Notes from Ukraine, Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
In the last few days, Kyiv has become unsettled. The noise of blaring sirens has become more frequent, which means increased risk of air raids. I also seem to sense an increase in the sounds of battles fought on the outskirts of the city, all kinds of explosions, and the hiss and whizz of things flying over our heads. Yet the beautiful blue sky over Kyiv today seemed so pure and filled with sunlight. All this noise makes us nervous. People stop, look around, and listen, trying to estimate the distance: is it already here or is it far away from us? By now, we are all used to a certain degree of the threatening symphony of war. This morning, very early, the priory was awakened by loud explosions. Those who slept in the basement said that they could feel the trembling of the foundations of the building. It was the strike of Russian rockets falling on the buildings neighboring the closest subway station. After breakfast I went to see what had happened. It’s just a 10 minute walk from us. I could see with my own eyes how devastating these weapons can be. One rocket hit the roof of a building, but all the windows were broken within a range of a few hundred meters. The subway station had been demolished. People who spent the night there were not affected, however, because the platforms are located deep underground. Even the places that seemed safe, covered by other buildings from the center of the explosion, were damaged. Besides the police and a handful of passersby like me, many journalists from around the world appeared. They were wearing bulletproof vests labeled “Press” and helmets. Real war correspondents. They worked, and I kept looking at these very familiar places. Luckily the attack happened at 5 in the morning, when not many people walk on the streets because of the curfew.
When I called Father Misha, he said that if, God forbid, anything like that happened around the church in Fastiv, nothing would be left since the priory is just a modified worker’s shed. Seeing the destructive power of war with your own eyes teaches humility and encourages everyone to obey the regulations of the authorities that urge us to hide in safe places during the alarms.
The past few days have been a time of volunteering for many of us. We brothers have been joining the people who live with us to search for food and necessary items and to distribute them to those who need them. Mostly the elderly, sick, and mothers with children. I took some of those things this afternoon to the vicinity of the railway station; this is the place where the buses bring people who had been evacuated from destroyed towns on the outskirts of Kyiv. When I was driving Father Alexander to the cathedral, where he was supposed to take a van filled with clothing and drive it to the center of volunteers, I heard him say that the present time is a time of great blessing for us. I agree with him. Through all these days, like many of my brothers and sisters, I never regretted the fact that we find ourselves here and now in Kyiv, Fastiv, and other places in Ukraine. Certainly we are worried, we feel compassion for the suffering, we are angry at the cruelty of the enemy, sometimes we cannot sleep or eat out of anxiety; but we also see that this is a great gift and blessing for us.
Just a moment ago I called Sister Damian, a Dominican from Fastiv, and I asked her: “Do you regret that you are here now?” Without any hesitation, she answered, “Never! From the very beginning, I knew that this is my place and that I have to be here.” Sister Augustine was similar. The war surprised her in Poland, where she is from. She didn’t want to stay there, though. She took the first opportunity to join the humanitarian convoy and returned to Fastiv. Brother Igor, born in Donetsk —I mentioned him before— asked me and the provincial to speed up his assignment to the vicariate of Ukraine. He arrived by train in Fastiv from Krakow with only a small backpack. “I didn’t even take a computer,” he told me two days ago. “But I knew that I would find something in the priory.” I see the boys and girls who live in our priory in Kyiv, and the volunteers and workers of the House of Saint Martin in Fastiv. They know why and for whom they are here. Last night I read a small book written by Father Innocent Maria Bochenski OP, “De Virtute Militari. Sketches on Military Ethics,” written just before the beginning of the Second World War. I was stopped by this sentence: “Love is a skill, which cannot be acquired by mere exercise, but which we receive by God’s grace. As a rule, God acts in a way that he increases our love together with our actions: whoever acts out of love can be certain that God will increase his love.” This is really happening. If you have in yourself even a little bit of love and act according to this love, you can be certain that God will multiply it. I hope that many readers of my letters who are so dedicated to helping sisters and brothers in Ukraine can also experience it.
I am moved by the generosity of Brothers Jonathan and Patrick, Dominicans from the Province of Saint Joseph in the USA, who arrived in Poland and have been helping refugees for the past couple days at the Polish-Ukrainian border as part of the humanitarian mission of the Knights of Columbus. So far I haven’t been able to meet them, and I don’t know if it will be possible in the foreseeable future, but the brothers in Lviv told me that the American Dominicans plan to visit them. They promised to deliver lots of rosaries. Father Thomas told me that some people in Lviv who have received into their homes their compatriots running from war not only give them food and shelter, but also teach them prayers. So the rosaries will come in handy. At the checkpoints on the streets of Kyiv, when I’m asked by the military or the police if I carry any weapons, I keep telling them with a smile that I don’t, but I could have answered that my weapon is the rosary I carry in my hand most of the time. I’m not saying that aloud to avoid making our brave boys nervous, since their post is not a game. Today when I was driving to go shopping, at the first checkpoint in the morning, I was surprised because the man with a gun did not ask me the usual, “Your documents, please” but instead asked, “How are things?” It was so nice and so normal.
The curfew has just begun. This time it will last longer and will end on Thursday morning. This also means that, both in Kyiv and in Fastiv, we will spend tomorrow within the walls of our priories. We might catch up a little with our correspondences. I hope no rockets or bombs will ruin our day.
With warm greetings and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP — Kyiv, March 15, 2022, 8:50pm