News from Ukraine. Saturday, March 19. Jarosław Krawiec OP

Dear Sisters, Dear Brothers,
after more than an hour’s drive from Kiev I arrived in Fastovo with Fr Tomasz. It is always a pleasure to visit this place and the brothers and sisters who serve there. Before leaving in the morning I met with a person who a few days ago managed to evacuate with her family from one of the towns near Kiev that had been destroyed by the Russians. This lady, together with her husband and elderly mother, decided to stay in Kiev, although friends from Poland strongly encouraged them to leave. They don’t want to run away any more. They love this city and Ukraine. I understand them. They need a bit of support now, because they didn’t take anything with them when they saved their lives. Like so many refugees from the ruined towns and villages of Ukraine. On the way to Fastovo, Tomek and I went to celebrate Mass with the Missionaries of Charity, those of St. Theresa of Calcutta. The sisters in Kiev feed the poor and give shelter to several dozen homeless people. During the war they lived in the basement of the monastery. They have arranged a chapel in a small room. One of the sisters also sleeps there at night. With a smile, she explained to me that she is short, so she fits in somehow. The superior of the convent is Polish, the other nuns come from India and Lithuania. Unusual women.

Someone asked me recently what is going on with our candidate for the Order? Indeed, writing a lot about Kiev and Fastov, I did not mention Nikita from Kharkiv for a long time. When the situation in the city became more and more tragic, their housing estate was bombed and every night meant having to sleep in the metro station, Nikita and his parents left Kharkiv. By a circuitous but safe route they managed to reach Khmelnytskyi, a city in the western part of Ukraine more than 800 km from Kharkiv. It is safer there, although – as on most of the Ukrainian territory – the howling of sirens and daily anti-aircraft alerts can also be heard. Unlike Kharkiv, Kiev or Fastov, however, this city has not been bombed or shelled. 

Kyryl, the other of the Kharkiv boys associated with the Dominicans, also reached Khmelnitsky. Yesterday, the liturgical memorial of St Cyril of Jerusalem, was his name day. When I called him he was in good spirits and said with gratitude that he very much appreciated the opportunity to live in our monastery together with brothers Jacob and Vladimir. The daily Eucharist and prayer, as well as the wartime fellowship with the Dominicans, are important to him. Reading in the breviary a passage from St Cyril’s catechesis, I thought of him precisely: « do not adorn yourselves with shining robes, but rather with the piety of a soul with a clear conscience ». We laughed a little during our conversation, because in one of my first letters I mentioned his courage to remain in our religious house in Kharkov, which was being destroyed by the Russians. « Father wrote that about me, and I left the city the next day. He did well. Courage and heroism are not about getting killed by Russian bombs. Rather, courage is to make the right decision at the right time.

To stay or to leave? This is now a serious dilemma for many inhabitants of war-torn territories. Some save their lives by fleeing to safer places. Others, by staying, want to save what is their life where they are. I understand both.

Kharkiv University, where Kyrylov is a student, has reopened, and classes are conducted online. Anton, who lived in our Kiev monastery at the beginning of the war, also told me about this. He is a lecturer at one of the Kyiv universities. He admitted that not all students are present at the lectures, but always at least a few manage to connect with the lecturer. Our two Peter brothers from Kiev also teach, continuing classes for Greek Catholic seminarians. The seminarians have scattered to different locations for security reasons, but the remote seminary operates, although classes are somewhat shortened, as many are involved in helping the needy. The Dominican-run St Thomas Institute also operates on a similar basis.

The war has been going on for over three weeks now, and after the first few days of gigantic shock, stress and panic, we are all beginning to adjust to the new reality. Those who can are returning to work – some online, and those who are lucky enough not to have their jobs destroyed are being encouraged by the authorities to return to their activities. This is not easy, of course. A great many people have left, so there is a shortage of workers, which sometimes prevents companies from operating. Supplies are also a major problem, as well as such a seemingly simple thing as getting to work. Kiev is a big metropolis. If you live far away and do not have your own means of transport, it is difficult for you to get to work. Therefore, despite the still cold winter temperatures, you can see a lot of people riding bicycles, scooters and scooters on the streets. Yesterday, I admired a young boy riding a one-wheeled scooter with a large musical instrument in its case. He was riding quite fast, deftly avoiding the potholed road surface.

I am getting more and more used to this war situation. I do not know whether it is good or bad. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I guess it’s impossible, because alarms are alarms, explosions are explosions, but we have to live somehow. Of course, this is the kind of state that can quickly be shattered into pieces by an escalation of hostilities or a stray rocket that hits somewhere nearby. In the last three days I’ve already seen several such sites in the area destroyed by morning « winged visitors » from the east. They usually arrive in the morning, between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. Practically every day I wake up hearing an explosion, sometimes further away, sometimes closer. Sometimes I feel as if I were on the set of a film, but unfortunately, this is very real and very close.

Someone in Poland recently gave me a moving testimony from Belarus. We well know what the situation is like there. Belarus has been embroiled in a war, and although, for the time being, the Belarusian army is not taking an active part in the attack on Ukraine, deadly rockets are flying and aircraft are taking off from Belarus. Here are the recorded excerpts of what this person confessed: « It is impossible to express in words all the pain and helplessness we feel because of the war in Ukraine. This pain is all the greater because our country has been dragged into this war. We worry endlessly about what is happening to you and pray that peace will finally come. If this Eastern monster does not fall, perhaps even worse times await Belarus, resulting in a final loss of self-awareness. The struggle of the Ukrainians gives us hope that good will conquer evil. We admire the heroism and fraternal unanimity of your people, and we believe that God will reward them for it. One wants to shout: Lord God, why so long, how many more people have to die! But the works of God are incomprehensible. We wish your people even more strength of spirit, we pray day and night for the victory of Ukraine (some including the Pompeian Rosary). I hope that one day I will be able to come to a free Ukraine from a free Belarus’. This is another, after the testimony from Russia that I cited recently, the voice of a person of faith who is suffering because of the war. Thank you for these words. I trust that there will be no shortage of just people in Belarus and Russia.

With sincere greetings and a request for prayer,

Jaroslaw Krawiec, Fastiv, March 19, 17:30

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