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.
Tuesday, March 15
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
Saturday, March 19
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
After almost an hour of driving from Kyiv, Father Thomas and I have reached Fastiv. I always visit this city and the brothers and sisters working there with great pleasure. Just before I left this morning, I met a woman who had managed to evacuate a few days earlier from one of the cities outside of Kyiv that had been destroyed by the Russians. She and her husband, together with an elderly mother, decided to stay in Kyiv, despite their friends in Poland urging them to leave. They don’t want to run anymore. They love this city and Ukraine. I understand them. Now they need some support because while they were saving their lives, they couldn’t take anything for the road. Just like many, many refugees from all the destroyed cities and villages of Ukraine. On the way to Fastiv, Father Thomas and I celebrated Mass for the sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, those of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The sisters in Kyiv feed the poor and provide shelter for almost a hundred homeless. During the time of war, they live in the basement of the priory. In a tiny corner of the basement, they arranged the chapel. During the night, one of the sisters sleeps there. She explained to me with a smile that she is rather short, so she fits well. The superior of the community is from Poland; other sisters are from India and Lithuania. Amazing women.
Someone asked me recently what’s going on with our candidate to the Order. It’s true — while writing a lot about Kyiv and Fastiv, I haven’t mentioned Nikita from Kharkiv. When the situation in the city was progressively becoming more tragic — their neighborhood was bombed, and every night meant the necessity to stay in the subway station — Nikita and his parents left Kharkiv. Using not the shortest, but definitely the safest way, they managed to reach Khmelnytskyi, a city in western Ukraine located over 800 km from Kharkiv. It is much safer there, although like in most territories of Ukraine, one can hear the blaring of sirens and daily air raid alarms. Unlike Kharkiv, Kyiv, or Fastiv, this city has not been bombed nor fired on by artillery.
Kirill, another boy from Kharkiv connected to the Dominicans, also found himself in Khmelnytskyi. Yesterday was the liturgical feast day of Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, which is his name day. When I called him, he was in good spirits and with gratitude mentioned how much he values the opportunity to live in our priory with brothers Jakub and Wlodzimierz. Daily Eucharist and prayer, as well as a wartime community with the Dominicans, are very important to him. I thought about him when I was reading the catechesis of Saint Cyril in the breviary: “Do not dress yourself in gleaming white garments but rather in the devotion of a clean conscience.” During our conversation, he was laughing at me a little because in one of the first letters, I praised his courage of staying in our priory in Kharkiv, which was destroyed by the Russians. “Father, you wrote those things, and the next day I left the city.” He did very well. Courage and heroism are not about letting oneself be killed by Russian bombs. Courage means that one makes the right decision at the right time.
Stay or leave? It is now a serious dilemma for many people in the war-destroyed territories. Some save their lives by running to secure locations. Others stay and want to protect their home here. I understand both.
The university in Kharkiv, where Kirill is a student, resumed its activities, and the classes are online. I heard about it from Anton, who moved to our priory in Kyiv at the beginning of the war. He teaches at one of the Kyiv universities. He admitted that not all students participate in classes, but at least a few of them manage to connect with the professor. Our two Brothers Peters, both from Kyiv, also teach, continuing their classes for eastern rite seminarians. These seminarians dispersed for security reasons to many places, but the seminary still continues remotely. However, the classes are shorter, since many of them are involved in volunteering. Our Dominican Institute of Saint Thomas operates in a similar way.
It is already the third week of war, and after the first days of huge shock, stress, and panic, we are starting to settle into the new reality. Everyone is coming back to work as much as they can: some of them online, and some of them are coming back to work in person, as the authorities encourage those who are lucky enough to still have places of work that were not destroyed. It is not a simple matter. Many people left, so the companies are missing employees to the point of sometimes not being able to function. Kyiv is a big metropolitan city. If someone lives far away and doesn’t have his own transportation, it is very hard to go to work. Because of that, despite the winter temperatures, one can see many people on the streets traveling on bicycles, scooters, etc. Yesterday I was admiring a young boy riding a scooter while carrying a musical instrument in a huge case. He was moving pretty fast, skillfully avoiding holes in the road.
