Give to help the Ukrainian People
Support our Dominican brothers in Ukraine and Poland
Video from Fr. Lukasz Misko
Filmed on March 3, 2022 in Western Poland
Be sure to turn on Closed Captions to read the English Translation
“Let us ask the Lord to grant that Jesus taught us that the diabolical senselessness of violence is answered with God’s weapons, with prayer and fasting. May the Queen of Peace preserve the world from the madness of war.” - General Audience, February 23rd 2022
All Dominican brothers stay in Kyiv, also we took some people in our priory for the night. Ukrainian Army is defending cities, and especially Kyiv, and also some civil people received the weapons to defend the streets. A general mobilization has been announced throughout the country. We expect Western countries to strengthen sanctions against Russia, which would significantly help us in our defense. And we continuously pray with hope.
Adapted from the Great Book of Needs
O Lord God of powers, and God of our salvation, O God, who alone work wonders: look down with mercy and compassion on Your humble servants, and out of love for mankind hearken and have mercy on us and on the land of Ukraine.
For, behold, enemies have once more gathered together, in order to cause division and enmity. But You who know all things, understand that they have risen up unrighteously, and that it will be impossible to oppose their multitudes unless You show us Your help.
Therefore, we who are sinful and unworthy pray unto You in repentance and with tears: Help us, O God, our Savior, and deliver the land of Ukraine for the sake of the glory of Your Name, that the enemy may not to say: “Their God has forsaken them, and there is none to deliver and save them.” But let every nation understand that You are our God, and we Your people are always protected under Your dominion.
Reveal Your mercy, O Lord, and let the words spoken by Moses unto the people of Israel (Exodus 14:13-14) be applied to us: “Fear not. Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord. For the Lord shall fight for us.” Work for us a sign for good, that they who are filled with hatred may see our orthodox faith and be humbled and shaken.
Yes, O Lord God, our Savior, our Strength and Hope and Help, remember not the transgressions and unrighteousness of Your faithful people, and turn not away from us in Your anger. But visit Your mercies and compassions upon Your humble servants, those who fight in defense of Ukraine and her much-suffering people, outnumbered though they be, and hear us who fall down before Your deep compassion. With Your mercy enlighten and make glad the hearts of the civil authorities, and strengthen them by Your might.
Rise up to their help and lay low the evil councils purposed against them by the enemy. Judge them that provoke and make war, and turn their impious boldness into fear and flight. But grant unto the just and God-fearing armies of the children of Ukraine, great boldness and courage to advance and overtake them, and to defeat them in Your Name. And unto them that You have judged to lay down their lives for faith and country, forgive them their trespasses, and in the day of the righteous reckoning grant unto them incorruptible crowns.
For You are the health and victory and salvation of them that put their hope in You, and unto You do we send up glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Ukraine is a land of martyrs and saints. As the world turns to war and destruction, we call on these holy men and women to stand with the Prince of Peace and pray for us.
Blessed Vasil Velischkovsky and the other 27 ‘new martyrs of Ukraine,’ pray for us.
St. Volodymyr, pray for us.
St. Olga, pray for us.
St. Anthony of the Caves, pray for us.
St. Josaphat, pray for us.
Sts. Cyril and Methodius, pray for us.
Our Lady, venerated as Mother of God at Zarvanytsia, the “Place of Disruption,” pray for us.
Rise up, O Lord! Do not let mortals prevail;
let the nations be judged before you.
Put them in fear, O Lord;
let the nations know that they are only human. (Psalm 9:19-20)
We fly to Your patronage, O Virgin Mother of God. Despise not our prayers in our needs, but deliver us from all dangers, since you alone are pure and blessed.
O most glorious Ever-Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ our God, accept our prayers and present them to Your Son and our God, that for the sake of You, He enlighten and save our souls. Amen.
Messages from Fr. Jaroslaw Krawiec, OP, in Kyiv
We have been receiving updates about the situation on the ground directly from Fr. Jaroslaw Krawiec, OP, in Kyiv, Ukraine. You can read them as they arrive below:
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
I just came back from shopping - I managed to find a market still open in my neighborhood, despite the fact that almost everything in Kyiv is closed. Now I can sit down and try to describe what’s happening around us.
The night was supposed to be difficult and dangerous in the capital of Ukraine. Luckily, the warnings about the possible mass-bombardments did not actualize, although in some regions of the town there were sporadic fights both with the use of heavy equipment as well as street shootouts. A lot of fighting happened in the vicinity of Kyiv, among others in the region of Vasylkiv, which is in the direction of Fastiv. When we were finishing our morning prayer, we got information that the city was already “clear” and that the enemy was pushed out. We can hear now, while I’m sitting at the computer, occasional distant explosions.
This morning and the whole day is very sunny, inviting people to get out of home, although walks are not advisable because of the possibility of finding yourself under fire. If however something important needs to be done, one must act. Brothers Oleksandr and Thomas left in the morning to donate their blood. If we can manage to get to the city center and the cathedral we will collect the medical kits which the curia gives away to priests. Unfortunately, although we have a doctor among the people who stay with us, we don’t have too many medical supplies if they become needed.
One can still see people on the streets of Kyiv. Many of them carry weapons - they check documents, especially from men, and they also check cars. On the way to the store, I passed one of those checkpoints. There are women among the defenders of Kyiv - at my checkpoint, I saw one beautiful, young Ukrainian girl with an assault weapon on her shoulder. I was checked by an older, bearded man, though. The Polish passport does not raise any suspicions in the present situation, rather sympathy. The subway system was turned into a shelter and functions only for a very short time of the day. So far, we still have communication (telephone and internet), water, light, and natural gas. Some of us, me included, spent the night in the basement. Our priory has two basements which also serve as ministry space, so the standard of living is not bad. At this moment, one of the basements is for women who stay with us, and the other for us and other men. Almost twenty people from our ministries have asked for the possibility to temporarily stay with us because their regular housing is located in the dangerous neighborhoods of the city, or they live alone, or their buildings have no access to basements or shelters. So you can see that our “war community” has substantially increased.
There were street shootouts in Fastiv last night, some of them not far from our priory; local Ukrainian forces were dealing with Russian saboteurs. For this reason, a number of persons were seeking shelter in the chapel under the church. Father Misha stays in contact with the local authorities who try to ensure the safety of our neighborhood as much as they can. They know very well that the House of Saint Martin is a temporary home for many people, among them children, who try to hide from danger.
