things, the fact that we love what is particular and specific and that we hate what is abstract and general. There is much wisdom in these words. They remind me of the woman living in one of the villages near Kyiv, who told me the story of the Russian soldier who had to hide in her house because he refused to shoot the Ukrainian soldiers and whom she fed with borscht. I wondered how much of what Fathers Timothy and Lukasz were saying could be useful for the families and nations divided by war.
With greetings and prayers, and with great gratitude for remembering Ukraine,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, August 18, 5pm
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