Letter from Ukraine, May 11, 2022

I just received another letter from my Dominican brother in Ukraine, Fr. Jarosław Krawiec OP with an account of life in Kyiv. I am struck by the seeming ordinariness of how they are facing the challenges and disappointments of living within a war that is causing so much loss and pain. The courage and commitment to life among the people is inspiring.

Dominican Shield

The shield of the Dominican Order expresses a parting of darkness to reveal the light of truth, justice and peace. 

— Joseph Kilikevice, OP 

Dear sisters, dear brothers,

As I’m walking through springtime Kyiv, it feels like the war has just ended. Each day, the streets are filling with a growing number of people; new stores are opening up; new coffee shops, restaurants, and services are unlocking their doors. Even the bazaar, not far from our priory, is seeing merchants returning, although until recently it was just a mess of a place, since the adjacent building was destroyed two months ago by Russian rockets. It’s not particularly unusual. Since the beginning of war, 390 buildings in the capital, including 222 apartment buildings, have been damaged or destroyed; 75 schools, pre-K, and kindergarten buildings suffered damage, as well as 17 hospitals and healthcare facilities. Of course, if we compare them with Kharkiv, a great metropolis in eastern Ukraine, the numbers don’t seem so high; but every one of these places signifies real human tragedies, very often death and maiming of innocent people, and many resources that will be needed to rebuild them. 

There are still fewer cars in Kyiv than there had been before the war. It’s not surprising, since many of the capital’s citizens haven’t returned to their homes yet. There are also big challenges in acquiring fuel. Recently I pulled over with a couple brothers at one of the gas stations. We misunderstood the sign on the electronic board about the prices, and as we approached the cashier, I heard: “The fuel is only for those who have special coupons.” I was just about to walk away disappointed when a nice young girl working at the cashier said to me smiling, “If you buy a pizza from us, I’ll sell you 10 liters of diesel.” You can’t turn down an offer like this, especially when after the whole day of driving around the city, we were really hungry. Taking all this into consideration, I have to say, that cheese pizza with pear was exceptionally tasty. I approached the same lady again and asked her if I come back in an hour with fuel cans and buy four pizzas, if she would sell me 40 liters of diesel. “Sure thing, come over!” So Father Thomas went back to the gas station, and apart from a supply of fuel, we also had a wonderful dinner in the priory.

Speaking of food… Father Misha told us that in Andriivka, one of the most destroyed villages around Kyiv, the Russian army left behind not only destroyed buildings and landmines in the fields, but also jars of the original Russian “rassolnik,” or as we call it, dill pickle soup. These one-gallon glass jars had traveled with the Russian army from a far distant land. On the label you could read that they were made in October 2021 in the town of Totskoe, in the republic of Kalmykia. Clearly, the retreating army couldn’t stand this Kalmykian soup. Maybe they decided they prefer Ukrainian borscht? I jokingly asked Misha to bring back one of those jars when he gets to Andriivka.

The people of the destroyed villages around Makariv need help. The volunteers from the House of Saint Martin in Fastiv, joined by a group of Protestant volunteers from Rivne, managed to help rebuild walls and roofs for over 40 apartment buildings. They could only do it thanks to the help that comes to us from all around the world. Father Misha summed it up simply: “Without you, we don’t exist.” Thank you for your solidarity with Ukraine! 

An old lady from Adriivka showed me doors and windows with bullet holes in her house. “I filled the holes the best I could to stop the drafts.” I was trying to understand why Russians would shoot at the houses of old, sick people. “In the evenings when they got drunk, they would shoot without aiming,” she said. The old lady continued, “Most of them were young boys, maybe 20 years old. Some in their forties.” When we were getting in the car, she followed us. “Please pray for my grandson. He’s in the Azov regiment, and he is fighting in Mariupol. I ask everyone to pray for him.” We talked for a short while. I assured her of our prayer and told her that her grandson is a real hero, and that future generations of Ukrainians will read about people like him in school. But is this a real comfort for an old lady’s broken heart?