A group of thirty children from Mariupol left yesterday for Poland. They will be hosted there by one of the parishes. We have received, however, another thirty from the Donetsk Oblast region. The youngest among these children is David, who is only sixteen days old, and he comes from the village of Zaitseve (Zhovanka), close to Bachmut in the Donetsk Oblast. Fastiv also became a shelter for people escaping from Kyiv. Among them is a foreign doctor and first response instructor from the Red Cross; they are now using the opportunity to train people at the Center of Saint Martin. The brothers and sisters are holding well. If the situation allows and we can safely travel by car to Fastiv, I will attempt as soon as I can to visit the brothers and to deliver health packages which got stuck with us in Kyiv a couple days ago. It’s hard to predict, however, when and if it will be possible.
Father Ireneusz with a group of parishioners left Kharkiv yesterday and moved to Yazlovets (not far from Chortkiv, western Ukraine). They arrived safely, and now they are planning to continue to Zakarpattia. I just spoke a moment ago with our brother Bishop Nicholas. He sends his very best. He prays a lot for peace - yesterday they spent half the night at a vigil at the cathedral. He is also preparing places to receive war refugees. He intends to write a letter to his diocese asking for kindness in accepting refugees into their homes. So far there has been no fighting in Zakarpattia.
Lviv is relatively calm, although one could hear sirens through the night warning of possible attacks. In the evenings, the streets seem empty, which for Lviv is something completely abnormal. Chortkiv is also peaceful. I talked to Father Julian Ró?ycki who was just going to the church to celebrate his noon Mass, and he told me that there are significantly fewer people on the streets, and many stores are closed. In Khmelnytskyi, peace. Father W?odzimierz managed to come back to Khmelnytskyi from his vacation in Poland, although the trip took a long time; he left before the war started. Father Jakub says that a lot of people are volunteering for the army to defend their country, including some young men from our ministry.
We are very grateful for your prayers, for all the words of support and solidarity. We try to answer, but it is not always possible to keep up with the number of emails, information, and phone calls. We are very grateful that you are with us and help Ukraine in so many ways, including materially. The state of our bank accounts is a great sign of your compassion and generosity. The means you send are very helpful: we can shop for all of the people who stay with us because credit cards are still working. It’s a very mundane thing, but in this moment very important. You are offering good for people who found themselves in war. Please help as much as you can all the Ukrainians who have escaped to Poland. Ukraine does not allow men of military age to leave the country, so women left alone, especially those with children, need your help.
We are sending our warmest greetings to all of you, and we ask for the protection of the Protectress of our Order, Saint Hyacinth, and Saint Michael the Archangel who is the patron of the Dominican Vicariate of Ukraine.
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, February 26, 2022, noon
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
I haven’t gone anywhere today, since it is forbidden to walk on the streets of Kyiv since last night at 5pm until Monday at 8pm. At dawn I only peeked through the bars of the gate at the depopulated Derevlinska Street and the neighboring intersection. A couple of empty buses have passed by and two ambulances. My heart was pained when I saw parents holding fast by the hand two of their little children who were dragging small suitcases. I guessed that after the night in a shelter or basement, they were returning to their house. Since yesterday, an air raid warning has been announced in Kyiv — people are urged to stay in safe places. Many hide at the subway stations — anyone who has been to Kyiv knows they are very deep, just like the one located not far from our priory. I’ve heard that large screens are set at the platforms, and they play cartoons to help children survive the difficult times. Unfortunately, most of the stations do not have restrooms; there are only floors at the platforms and the corridors.
Across the street from the priory and my window, there is an apartment building. Yesterday after 10pm, there was not a single light in its windows — normally, all of them are lit. Here and there one could notice only small signs that someone still lives inside. One could also hear from across the fence voices of people who were probably standing at the entrance to the basement. Many people left Kyiv, and those who stayed follow the recommendation of the authorities to keep the blackout at night.
The night passed peacefully for us. The whole neighborhood was relatively quiet. Again some of us slept in the basements, some in their own rooms. During the day however, we could hear shootings. Sometimes closer, sometimes farther away from us. I stopped writing just right now, and I went to the courtyard because the noises got louder, but a man from the building security who had been sitting at the gate came to me and advised me not to go to the street, since the fights are nearby. Apparently a block away from us, the territorial defense forces established their own base, and very recently a couple of “boys” were wounded. “Boys” is how we speak about adult men here. The word doesn’t carry any pejorative meaning and in the present situation more than ever, is used both by younger and by older: “our boys” carries a great respect for their courage and pride. The shots seem to be coming from somewhere really close.
Fastiv also has been quiet. Through the night, one could hear the sounds of the fight for the airport in Vasylkiv, about 40 km away; the wind was carrying a distinct smell of gasoline from the burning oil depot. Almost everybody came down to the shelter, which is the chapel under the church. In Fastiv, the people who are bravely persisting there are not just our fathers and the lay volunteers from the Center of Saint Martin, but also Dominican sisters - missionaries from “Zielonka”. Their monastery is located just next to the church. The sisters normally serve at the parish, teach catechesis, and work with children at the Center of Saint Martin. Today, however, they do everything that is necessary, which means they serve others with their lives, with courage and love.
Just a moment ago, I got a phone call from my friend, a parishioner in Chortkiv. He lives in Oryshkivtsi, a village belonging to our parish. He told us that they had an alarm at night and that the Ukrainian planes were circling over their heads, and in the village itself they caught two suspicious individuals from the Luhansk Oblast with some sort of signal torches in their backpacks. He prays with his family a lot, and children especially urge their parents to pray. Somehow they understand in their hearts what is important! At the end of our conversation, Marek said: “God is with us because the truth is behind us.” It’s hard to say it simpler and more to the point.
The problem of Russian saboteurs is very serious; they are appearing not only in Kyiv or Fastiv, but also in other places across Ukraine.
I would like to tell you today that this last Sunday of February and the first Sunday of war is for me a day of gratitude. Father Misha Romaniv shared with us joyful news. I mentioned yesterday that the youngest guest of the House of Saint Martin is David, who is eighteen today. Eighteen days ago he was born in the Donetsk Oblast. I call him in my thoughts David of Saint Martin. The Biblical David defeated Goliath with a rock from his sling. Today Ukraine is like David, bravely standing with courage and hope against Goliath. Our little David escaped from war with his mom to Fastiv, and today during the Eucharist he was baptized. Deo gratias!