I, too, am getting more and more accustomed to the situation of war. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. I don’t think there is any other way because, despite the alarms and explosions, one has to live somehow. Of course, all of this could instantly be interrupted and smashed into pieces by an outburst of fighting or a stray rocket exploding in the neighborhood. In the last three days, I’ve seen a number of places demolished by the morning “winged guests” coming from the east. They usually arrive at dawn, between 5 and 6 in the morning. Practically every day I wake up to an explosion, sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. There are moments when I feel like I’m in a movie, but unfortunately all of this is very real and very close.
I recently received a very moving witness from Belarus, shared with me by someone in Poland. We know very well how difficult their situation is. Belarus got involved in this war, and although the Belarussian army doesn’t take an active part in the attack on Ukraine, the death-carrying rockets and airplanes take off from the territory of their country. Here are fragments of what this person confessed: “There are not enough words to express the pain and helplessness that we feel because of the war in Ukraine. This pain is so much the greater since our country was dragged into this war. We are endlessly worried about what is happening to you, and we pray that peace finally comes back. If this eastern monster doesn’t fall, it could be that Belarus will suffer even more and, as a result, lose its self-awareness. The fight that the Ukrainians fight gives us hope that good will prevail over evil. We are admiring the heroism and brotherly unanimity of your nation, and we believe that God will reward you for it. One would like to cry out: ‘My God, how long; how many people must die!’ But God’s ways are inscrutable. We are wishing your whole nation even more strength of spirit, and we pray day and night for the victory of Ukraine (some of us with the Rosary of Pompeii). I hope that one day I will be able to travel to a free Ukraine from a free Belarus.” After the voice from Russia that I recently quoted, this is another testimony of a person of faith who suffers because of war. I am very grateful for these words. I trust that we will never lack righteous people in Belarus and Russia.
With warm greetings and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Fastiv, March 19, 2022, 5:30 pm
Tuesday, March 22
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
Yesterday I went for a long walk through Kyiv. It’s good for my health, and my temptation to shorten the distance using a bus or a subway, which I often give into, disappeared on its own. Public transportation practically doesn’t exist. At the door of our priory, there is a stop for buses and trolleybuses. Its electronic timetable transmits the charming line: “We apologize for the temporal inconvenience.” Temporal inconvenience… how much one would like to think of war that way. As for apologies — I think apologies should rather come from the Russian army and those who started this whole hell!
First, I went to Podil, an old neighborhood on the western bank of the Dnieper. In the Middle Ages, it was the location of a Dominican priory, which by now is completely gone; and later — after the fall of Communism — it became the location of our current priory, “Kairos” Publishing House, and the Institute of Saint Thomas. At the so-called Zhitnii Rynok (“Rye Market”), which is a market hall inactive during the war whose interior still maintains its typical Soviet-era style, I found an open and fantastically supplied shop with Italian food. I hope it will be useful someday. I stopped at the former Kyiv river port building to look at the Dnieper River. This is the place where, according to legend, Saint Hyacinth crossed the river dry-shod as he escaped from the city. He held in his hands the Blessed Sacrament and the figure of Our Lady.
In the square in front of the building, there are statues of children at play. They’re particularly moving these days. I was looking at them as I walked the streets of the city. There are clearly fewer children on the streets since many, maybe most of them, left with their parents. One can only see them every now and then. I passed a teenage girl who was walking with her dad, holding his hand. It seems to me that the children who are just entering adulthood and already understand what is happening are deeply wounded by war. Maybe even more than infants who don’t understand what’s happening. War steals the beautiful years of youth in the most brutal way. Very clearly, the grip of her father’s hand was what this young girl needed. She is lucky, I thought, that her dad is so close to her. Another girl was riding a scooter on the wide base of a monument of Gregory Skovoroda, an important Ukrainian thinker. His words were quoted by John Paul II in Kyiv in 2001: “Everything passes away, but love remains after all else is gone. Everything passes away save God and love.”
