Notes from Ukraine, Saturday, April 2, 2022
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
Yesterday Kyiv had one of its quietest days since the beginning of the war. I didn’t hear a single siren, although when I looked at the “Digital Kyiv” app, I found out there had been two air raid alarms. Only two; other days there had been as many as twenty. Yesterday you couldn’t hear repeated explosions, but only something like a distant “thunder” from time to time. No wonder a lot of people have appeared on the streets. The mood is peaceful now, which is reinforced by the news of the withdrawal of the occupying forces from the outskirts of Kyiv, which allows everyone to relax a bit. Let me add here that this news came from the Ukrainian military; nobody here believes any of the Russians’ declarations and promises anymore. It’s not surprising that after so many lies, trust has completely disappeared. Unfortunately, when I sat down at the computer this evening to read the news, my hope for a quick end to the fight for the capital subsided a little. Yesterday Vitali Klitschko, the city’s mayor, appealed to all who have left Kyiv not to rush their return, since the risk of death is still very high. “It is better to wait for a couple of weeks and allow the situation to unfold,” he added. Either way, we’re still enjoying the silence around us.
Kyiv is becoming more alive with every passing day. Just like nature in the springtime. Over the last few years, coffee stands have sprung up in many Ukrainian cities. In our neighborhood, you can find them on every corner. Most of them are serving coffee today, although only one was open just two days ago.
On Thursday evening I was having tea in the refectory of the priory with two Polish journalists. Someone who knows men would have thought that our glasses contained something other than tea. But I can assure you that it was nothing else, since it was only on Friday that the prohibition in Kyiv was lifted and alcohol could return to store shelves. I haven’t done any shopping recently, so I don’t know if there were long lines at the liquor stores. For us priests, the lifting of the prohibition has some especially positive aspects. There finally won’t be a problem with buying wine for Mass.
And this is no laughing matter since — as you all know — in order to celebrate Mass it’s not enough to have good will and an ordained priest, but you also need bread (hosts) and wine. Both are becoming very difficult to obtain since alcohol disappeared from the stores and the sisters who used to bake hosts were evacuated from the warzone. Luckily, Brother Jaroslaw from Warsaw took care of the Kyiv priory’s need. He added a small box, filled with everything needed to celebrate the Eucharist, to one of the humanitarian transports from Freta. It’s great to have brothers like this!
Let me return to my two journalists. Since one of them is a writer and the other a photographer, they aren’t in competition, so they started traveling together to the most critical areas of Ukraine. If I didn’t know that they only met each other two weeks ago in Kyiv during the conference with the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, I would be absolutely convinced that they’re old friends. What made them so close was their common experience. They have just returned from Chernihiv. It is one of the oldest cities of the ancient Russ, located in the northern part of the country; it was surrounded by the Russian army and greatly damaged. I hope that the Orthodox monastery of Saints Boris and Gleb, which was built in the 12th century and belonged to the Dominicans in the 17th century, is still standing in the city center. I remember how my friend was telling me a couple weeks ago about a phone call she had with her acquaintance in Chernihiv. He sat with his family in the basement and was calling all of his friends to say goodbye. I hope that he somehow survived.
Russians destroyed the bridge that was used to deliver humanitarian supplies to the city. Now you have to cross the Desna River by boat, which is difficult, dangerous, and very inefficient. The journalists told me a little about what they saw. They also told me about how they try to describe and photograph the war. It’s a difficult subject, especially when one wants to show the truth. When I was listening to them, I had the impression that these are people who really care about telling the true story to the world. I admire their courage and commitment. They told me that when they were returning from Chernihiv, their driver became very angry when he saw some guys fishing on the bank of the Dnieper. “How is it,” he was yelling, “that in Kyiv people are going fishing, and 130 kilometers down the road at the same time, people are dying of bullets, bombs, exposure, and hunger.” You don’t even need 130 kilometers. It suffices to go 20 kilometers to Irpin, Bucha, or Vorzel to see hell. War makes for a bizarre and unjust world of radical contrasts.
I was recently amused by a story of the heavy fighting that’s going on in the basement of our priory. The enemy isn’t the Russians, but mice. They began their occupation of our basement a few days ago, and it seems that they like human company because the basements are serving as living quarters for some of us. Dominic, along with a couple boys, tried different methods to get rid of them. They even managed to buy a mouse trap. But the animals meticulously avoided it. They weren’t even tempted by a delightful Polish kielbasa. They only died when Dominic used salo, a specially prepared bacon that is one of the most traditional delights of Ukrainian cuisine. How can Russia try to win this war if even the mice in Ukraine know that the best stuff is Ukrainian.
I’ve often mentioned older people who need help. Let me mention today our Dominican elderly from Fastiv who offer help. Sister Monica, who is not much younger than our Holy Father Francis, has lived in Ukraine for many years. She used to be a mother superior, which means she was the head of the congregation of the Dominican sisters of the missions. Father Jan is not much younger in his missionary ministry. For many years he worked as pastor of the Chortkiv parish, and his generous heart is still remembered by many there. Both Sister Monica and Father Jan have the same stubbornness, which seems to grow with every passing year. Obviously by this I mean stubbornness in their zeal for the people they serve. For weeks already, the corridors of the sisters’ monastery in Fastiv are filled with boxes of humanitarian supplies. Like every year before Easter, our Dominican elderly get in a car and go to the surrounding villages to visit the sick and elderly parishioners. It is an opportunity for these people to go to confession and receive Holy Communion, but also to simply have a conversation with a sister or a priest. They have known each other, after all, for many years. Until very recently, the driver of the sisters’ Lada was Sister Monica. This year, she is helped by one of the parishioners. It will be much easier that way, since they have big packages of food to deliver. It should also be safer since, knowing our seniors, they would go to the places still occupied by the Russians. It’s good that we have people as beautiful as Sister Monica and Father Jan in our Dominican family.
Let me finish by mentioning Zakarpattia. It’s a region of Ukraine bordering Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Poland. A couple of our older brothers are from there, including the bishop of the diocese of Mukachevo, Father Nicholas. He told me recently that they estimate Zakarpattia has received between two and three hundred thousand refugees. Before the war, the region was inhabited by about one million people. Bishop Nicholas supports us enormously, and not only us. He helps coordinate humanitarian supplies for Fastiv; he also encourages many Ukrainian believers with his wise words and prayers. Nicholas is very grateful for the presence of Father Irenaeus in Mukachevo. When we decided to temporarily leave bombed Kharkiv, Iraneaus ended up in Zakarpattia, along with a few parishioners. He now lives in the monastery of the Dominican sisters from Slovakia and ministers very zealously in the Mukachevo cathedral. He also travels with his priestly ministry to the neighboring villages. When I talked to him today, he had just finished a meeting with the local community of lay Dominicans. I see in this whole story the loving Providence of God.
Last night I received news from Father Wojciech in Lviv: “Janek is just leaving for the battlefield, so please remember him in prayer.” He meant our lay Dominican from Lviv. He was recently drafted. Since he served in the army before, he knows the soldier’s trade. Please, all of you around the world, pray for Janek, his wife, and his little son. May he fight bravely for Ukraine and return home safely!
With warm greetings and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, Saturday, April 2, 5:20 pm