The second reason for gratitude is the enormous amount of good that I see in the news, emails, phone calls, and texts from our brothers and sisters, Dominicans, lay Dominicans, and people around the world. I am convinced that this good crushes the power of the enemy and the prince of darkness, just like the sun which is not absent above Kyiv today.
Browsing through the pictures on my phone, I found some photos from the exhibition of American photographer Julien Bryan who is known in Poland because of his moving photographs of Warsaw from the first days of war in September 1939. A couple months ago, his pictures of Ukraine from the years 1930-1958 were exhibited in the center of Kyiv and in Fastiv. The exhibition opened with a quote: “Wherever I went I soon discovered that when you break bread with people and share their troubles and joys, the barriers of languages, of politics, and of religion soon vanish. I liked them and they liked me. That was all that mattered.” — These are words of Julien Bryan written in 1951.
Dear friends in Poland and around the world, thanks to you who help suffering Ukraine with great commitment, I can show with pride my Polish passport on the streets of fighting Kyiv. Today many of You break bread with the refugees from Ukraine in your homes, parishes, and centers. Today for many of you, the barriers of languages, of politics, and of religion have vanished. Today many of you heal with love the wounds inflicted by the madness of the tyrants. I’m grateful that you are! I would like to thank all of my brothers and sisters wearing white habits, lay Dominicans, my family, friends, and acquaintances, as well as the innumerable people with generous hearts who support us with their help and prayer.
With warmest greeting from fighting Kyiv!
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, February 27, 2022, 3:30pm
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
Partly out of exhaustion, partly out of hope of sleeping throughout the night without the snoring of my “companions in misery”, I decided to stay in my cell and in my bed. It was a good choice. I fell asleep a little later anyways, but at 5:30 in the morning, I was awakened by the sound of a firefight which lasted a couple minutes. The whole event was rather loud, so I’m guessing that something was happening in the vicinity of our priory. I managed to fall asleep again and even sleep through Matins, which is the morning prayer with my brothers. Sleep is now in short supply for many if not all in Ukraine. Very few people can afford to sleep through the whole night. Brothers who know me well are aware that I like to take a nap during the day and normally sleep through the night. Now it’s hard even in the middle of the night to truly shut your eyes. One of the brothers who is very involved in helping others told me that he has to force himself to eat. So far, I look at this with the hope of losing a couple pounds. Putin prepared for us all living here a war “miracle diet.”
Since 8 in the morning, we could finally go out on the streets of Kyiv after 38 hours of curfew. We immediately went in search of open stores to resupply our food reserve. A beautiful sunny morning and life on the street elevated our spirits! We managed to get into the open supermarket located at the neighboring subway station. Inside were crowds of people. To my complete surprise, I managed to get a couple loaves of fresh bread. Not an easy task here. The line to the cashier was an hour long. Even some homeless guy whom I let in front of me (after getting approval from the people around, of course) was very confused by the whole situation; he kept repeating that it all looks like the “Soviet Union.” I am very grateful for your financial support, thanks to which at this moment we don’t have to worry at least about how to shop for ourselves and for all the people who are finding shelter under our priory roof. Even the anonymous homeless man received today a little bit of your “generous heart.” Obviously one can see in the store many soldiers with weapons or volunteer defenders of Kyiv — they are not here to intimidate anyone but simply to do their shopping. All stores are watched by the military because those are potential places where terrorist acts could happen.
Together with a couple people who shelter with us, we took a car and drove to the city center. I went to the cathedral to finally pick up medical kits distributed for priests by the bishop’s curia, and the ladies went to their own apartments to take more of their most necessary personal belongings. Today nobody was at Mass in Kyiv’s cathedral of Saint Aleksander. Yesterday was very similar because nobody was allowed to leave their houses. At noon when I went to the cathedral, I saw only some homeless men — there are a lot of them on the streets of our capital. Unlike most of us, they obviously have nowhere to go.
When I was driving by the Saint Sophia Cathedral and heavily guarded main headquarters of the Ukrainian security services, I was wondering if a car with Polish registration plates would raise some suspicions. I was wearing my white habit, and I was preparing all my documents and, in my head, all the explanations about who I am and what I’m doing here. At the checkpoint however, heavily armed Ukrainian soldiers didn’t even want me to stop, in visible contrast to all the cars ahead of me. Clearly as Polish citizens we are not regarded as a threat.
Yesterday after I sent a letter to you, I met Ira and Nina who are finding shelter in our priory; the girls had just returned from the subway station. Would you believe that they went there with two heavy bags full of books!!! It was a risky endeavor because nobody was allowed to leave their houses. They decided however that people who are spending long hours underground in the subway station Lukianivska would need not only bread but also good word. They told me that the books were distributed instantaneously. They told me also that at the station on both tracks were railcars with open doors so that people could sit and lay, not only at the platform but also inside the trains. Ira and Nina for many years have been connected to the Dominican-led Institute of Saint Thomas in Kyiv. One can tell that the Dominican formation and the love of the word did not go in vain, if these two women risked leaving the safety of the priory to deliver books to the people.
Father Jakub Nesterowicz celebrated Mass last night at the parish of Christ the King in Khmelnytskyi; our house is located in this parish. Just before the end of the Mass, they heard the wailing of the sirens, and people stood up rapidly. The pastor quickly finished reading the announcements, Father Jakub gave the blessing, and everybody hurried to the basement. I’m sure that the words “Go in the peace of Christ” sound very strong in moments like this.
I talked today with Nikita who is a candidate to the Order and comes from Kharkiv. I know he is under the heavy attack of the enemy. Nikita stayed with his parents who don’t want to leave the city yet. They live close to the subway station, so they often go down there to hide during the alarms. He said that most of their neighbors stayed in place. They haven’t left. Kyiv is somewhat different.
At this moment Brother Igor Selishchev is on his way back to Ukraine. He is from Ukraine and is a deacon. He has just finished his formation in Krakow and seeing the development of events, strenuously asked the provincial for permission to return to his homeland and serve the people there. His heart was breaking when he was just sitting in peaceful Krakow. I hope he will get to us safely.