As I continued walking, I watched parents, usually mothers. They were clearly sad, somewhat absent-minded as if their thoughts and hearts were somewhere else. And it’s probably true. Maybe in their thoughts they were with their husbands defending Ukraine. Or maybe they were struggling with thoughts about the future, with fears and anxieties. I was touched by one poor lady who was pushing a cart filled with two bottles of water and other random things. She was walking while holding the hand of a couple year-old boy. In moments like this, one wants to help but feels helpless at the same time. I was following them with my eyes as they passed, which caught the attention of a soldier standing across the street. Politely but decisively, he asked me to approach him, checked my documents, and then suggested that I continue on a different street. I climbed, almost out of breath, from Podil to Vladimiro Kalva. It’s a beautiful park owing its name to the monument of Saint Volodymyr, the ruler who introduced Christianity to Kievan Rus. The king is depicted on a high pedestal, holding the cross in his hand and looking into the distance across the western bank of the river. Somewhere over there, the battle was being fought for the city. One could hear it occasionally from the center of Kyiv yesterday. Here in the park, a young couple was jogging; some elderly people were walking peacefully. I wanted to enjoy the view of the river from the newly built Glass Bridge. However, entrance wasn’t allowed.
One soldier asked me for a cigarette. Unfortunately, I don’t smoke. Before the war, meeting uniformed men in Ukraine wasn’t always very pleasant, especially when you were stopped by the highway police. Now, like everyone else, I look at these men with admiration. They truly defend us. People frequently offer them things to eat and drink. Many of them politely decline for security reasons, especially the soldiers. Father Thomas told me that he gave a box of chocolates to the soldier at one of the checkpoints who had been checking his papers and car. Simply, just like that. He saw tears in the boy’s eyes. This gesture must have somehow touched his heart. Unfortunately, I didn’t have cigarettes yesterday. I would have bought them and taken them to the young man with the gun, but all the stores around were closed. Maybe I should keep a pack of cigarettes with me, in case someone asks for a smoke again.
I decided to walk around Saint Sophia’s Cathedral. It’s the most important church in Kyiv. It is a museum now, but its spiritual heritage is the point of reference for all of the Byzantine Churches. A few days ago, Father Peter, our prior in Kyiv, was invited to participate in an ecumenical prayer for peace, celebrated within the walls of this church. The presence of a friar wearing a white habit and black cappa has been a symbolic expression of the presence of Dominicans in the capital of Ukraine since the times of Saint Hyacinth. Dominicans are at home in Kyiv, and the first bishops who served from the banks of the Dnieper were members of our Order.
Yesterday, when I looked at the gold domes and bell tower of Sophia’s Cathedral, I was thinking that such majestic and beautiful churches are just as helpless against the Russian rockets and bombs as we inhabitants of wartime Kyiv. Not far away, above the side gate that I often used to enter the cathedral, I looked at a golden statue of Saint Michael the Archangel, with shield and sword in his hands. He was glimmering in the last rays of the sunset. Maybe we are not completely helpless, I thought. The commander of the angelic hosts is the patron saint of Kyiv and also the patron saint of our Dominican vicariate of Ukraine.
Last night, I received a beautiful letter from Father Timothy Radcliffe, our former Master of the Order. A few days earlier, Father Timothy had sent me an email expressing solidarity and assuring us of his prayer. He wrote that he was very sorry that he couldn’t be with us now in Ukraine. He asked me if he could do anything for us. I responded a bit audaciously that he could, and I asked him to write a letter to the Dominican family in Ukraine. When Timothy was Master of the Order, some of our brothers who now work in Ukraine had still been students in formation in Krakow. His letters had always been full of God’s light and hope. We need both of those things very much now. Father Timothy made a great contribution toward rebuilding the mission of the Order of Preachers in the countries of the former USSR. His letter arrived the next day. Timothy is right; in time of war, every moment is important. The whole letter is available in Polish and in English on this website: https://info.dominikanie.pl/2022/03/list-do-rodziny-dominikanskiej-wukrainie/
Since we are building good together, and many of you who read my letters continually support us and suffering Ukraine so generously and in so many ways, I would like to end with this quote from the letter: “Sometimes one may wonder what good is being achieved. How can these small deeds matter in the face of the massive destructive power of missiles, tanks and aircraft? But the Lord of the harvest will ensure that not one good deed is wasted. As all the fragments were gathered from the feeding of the five thousand, so no act of kindness will be wasted. He will bring forth fruit that we can never imagine.”
With warm greetings and request for prayer,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 22, 2022, 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.