Catholic Outlook has been fortunate to receive messages from Fr Jarosław Krawiec OP, the Provincial Vicar of the Dominican Order in Ukraine, which he has written to Dominicans throughout the world. In these letters, Fr Jarosław shares information of day-to-day life in Kyiv and provides updates on Dominican activities of charity and assistance across Ukraine. Over the next few days, we will be sharing Fr Jarosław’s letters written between March 15 and April 5. They have been translated from Polish by Jacek Buda OP.
Related: Dominican letters from Ukraine
Saturday, March 26
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
Like many of the faithful around the world, we spent yesterday focused on Mary, Mother of God. In the evening, together with a few fathers and most of the people who now live in our priory, we went to the Kyiv Cathedral of Saint Alexander where, in spiritual unity with Pope Francis, we prayed the Act of Consecration of Ukraine and Russia to the Most Sacred Heart of Mary. The Mass was presided by Bishop Vitalij, the ordinary of the Kyiv-Zhytomyr diocese. The homily was preached by the apostolic nuncio. Archbishop Visvaldas is Lithuanian, and he was nominated quite recently as ambassador of the Holy See to Ukraine and ordained a bishop. He is one of very few diplomats who have not left the capital of Ukraine. Let me add that he is one or two centimetres taller than me, and whoever knows me is aware that I am not short. When he entered the sacristy before the Mass, we exchanged warm greetings, and we joked about his new beard. “Well,” the nuncio responded, “it’s war.” He is not the first bearded Vatican diplomat in Ukraine. His predecessor, an Italian man, also had a beard, making some of our Ukrainian bishops cringe since they don’t like priests with beards. The priests from Kamyanets-Podilskyi or Khmelnytskyi know very well that when they are about to meet their bishop, the first thing they have to do is shave. But the title of nuncio has its perks.
Normally, the Kyiv cathedral is full-on solemnities. Yesterday, there were no more than fifty of us. It’s still not bad for wartime. Many of the faithful have left the city, and those who stayed often have no way of getting to the city centre. The public transportation system isn’t working, and everyone must go home before 8pm, when the curfew begins. There are no traffic jams on the streets, but the necessity of stopping at multiple checkpoints, showing documents, opening the trunk, and explaining who you are and what you’re doing, takes time. Besides, many people are simply afraid of staying away from their houses for too long because multiple times a day, explosions and gunshots reawaken our fears and remind us of war.
Among the people praying, one could see many men and women in uniforms. Some heavily built men stood discreetly in the back of the church with assault rifles. Nobody was surprised by that, and nobody objected. After the Mass, Bishop Vitalij was approached by two men dressed in military uniforms who asked him for a blessing. The bishop prayed for an extended time over each one of them. He seemed to be clearly moved, just like I was.
During the offertory, the woman at the organ played and sang in Ukrainian a very well-known chant, “Canticle of Hope,” by Father David Kusz, OP. The words of the refrain, “In his great mercy God gave us birth to a living hope, a great living hope,” profoundly pierced our hearts, clearly revealing God’s dimension of the events around us. David visited us in Kyiv a couple of months ago, and he gave a workshop on liturgical chant. The next workshop was supposed to happen at the end of February, but the war ruined that plan. There was another chant that moved me deeply. When we were reciting the act of consecration following our bishops, while kneeling before the figure of Our Lady of Fatima located in the side chapel, the whole cathedral was filled with: “Boże wełykyj jedynyj, nam Ukrajinu chrany” (“O God, one and great, protect our Ukraine”). This song is considered the spiritual anthem of Ukraine. On the way back to the priory, Anton explained to us that the song was composed in 1885 by Mykola Lysenko; after modern Ukraine regained its independence, it was a candidate for the national anthem. Although it wasn’t chosen in the end, the song is well-known and frequently sung by Christians of both eastern and western traditions. Years ago when I was working with Father Thomas, who currently lives in Lviv, we both served in Chortkiv in Podole; we were enchanted by a beautiful performance of this song by a few elderly people from Shypivtsi who would sing at our daily Masses in a small chapel at the old Polish cemetery. If you would like to hear a modern version of this spiritual anthem inside Kyiv’s Sophia Cathedral, here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ICZ_LCkKDY
It would be good to use the opportunity of this Act of Consecration to add that, for Orthodox Christians, the worship of the Heart of Jesus and the Heart of Mary is rather confusing and deeply surprises some of them. Even those who became Roman Catholics but grew up in the Orthodox tradition can’t always grasp its spiritual meaning.