The situation in Fastiv is a bit nerve-wracking. Everybody is afraid of the fights in the city’s surroundings. There is a risk that the Russian tanks might arrive from the direction of Byshiv. In the House of Saint Martin, people are making huge numbers of pierogies and baking bread; they are preparing food for the needy and the defenders of the city.
Last night on my Facebook profile I shared the information that, as a result of the Russian air raid on the airport of the Antonov factory in Gostomel outside of Kyiv, one of the biggest and most powerful airplanes in the world was burned; it was called AN-225 “Mrija”. It’s name could be translated as “Dream.” And it truly was: any arrival of Mrija to any airport was a great event and fulfillment of the dreams of aviation fans. You might remember that this very Mrija delivered the masks and medical equipment to Poland at the beginning of the pandemic. I’ve seen the plane personally once at the aviation show in Berlin. It seems that even the great Mrija, this great dream and pride of Ukrainian aviation, can be destroyed. It is a sad truth about our life! This war buried already many Mrijas and many dreams of hundreds of thousands of Ukranians. I believe however, as I look at my Order and at everything we do as Dominicans in Ukraine, that the new reality will bring even greater and more beautiful Mrijas. Dear friends, remember that if somebody or something dares to destroy your Mrija, your dream, it doesn’t mean that it is the end yet. The Ukranians teach us all today when they dream about their free, peaceful, and growing homeland. They fight for these dreams and are ready to pay dearly. I see it in the eyes of “our boys and girls” defending Kyiv.
I send you my warmest greetings and ask for your prayer!
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, February 28, 2022, 5pm
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
March 1 is the first day of spring in Ukraine. I read on one of the local internet sites that “it is a day for which people always wait with longing.” The Ukranian first day of spring started in Kyiv with a snow storm. In the morning everything was white on the streets. But most of us did not look for the first snowdrops or other signs of nature waking to life; above all we looked for the disturbing signs of war: another bombardment, sirens, news of what’s happening on the streets, and how the world is reacting to the events.
Last night Misha Romaniv called from Fastiv. I was very worried about them because the firefights started on the streets of the city after 8pm. The Ukrainian army shot down a Russian airplane, which crashed somewhere nearby. One could see from a distance burning columns of military vehicles. It all started to feel intense, and almost immediately, close to 80 people from the neighborhood came to us looking for shelter. Some of them with their dogs, cats, and other animals. There was never a lack of animals around the House of Saint Martin, starting with horses and donkeys and ending with parrots and some colorful birds. Father Pawel keeps a dog in the priory, and Father Jan has great sympathy for cats. The brothers understand well that people don’t want to leave their animals behind, especially since nobody knows what is going to happen and when they will come back home. Someone arrived on a motorbike; specially designed bags for the transportation of cats were attached to a brand new Honda. The volunteers from Poland brought with them in their minivan some food and, the most needed items among them, a couple bags of dog food. Father Misha was delighted.
Someone else stopped in a very elegant car and took out a more than 10 kg sturgeon which must have cost a fortune, and he donated it to the House of Saint Martin. He was on his way to his family or friends but decided that the food will be more useful for us. At present, all the exits from Fastiv are guarded by soldiers. Everybody is afraid of the continuous escalation of events and the streetfights. Even more so now that the Chechens apparently showed up in the city.
Luckily, Brother Igor Selishchev whom I mentioned yesterday safely arrived in Fastiv by train through Przemysl and Lviv. His travel was peaceful, and the train arrived on time. Igor is from Donetsk. He has just finished his religious formation and studies in Krakow. Now he has joined us, the Brothers of the Vicariate of Ukraine.
The Master of the Order, Father Gerard Timoner III, wrote to us yesterday. He tried in vain to call me and Father Peter Balog but somehow couldn’t succeed. The brothers and sisters from the whole world are now united with Ukraine. It is very important to all of us. And not just the Dominicans worry about us.
It is good that the pandemic taught us how to work online. At noon we had a Zoom meeting of the priests serving the diocese of Kyiv-Zhytomyr and our Bishop Vitalij. He remains here in Kyiv. The priests are a little nervous, but most of them are still in good spirits. Even the oblates from Chernivtsi, who are almost completely cut off from the world. More often than not they are sitting with their parishioners in the basement of the church.
I would like today to write a little bit about these unusual women: the religious sisters. As Father Misha just told me, he was looking today for some way to bring an oven for baking bread from the east side of Kyiv. (This is the most dangerous region of the city, and one has to cross the bridge over the Dnieper.) There were no volunteers. He almost lost any hope of doing it when Sister Anastasia from Slovakia who serves at the Caritas Center said that she is getting in her minivan and will bring the oven. I hope she will get to Fastiv safely. I know I would not have the courage to do that.
The sisters from the Dominican congregation in Zolochiv in western Ukraine were feeding war refugees on the Polish-Ukrainian border crossing in Rava-Ruska. The first moments of evacuations, lines 25 km long, endless human drama, tears, uncertainty, separated families… These brave women in white habits stayed with those people. Sister Matthew told me that today on the way to the border one could see a lot of abandoned cars, travel bags, and personal items. In Chortkiv the Dominican sisters are sharing their basement, which is normally a classroom, with their neighbors. The city has frequent air-raid alarms, but no shots have been fired yet.
Last night I wrote in the letter to my Provincial: “One more thing… It moved me very deeply personally. Please pray for Nikita, our postulant who is in Kharkiv, and Kirill, who is now in our priory with one of the families from the parish. He is considering joining the Order but will probably have to wait. Even today he told me that maybe he could wait as a Lay Dominican. It is some strange sign that the two youngest Dominican “infants” are in the city under bombardment in eastern Ukraine. Sign, witness…” At night Kharkiv was heavily bombed. The shooting keeps going anyways. This afternoon I talked to Kirill — the rocket fell close to the priory. He is holding up well; I didn’t feel in his voice any fear or doubt. Amazing. Let us pray for them.
A moment ago I heard a number of strong explosions in our neighborhood. It was the first time they were that loud. A moment later we saw pictures on the internet showing that it was a rocket attack on the TV tower located about a mile away from our priory. They missed.
We are receiving a lot of emails and phone calls with the offer of help. My heart is welling with hope, and I’m authentically moved by your readiness to help. We are not capable however, especially in Kyiv or in Fastiv, to coordinate material help, facilitate refugee transfer to Poland, or organize transport of things. Please act in your own locations, wherever you live. If we need anything and we know it would be possible to achieve, we will let you know, and we will ask you.