Another old lady told me that the Russians shot two Ukrainian soldiers in front of her house and then started burning the bodies. “I asked them, ‘What are you doing?’ They extinguished the fire, but they wouldn’t let me bury them.” Other defendants of ours were murdered on the other side of her house. When she talks about it, her voice trembles and tears appear in her eyes. “I couldn’t do anything. For a few days, I was protecting the bodies from the dogs as they laid on the road.” After a moment, she added that one day a Russian soldier came to her house: “Gramma, I decided to hide at your house. They forced me to shoot, and I don’t want this war. I am a Ukrainian. My dad is Ukrainian, and my mom is Buryat. I signed a contract. Later, we spent 30 days traveling to you. We had field exercises in Belarus. Gramma, how can I shoot at Ukrainians? Maybe my uncle or my brother is on the other side.” The old lady told this story peacefully, with clear respect for this man.

On Sunday, Father Igor celebrated his first Mass in Fastiv. The day before, he was ordained by Bishop Nicholas Luczok, the apostolic administrator of the diocese of Mukachevo and our brother in Saint Dominic. Igor is from Donbas. He was baptized in 2010 when he was 24 years old. Before joining the Order, he graduated from the university in Donetsk in linguistics and worked as a high school teacher for a year. His religious formation took place in Poland, in Warsaw and Krakow. Immediately after the war began, he requested to be sent back to Ukraine. He arrived in Fastiv at the beginning of March when heavy fighting was taking place around the city. He passed his last exams and defended his Master’s thesis online. Father Igor is now leaving for Khmelnytskyi, where he will serve in our Dominican community. 

At his Mass of Ordination, he was joined by the Dominican family from Ukraine, by Father Lukasz, the provincial of Poland, and by Father Pavel, his predecessor. Unfortunately, because of the war, Igor’s parents couldn’t take part in this celebration. His family was represented by his cousin and her husband. They had both found shelter in our Dominican priory in Khmelnytskyi. Many brothers emphasized that Igor’s ordination, which took place on the 73rd day of the war between Russia and Ukraine, is a sign of hope. As he was giving thanks for the gift of priesthood, Igor said, “A journalist asked me recently what it means to become a priest in the time of war. I answered that I didn’t know. It is a mystery for me, which I hope Christ himself will help me to understand.”

I suggested to Brothers Lukasz and Pavel from Poland and Wojciech from Lviv, that we travel to the ordination by the longer route. I wanted them, since they were already in Kyiv, to see with their own eyes and symbolically touch the painful wounds of our Ukraine destroyed by war. So we traveled from Kyiv to Fastiv through Bucha, Hostomel, Borodyanka, and Makariv. We prayed our morning prayer in the car. We stopped to finish the office of readings at the gas station in Horenka, which had clear signs of bullets, bombs, and fire. It is located on the outskirts of the capital city. We could see around us a panoramic view of the valley, the Irpin River, and the destroyed bridge — a symbolic place of the recent escape of the people from occupied cities. We had just been reading the commentary of Saint Cyril of Alexandria on the gospel of Saint John: “For their sake I consecrate myself. By saying that he consecrates himself he means that he offers himself to God as a spotless and sweet-smelling sacrifice. According to the law, anything offered upon the altar was consecrated and considered holy. So Christ gave his own body for the life of all, and makes it the channel through which life flows once more into us.” In this way, the priesthood is particularly connected to Him, the Archpriest of the New Covenant. Deo gratias for the gift of the priesthood of Father Igor! 

In Chortkiv the brothers just celebrated, as they do every year, the Solemnity of Saint Stanislaus bishop and martyr, the patron saint of the local church. Because of war, the celebrations were much more humble than they had been in the old days, but the pastor, Father Svorad, stressed that now more people are coming to the Sunday Mass because the city accepted a couple thousand refugees. Father Svorad, who is a son of the Dominican Province of Slovakia, serves in Ukraine with great heart. He is a sought-after confessor and spiritual father.

With warm greetings and request for prayer,

Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, Wednesday, May 11, 12:15pm 

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