Yesterday, Brother Igor passed the exam, Ex Universa, which was the last stage of his theological studies at the Dominican College in Krakow. Igor took it online from Fastiv. It must be the first exam in the modern history of our college to be taken by a brother in a country at war. The last time I saw him, we were joking that when the faculty committee hears the sirens and explosions outside his window, it would soften their demeanour. But the sirens did not blare, and even if they did, there was no need to treat Igor in a forgiving manner because he’s a great student; despite the confusion of war, he was well-prepared. After all, he’s a Dominican. I hope that we’ll be able to plan his priestly ordination for the beginning of May.
As relatively quiet as the last few days were, today the sirens have been blaring since the early morning. Even Father Misha called me before noon, worried because he heard that something bad is happening in Kyiv. I hope that the coming hours will not surprise us with some terror. Yesterday the stores and streets of the city were filled with people. The stores are much better supplied, and one can see much fewer empty shelves. I am worried, however, that even if the merchandise doesn’t run out, people won’t be able to get the money to buy anything. The majority of us have lost our sources of income. The humanitarian help arriving in Ukraine is truly life-saving. Although it doesn’t solve all the problems, it offers enormous support for many, especially the weakest ones. Dear friends, we will remain grateful to you forever!
Mr Jacob, a Polish journalist who stays with us sometimes, told me this morning at breakfast that he just came back from Kharkiv and that some regions of that large city look like Warsaw did after the uprising; they’re completely ruined. It’s hard to find an open store, even in the neighbourhoods that didn’t suffer from Russian bombs. If not for the humanitarian help, many people wouldn’t have anything to eat by now. Jacob also showed us a very symbolic picture: some bombs had fallen on the cemetery outside of Kharkiv where the victims of the Katyn Forest Massacre were buried in 1940. One of the bombs didn’t explode but got stuck in the ground next to the cross at the tomb of the Polish officers murdered by NKVD. Very thought-provoking.
Today our accountant stopped by. At the beginning of the war, she took her children and moved to a village in the neighbouring region. I was very happy to first see her little red car parked outside my window, and then see Svieta herself. When she was leaving, she took two boxes of infant formula. The boxes arrived some time ago with humanitarian aid. However, we haven’t had infants in Kyiv recently, and we had no idea to whom we could offer these treasures. Svieta took them with gratitude, since she is an active volunteer and helps a lot of people in her neighbourhood. “We have many mothers with children, sometimes newborns,” she said. I was happy that the gifts offered from the bottom of someone’s heart will soon reach people in need. She also took a few items that the Polish ambassador recently left, among them an electric kettle. These days, many old village huts that had been empty for years are finding new inhabitants. Polish tea kettles are becoming very useful on Ukrainian Taras Shevchenko soil.
With warm greetings and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 26, 2022, 5:30 pm
Wednesday, March 30
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
It’s been a bit longer than usual since my last letter. Looking at what’s going on around us, it seems like we’re witnessing a transition from a certain kind of romanticism of the first days of war to the realism and pragmatism of the second month. What do I mean? First of all, we’re getting used to living in different conditions. I see it clearly in Kyiv. On Monday, the curfew was shortened. Now it lasts from 9pm to 6am. The number of open stores and services is also slowly increasing. Our neighborhood barber shop doesn’t even have a line in front of it, which used to be the norm. The shop’s owner put up a sign saying that the military, police, and territorial defence are served free of charge. Father Alexander told me he recently saw a similar sign at the dentist’s office.
There’s a fitness club across the street from the priory. I’ve never been there. But you could see inside through the large glass windows. The windows are covered with paper right now, so you can’t see in, but the door has a sign that says anyone can come to work out there three times per week. I suspect there will be customers. After all, not all bodybuilders are satisfied with just putting sand into bags and laying them around monuments, which is one of the ways of protecting the art from damage.
Speaking of monuments, we had a poetry reading on Sunday with Oleksandr Irvanets in the library of the Saint Thomas Institute in Kyiv. Oleksandr is a Ukrainian poet, writer, playwright, and translator. A few days earlier, I had met his wife Oksana who is also an artist, and I invited them to our Sunday dinner. Oksana and Oleksandr used to live in Irpin, a city that’s been destroyed by the Russian army and then was under occupation for a couple weeks. Just yesterday the Ukrainian army managed to take it back from the enemy. Our guests, along with Oksana’s 90-year-old mother and her cat, were evacuated by volunteers after a couple weeks of living under Russian control. The city had no electricity, gas, or water. Oleksandr didn’t stop writing poems, though. When they had to escape, they could take almost nothing for the road. He told me, “As I was leaving home, I only grabbed one volume of my poetry.” It was very moving to listen to war poetry read by its author in our priory. One of the poems, in a somewhat comical way, described how even the monuments are fighting for Ukraine these days. Alexander explained to us: “In the center of Bucha [the city neighbouring Irpin], there was an armoured vehicle on a large cement base. It was a monument commemorating Ukrainian soldiers who died in Afghanistan during the time of the Soviet Union. When Russians attacked Bucha, they saw the monument from a distance and started shooting. They used up all their ammunition, and that’s when our army came and destroyed them.” Another poem was a reflection on forgiveness.