Please connect to our Dominican priories in Poland — I know that my brothers and sisters are up to the task. You can always support us financially. We are gathering means that we intend to use now and also in the future. I know for sure that they will be very needed.
Here “on the front lines” we are not able to deal with this ocean of good initiative from the whole world, and we have to stay focused on those who are immediately next to us.
I want to send you my warmest greetings.
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 1, 2022, 6pm
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
Another day of war. The seventh day not of creation but destruction. Increasing brutality, relentless and terrible. At the same time I am deeply convinced that when God looks at these good, helping, selfless people, at the vastness of love, he can see that what he made was very good (Gen 1:31). Today is Ash Wednesday and Lent begins. Father Peter, our Bible scholar, burned a small bonfire on the terrace, so we have new ashes.
Last night we were scared by the rocket attack on the TV tower located close to us. I already mentioned that. It is in our neighborhood. I saw a picture of the killed passersby. They were walking on the sidewalk that I use frequently. Perhaps in that very place I was waiting in my car on Thursday in the line for fuel. This location is the border of Babi Yar, the place of a horrible genocide of the inhabitants of Kyiv, mostly Jewish, murdered by the Nazis in 1941. The president of Ukraine said that history is starting to repeat itself.
The people living with us in the priory are starting to actively participate in the volunteer activities of the city. Father Thomas drove a couple of them to distant locations in Kyiv. It takes a lot of courage. One must drive through multiple checkpoints, show documents, open the trunk. On his way back with one of the ladies yesterday, they drove past Babi Yar. That was exactly where, minutes earlier, rockets hit the ground. Today he refueled the tank on the way.
This morning Father Misha Romaniv called from Fastiv. He was very happy because the bus that left yesterday with over fifty people, mostly children and their mothers, successfully reached Poland. “They are sitting on the Polish side and drinking coffee,” he said. May news like this come as much as possible.
Sister Anastasia reached Fastiv safely yesterday, while carrying a bread oven from the east side of Kyiv. Nobody wanted to go, but her trip took her only an hour and a half. It’s a record in this situation. Even in normal times it would be a great feat because, due to the heavy traffic, the trip used to take much longer. This morning she drove back carrying fresh bread to Kyiv.
We were given another bread oven in Fastiv from our Italian friend Luccio. His pizzeria in Vinnytsia cannot function now, so without hesitation he told us to take all of the equipment. May it serve well. Thanks to it, we can make 300 loaves of bread daily for the territorial guards. Other friends from Vinnytsia delivered two tons of flour.
Today I would like to write a little about our two bishops. I mentioned in my previous letters Bishop Vitalij from Kyiv who stays in the city. The other bishop from Kyiv, Alexander, went to Zhytomyr to be present in the western part of the diocese, populated by many catholics. It was a wise decision. Today we talked on the phone. Zhytomyr was under heavy bombardment, and many people found shelter in the basements of the churches. I saw some moving photos that Bishop Alexander posted on his Facebook: people saying the rosary in a couple-hundred-year-old basement of the church. It looks like the catacombs.
I managed to have a conversation with Bishop Paul of Kharkiv. The situation there is very difficult and dangerous. We saw in the news last night that the central square of the city was bombed. Not far from that square is where the cathedral and catholic curia are located. Luckily the blast of the explosion only damaged a couple of windows and some stained glass. It also damaged part of the roof of the curia where the bishop lives. Bishop Paul himself was just returning from our priory when that happened. Father Irenaeus had evacuated some parishioners earlier from there to Zakarpattia. A number of people asked, however, to stay behind with us. By the advice of the bishop who helped them to find transportation, they have just left. Brave Kirill has left too. It is a wise decision in this situation!
Yesterday a rocket hit a school building located a couple hundred meters from the priory. The bishop called to tell us that he locked our house and asked who owns the white cat. He let it out — we hope that the poor animal will somehow manage, because no one knows when we are returning home. In our situation it’s a little awkward to ask somebody: are you staying or leaving? Bishop Paul himself told us at some point that he’s not going anywhere. He will stay in his diocese. He believes deeply in the victory of the Truth and the Immaculate! He is a very experienced man. Pope Francis has nominated as bishop this priest who had previously traveled to the front lines in Donbas and served as a military chaplain. Good and brave shepherds!
Dear friends, I would like to end today with the words of Saint Paul, “Where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 5, 20-21).
Today I’m sending this letter earlier because I’m going to the nearby hospital. Maybe they need a priest. Let’s see if they let me in.
With warmest greetings, pray for us and Ukraine.
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 2, 2022, 1:30pm
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
Yesterday we brothers of Ukraine received a link to some short video clips prepared by the ministry of vocations of the Polish Dominican Province. You can see them here: https://www.youtube.com/c/dominikaniepowolania. “You cannot even imagine how much you live in the hearts of every one of us, and particularly in my own,” Brother Mykyta Janusz, a Dominican novice from Ukraine, told us in Ukrainian. We would like to thank you, our brothers and sisters, not only from Poland but also from Rome, Bologna, Australia, USA, and Taiwan, for these important words of support. Misha Romaniv asked me to tell you that yesterday evening he was very depressed by this whole situation. Intense fighting for the towns located in the vicinity of Fastiv was taking place. The targets of the attacks, among others, were Makariv and Borodyanka — I would pass by those towns frequently when I went with him and volunteers from Fastiv on the way to Warsaw. We would almost always stop in Borodyanka at the gas station OKKO to have our morning coffee and a hot dog. Now the city is in ruins — it’s heartbreaking to look at pictures of familiar places. And it was then in this psychologically difficult moment that the medicine for the soul was the words of the brothers. “They lifted my spirit, dispelled the sadness and doubt,” said Misha. Some people from Makariv protected their lives by escaping to Fastiv.
Father Wojciech Giertych, the Theologian of the Papal Household, a citizen of the Vatican and above all our great friend, very much involved in the mission of the Order in Ukraine for over 30 years, said: “Now we need to think not about the present but about the future. We have to be preparing places for people that will offer them formation for internal freedom. Not only the freedom ‘from’ but the freedom ‘to’ as Father Pinckaers told us.” He is right! Anyway, he taught us the same thing during our theological formation in Krakow. We must not stop at “today,” but we need to look to the future. This is the task that is facing those of you in Poland who received under your roofs the war refugees from Ukraine. Think already about your future together with them! Do not wait for the end of the war.
We would like to thank our sisters and brothers from many countries around the world for your words, your prayers, and your help. We are not always capable of responding, but please be assured that you are in our hearts. Both we and Ukraine need you. Throughout the night in Kyiv there were some explosions caused by the rocket attack on the city. One rocket hit in the vicinity of the railway station; the other apparently fell not far from our priory. The mayor of Kyiv told us in his report to the people that nobody died. It is a miracle! The only significant damage was inflicted on the heating main, which is now being rebuilt by the city services. This is very important because it is still pretty cold; in the morning we had a small snow shower and the temperature at noon was only 1 °C. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like it’s going to get warmer in the coming days. In our priory, everything is working properly so far.
Yesterday in the afternoon, I went to the hospital to offer my service. The first of the hospitals located in our neighborhood was closed. It was evacuated somewhere. The second one, a large regional hospital, is open and gathers many people with injuries from the war. I know this place because I was there last year with my broken leg. This time, when I was approaching the emergency room in my white habit, I was spotted by two police men. They were carrying weapons and confronted me immediately. I showed them my documents and the backpack with all the “priestly paraphernalia”. The two gentlemen inquired in detail about the purpose of my visit. At the end I left my telephone number and the information that I am a Catholic priest and can be here at any moment if anyone requires my ministry. So far I haven’t heard back from them. It seems to me that in Ukraine and especially in Kyiv, the presence of a priest among the sick is not very popular; although, in some hospitals they have chapels, obviously Orthodox. The defense of the city fulfills its duty with great precision. They are cautious, and they really watch for the safety of the people and buildings under their care.
In the morning I got news from Nikita, the candidate to the Order who lives in Kharkiv: “The whole night, 12 hours, we spent in the subway station. The covers were closed. [Covers are the huge steel gates protecting stations, probably left over from the Cold War.] We didn’t get home until 6 in the morning. We rested a little. This night was very difficult for my parents. I’m starting to be a little sorry that I took them to the underground.” Maybe there is no need to be sorry since the rocket hit, among others, the neighboring apartment building. The place where he lives with his parents is just a typical residential area. There is no strategically important object within the vicinity. War crimes like this are now becoming frequent.
Another day brings new destruction, but also growing exhaustion among people. Even this morning, one of the older ladies who lives with us in the priory suddenly didn’t feel well. We got scared that she might be having a stroke. Luckily we have a doctor among us, and she could help the older woman. The chances of calling an ambulance right now are zero. We were advised on the phone to possibly bring her to the closest medical point, but we decided that they would not help us much. It is so good that we have a “guardian angel” — a young doctor who knows what to do.
Not all the seniors however have such a comfortable situation in our cities and villages torn by war. Particularly difficult is the situation of the sick and people with limited mobility. Just going to the shelter or the basement prove to be impossible tasks for them, and shopping is similar, not to mention with their general psychological and physical conditions. Here volunteers are showing their value. Many people in Kyiv got involved in this kind of service, and the whole network is gradually becoming more efficient. Many fathers from our community, as well as lay people seeking shelter in the priory, got involved in this kind of work. Yesterday Father Alexander purchased 200 loaves of bread in the bakery, and today through the network of city volunteers, they were distributed to the people in need.
Let me finish with the words of Psalm 44 from today’s Office of Readings. This is a message for today from Olga, a student of our Institute of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Kyiv and a Lay Dominican. She lives in a distant neighborhood of Kyiv, unfortunately too far for her to come to Mass in our chapel. Previously, she used to attend Mass daily.
Not in my bow do I trust,
nor does my sword bring me victory. "You have brought us victory over our enemies,
shamed those who hate us." In God we have boasted all the day long; your name we will praise forever.
The reaction of the world to what is happening can truly be described as the enormous “shaming of those who hate us.” But even more shaming is the voice of the war orphans and those who lost their lives. May they rest in eternal peace.
With warmest greetings and the request for prayer!
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 3, 2022, 4pm
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
As the night was relatively calm in Kyiv, so since the early morning, the city is filled with the howl of sirens and the sounds of explosions. Sometimes close, sometimes far away. Despite being somewhat used to it at this point, these sounds are still very unpleasant, especially since we can see what the Russian troops are doing in many Ukrainian cities. We are still capable of functioning relatively normally in this abnormal situation, but many people at this moment are sitting in shelters and basements. Food is starting to run out, and it’s getting colder. I heard from my friends that they are starting to get phone calls from people who just want to say goodbye or say something important, just in case…
The situation in Fastiv is also becoming dangerous. The brothers were warned that the Russian army’s route to Kyiv might go through their city, since in other sectors of the front they were stopped and destroyed. May it never happen! Fortunately Father Misha managed to organize a couple transports and evacuate almost 200 people. Maybe even more than that. Some of them are already safely in Poland. A large number of people however still stayed in Fastiv, not to mention our fathers and Dominican sisters. We are needed there especially now, so we could not imagine simply packing our bags and leaving.
Apart from providing a roof over people’s heads in Kyiv and in Fastiv, we are trying to find food and share it with those who need it. We are very grateful for the money that you keep sending. It allows us to do the shopping. Just minutes ago, I came back from the bakery with one of the boys who is staying in the priory. We managed again to buy 250 loaves of fresh bread. Driving with such cargo is a real pleasure. During the war, bread — normal, simple bread without any extra ingredients — smells so wonderful! Some of it will remain with us, but most of it will find its way through the volunteers to the needy inhabitants of Kyiv. The House of Saint Martin also bakes a couple hundred loaves of bread daily. The need is enormous. Many people in the villages around Fastiv are starting to run out of food. A particularly difficult situation is the psychiatric hospital in Hlevakha, a small town on the way to Kyiv. They have close to 300 patients. It’s not easy to get there, but the boys from Fastiv will look for ways to supply them with food. Especially since a couple transports of food have recently arrived in Fastiv, so there is plenty to share. Misha told me that he’s also looking for a way to bring a mother and child from a different village. After the bombings she couldn’t cope with the stress; she’s helpless, and she doesn’t know where to go or what to do. We need to reach her somehow.
Nikita and his parents managed to leave Kharkiv this morning. I don’t know how far they got because there was not much fuel in their car. I hope they were able to find a working gas station. The important thing is that they left Kharkiv, which is now being brutally destroyed. I’m sure they will manage. Our house in Khmelnytskyi became a shelter for a group of people connected to the Dominicans. It is good that we have a place to host them. And I know that Brothers Jakub and Wlodzimierz will take very good care of them.