“From the city shattered by rockets,
Today I call out to the whole world:
This year on the Sunday of Reconciliation,
Not all might I be able to forgive!”
When Oleksandr finished reading his poem he was silent for a moment, then added, “I know one must forgive, but that’s what I wrote in the poem.” Big questions about forgiveness, about guilt, about common responsibility of the nations of Russia and Belarus from which destructive rockets fly daily to Ukraine, certainly will remain with us for years to come, and they will urge us toward a difficult search for answers.
For me, the cross of Jesus Christ is the answer. “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Col 1:19-20) Yesterday I was in Fastiv, and Father Misha asked me for a favour: “Could you go to the Carmelites and bring the relics of the Holy Cross, which they promised us?” How could I say no? From Fastiv, I took the relics of Blessed Mother Roza Czacka, which Father Misha and I had previously brought from Warsaw and which are now with the Carmelites in Kyiv. This was my little “crusade” to Svyatoshyn, a Kyiv neighbourhood where the Carmelite priory and parish are located. The western suburbs of the city are exceptionally loud, since the battle is being fought only a couple kilometres away. The Carmelites seem used to it, though. I felt like I was at a shooting range. Fortunately, nothing has exploded very close to the priory so far. Father Mark opened the reliquary in my presence and removed a little sliver of the Holy Cross for the church in Fastiv. The Fastiv church is named The Triumph of the Holy Cross, and Father Misha has been dreaming for a long time of having the relics in it. They will arrive soon, in the midst of horrible war, during the Year of the Holy Cross that we are now celebrating in Ukraine. How amazing are your ways, oh God!
In Fastiv yesterday, I witnessed the departure of another bus for the Polish border. Every time, it means sadness because of separation from loved ones, familiar soil, familiar houses, favourite places, animals, and things; but at the same it’s a sign of hope and liberation. Every one of these departures also means the hard work of many people in Poland and in Ukraine. It also means a lot of money that someone donated to rescue the lives of innocent children, women, and elderly. Finally, it means the delivery of food, medicine, and all those necessary things that arrive from Poland. Thank you!
The phenomenon of getting used to life in war doesn’t mean that it’s getting safer or quieter. Last night was exceptionally loud. The explosions and shooting were heard without any pause. “Our boys” from the Kyiv anti-aircraft defense work tirelessly day and night. They bring to my mind an image of the sword and shield carried by the Archangel Michael, whose depiction is standing in the city center at Maidan Independence Square, on Sophia’s gate, and in our priory’s chapel. At breakfast, I heard a story about this especially loud night from Pietro, a journalist for an Italian newspaper who’s staying in our priory for a few days. By the way, I have great respect for this Italian man who never once complained about Ukrainian cuisine, even though this is his first time here.
The transition from the romanticism of the first days of war to this pragmatism of the second month means also people returning to the homes and apartments they had abandoned. Every day I walk late at night in our priory courtyard with a rosary in my hand. I don’t always manage to say the rosary completely because overwhelming thoughts interfere with meditation on the mysteries. I look at the apartment buildings surrounding our priory. One of them is more than 20 stories high. The number of lights in the windows is growing. People are coming back, although it hasn’t gotten safer or quieter. Those who still have a place to come back to are fortunate. This war has taken away the homes of hundreds of thousands of people. Mariupol, Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Irpin, Hostomel… the long litany of ruin and human tragedy.
I am convinced that the majority of refugees from Ukraine, even those who were deprived of shelter by bombs, don’t feel homeless — they have their own country and their own hope that their country will be free and will be raised from the ruins. Let me end with the words of the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski who was born in Lviv and had to escape with his parents in 1945: “To be homeless, therefore, does not mean that one lives under a bridge or on the platform of a less frequented Metro station (as for instance, nomen omen, the station Europe on the line Pont de LevalloisGallieni); it means only that the person having this defect cannot indicate the streets, cities, or community that might be his home, his, as one is wont to say, miniature homeland.” (Two Cities, tr. L. Vallee)
I guess my letter came out a little poetic today…
With warm greetings from Kyiv and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 30, 7 pm
If you wish to provide monetary support to the Dominicans in Ukraine, this document has information on where to send money, otherwise, you can support Caritas Australia’s Emergency Ukraine Appeal by visiting caritas.org.au/ukraine.