Yesterday was the birthday of Father Tomek Samulnik, and of one of the diocesean priests who lives in our priory in Kyiv. The whole community sat down together in the evening and celebrated a little. Tomek was joking that his 41st birthday is exceptionally loud. Luckily the world outside was quiet.
This letter will be a little shorter because I have to take the car and deliver a couple things to the center for volunteers. Dear friends, since the situation is becoming more difficult, I decided to write to you less frequently. Every two or three days. A lot of pressing problems appear every day, and it’s hard to respond to all of them. Please stay calm; my silence will not immediately mean that something bad has happened. We simply have to use our time and strength wisely so that we can serve people in need here.
Today is a Friday of Lent. Many of us already took part or will take part in the celebration of the stations of the cross. I ask you for prayer for those who now in Ukraine are touching the cross. In a very real way. For those who, like Mary, weep for their children, parents, brothers, and friends. Very often there is not much we can do; we experience emptiness and helplessness, but what we always can do is to pray and stand together with them at the cross, looking at the One who gave his life for us. In Ukraine, this coming Sunday is the beginning of the Year of the Holy Cross. When the Roman Catholic bishops decided that this year will be the time of contemplation of the mystery of the cross, nobody would have suspected that it would also be a time of war. How prophetic was their decision.
“O Cross of Christ be praised. For eternal times be blessed. From You flows strength and courage. In You is our victory.”
With greetings and the request for prayer,
Jaros?aw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 4, 2022, 4:30pm
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
On this first Sunday of Lent, the Year of the Holy Cross begins in Ukraine, as announced by the Roman Catholic Bishops. In reality it began on Thursday February 24 at 4am, when the first Russian rockets hit Ukraine. “Now, like never before,” write our shepherds, “we understand Christ on his way of the cross.”
On Saturday, most of us were involved with shopping and helping people who are suffering as a result of the war. It takes a lot of time and strength. Father Alexander and a bunch of volunteers took a van that belongs to Caritas and were evacuating people from Irpin. This city, located almost 20km northwest of Kyiv, was bombed and destroyed by the Russians. Over the last couple years, the city has been growing dynamically, and like Kyiv, attracted many young people and families. Today, a large number of the inhabitants of Irpin are without a roof over their heads. When the fighting subsided in that area, the city authorities and volunteers rushed to help these people.
In the evening one of the volunteers from the priory joined me, and we went to the train station in Kyiv. Inside, enormous crowds; and the rail station is huge. In most areas, the lights are off for security reasons. The station is filled with noise and semi-darkness. People’s conversations mix with announcements flowing from the loudspeakers about the arrivals and departures of trains. The travelers must listen very carefully, because these announcements are the only way to learn anything. The crowds at the station consist mostly of families and mothers with children. Some of these children are so tiny that they should be sleeping in their beds at this time of the day. I passed by one dad who very calmly but strongly told his little children, “Hold very tight to your mom.” Getting lost in this situation is a tragedy. Many children sit around with phones in their hands. Video games. Children at play. There is some comfort in it, some chance to distract them even for a moment from the reality around them. Not far from the train station, there is Okhmatdyt, the children’s hospital famous in all of Ukraine. It stays open all the time, although it has been bombed already. The railway stations also have their share of elderly; I saw some people in wheelchairs. Somebody had a dog on a leash. My brother Mariusz, who is a religious, too — a Paulist — serves and lives in Lviv. He told me in the morning that the railway station in Lviv is surrounded by many dogs. The refugees who couldn’t take them any further left them with the hope that they would find new owners.
When we returned to the priory, we had to go straight back to the car again. Our cook, who is living with us during the war, fell on the steps. We were afraid that she might have broken her hand. We called the ambulance, but ambulances don’t go to cases like this during the war. We were given the addresses of the two closest hospitals. It was already after 8pm, which means curfew, which means we cannot leave our homes. What could we do? I put on my white Dominican habit and went to the closest intersection guarded by the territorial defense. Our boys, seeing me, immediately took a defensive posture with weapons. I spread out my hands so they could see that I meant no harm. We talked for a while and agreed that someone has to take a car and drive to the hospital because the lady should not stay in pain overnight. They advised me, however, not to drive too fast and to slow down even more at every checkpoint. The streets were completely empty, so we got to the emergency room relatively quickly. Our cook did not break her hand after all, only strained it. The surgeons did their job, and we could come back. The same route, the same checkpoints and questions. Despite the fact that most lights are off in the evening, patients are still in the hospital. Not all of them are victims of war. The emergency room crew reminded me that people still get sick with normal diseases. It made me think that in the present situation, that’s one of the worst things that could happen to someone. And what are people cut off from the world by fighting supposed to do? I try not to think about it.
I talked for a little bit with the police officers guarding the hospital. In Kyiv, the Dominican habit usually causes curiosity and surprise; in war time, frequently suspicion. A short explanation usually suffices; the Eastern Churches also have monks and monasteries, so we are usually treated with a certain sympathy. At the end of my short conversation, the officers asked for a blessing.
It might take a miracle to talk to Misha in Fastiv today. So far, I couldn’t get a hold of him, so I will try to write about Fastiv in the next letter. I’m not surprised; it’s Sunday and war, but it’s also his birthday. I do hope for a miracle.
Last night the train with supplies from Khmelnytskyi arrived to us. We are very grateful to our friends from the parish of Christ the King, where our Dominican brothers serve; and to it’s pastor Father Nicholas, for sharing with us what they received themselves. It’s almost a ton of food. Father Alexander took most of it in the morning to the priory of the Capuchins. (It’s across town on the east side of the Dnieper.) That way, the food will find its way to the people who need it the most. Some of it stayed with us however, and this morning we had delicious steamed sausages from Nowy Sacz for breakfast. Most of the supplies brought by that train are things from Poland. We are grateful to all the hearts and all the hands from my country who purchased and shipped the “treasures.” We’ll keep the kabanos for a rainy day. The vocational ministry of the Polish Dominican Province recently added a couple of video greetings for Ukraine and for us. We are very grateful to the Dominican nuns from Radonie, Swieta Anna, and Grodek, sisters from the Congregation of the sisters of Saint Dominic, and brothers from Ireland and Germany. In Jerusalem the brothers prayed for us at the tomb of the Lord. The lay Dominicans, sisters and brothers from many fraternities in Poland, surround us with their prayer and strengthen us with their fasting and almsgiving. Here is what Zosia wrote to us: “I’m a member of the Family of the Mother of Sorrows, which in 1999 was received by the provincial and his council into the Dominican Family. Among the members of this community are people who have long-term diseases, some who are handicapped physically, and some who are completely healthy. Since the war started in Ukraine, we’ve been praying every day for you and for peace. Today in a particular way, we would like to embrace the Dominican sisters and you Dominican brothers (over there in Ukraine), offering, besides our prayer, everything we experience today — pain, difficulty, and suffering (some of us suffer very much) — in your intention, placing you into the offering of Christ.” What a great solidarity in suffering with those who were wounded physically, psychologically, or spiritually. Thank you!
This afternoon the sky over the priory in Kyiv is full of birds. I don’t know if it’s a sign of the coming spring. I’ll ask Father Peter, who is an expert on the New Testament, but also on nature. The birds nervously jump, make noise, and burst into flight every time we hear distant explosions. Father Thomas Slowinski in Lviv wrote today on his Facebook profile, following the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid: You are more important than many sparrows.”
With greetings and request for prayer,
Jaros?aw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 6, 2022, 4:15pm
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
Let me start with Fastiv today. The House of Saint Martin de Porres run by the Dominicans and lay volunteers has been a place of escape and rest for people affected by the hostilities, ever since the beginning of the war. One of the ladies who had been among the first to take shelter in Fastiv and now is already safe in Poland, is from Hostomel, a town located just a dozen kilometers from Kyiv. She told me a couple days ago that her daughter Victoria and her little son stayed in the city. Just like many other people from their “Pokrowskyj” neighborhood, they found themselves under Russian authority, without water, food, or heat. Constantly seeing guns directed at them. One gentleman honestly confesses, “I am a Russian, and I’m very ashamed of it. They turned Hostomel into their military base. People live there in horrible conditions, among them my daughter.” The inhabitants became a human shield protecting the enemy’s army. Hostomel is not the only one; many Ukrainian cities are treated in the same way.
Stories like this would already make a thick book, and the church in Fastiv and the House of Saint Martin are filling with people's tears, with longing for loved ones who lost contact, with longing for home and peace. I talked today with Father Misha; these days it’s very hard to get a hold of him by phone; at the end I asked him what good I can write about, since he told me so much about the people who find shelter with them, people from Fastiv, Irpin, Bucha, Kyiv… He was surprised by the question, although he’s never been a pessimist or a dark type. Lots of good, however, still happens around us. By my estimate, if we took a scale like the one held by Themis — the Greek goddess and personification of justice, law, and eternal order — the good side would definitely outweigh the other. Thanks to the commitment of a large number of noble people from Ukraine and Poland, buses of refugees are leaving from the courtyard of our church every day. Sometimes a couple of them in one day. The same buses which come here to pick up people bring us food and medications.
I would like to express my gratitude and bow with great respect before all of those drivers who sit behind the wheels of buses, trucks, minivans, and their private cars, going to the places where people need their help. Among them are priests and religious sisters. Today our priory in Kyiv was visited by Fathers Valentine and Vyacheslav from Dunaivtsi (the diocese of Kamianets-Podilskyi). Their minivan was filled with food, including a couple buckets of handmade pierogies and a multitude of vegetables. All these things were immediately delivered to the sisters, the Missionaries of Charity (the ones of Mother Teresa of Calcutta), who run a center here in the capital of Ukraine for the homeless and those in need. For many years already, the Dominican brothers have been celebrating Masses for them twice a week, usually in English since the sisters come from many nations.
We have also received a delivery of things that were sent to us a couple days ago from Warsaw by Charytatywni Freta, as well as a gift from Father Peter from Legionowo. Peter served for many years in Ukraine and now celebrates monthly Masses in Ukrainian in our Dominican Priory of Saint Hyacinth in Warsaw. He has a great heart for Ukraine! All those things arrived first by train from Poland to Zhytomyr and today were delivered by Mr. Leonard by car from Home Church. Here are the real modern-day heroes! They go to places engulfed by war, delivering humanitarian help. They go even when they know that the return route might be cut off. They go, even risking being shot at. Those trips often take many hours, even days, because one has to find a way through destroyed roads and bridges, wait in long lines at multiple checkpoints, and scavenge for fuel. I’m getting to know this new reality and becoming more certain that during the war, what is needed is not only soldiers but also all the people behind the scenes. They deliver food and medications. And when necessary, they evacuate people to safe places. Leonard told me that yesterday he helped evacuate a young family from Kyiv. The young mother had a little infant in her arms. In 2014 they had to escape from Luhansk, and today the Russian army forces them out of Kyiv. May this be the last time; may they finally find a place to live and raise their children in peace. Leonard’s friend who is a soldier recently told him, “Because you helped my wife to safely leave the town, I have more peace, and I can defend my country with a rifle.” He is right. It is good that we have people like Leonard and priests like Valic and Slavic.
March 8 is the Day of Women. In Ukraine it is a national holiday and a day off work. One could already see tulip sellers yesterday at the entrance to the store near our priory in Kyiv. Ahead of me in line to the cashier at the supermarket, I saw a soldier with five boxes of chocolates. I know they are for the women soldiers in his unit. I rarely buy flowers, so I don’t know how much they cost before the war, but they are certainly much more expensive now. Without hesitation, Father Thomas and I purchased 12 tulips because we wanted to express to the women among us how important and needed their presence is. The Kyiv florist tried to convince us that one should not give an even number of flowers (that’s for a funeral), but we had no energy to explain to her that the bouquet we purchased is for a larger number of women. She was confused but finally sold us 12 yellow tulips. Business is business, and for us this number has good associations, twelve apostles for instance.
Other heroes of our daily lives, in my eyes, are the “Women Behind the Counter”. Yesterday I was standing in a long line at the pharmacy to buy medicine for a sick person. I observed with wonder a young pharmacist working alone in the whole shop, explaining to every client with great patience what she could and could not offer him, and what kind of medicines he or she could replace with another. She was doing that while answering phone calls. I would probably go mad after an hour of this work. Another time, when I was finishing my shopping, I told the lady at the cashier to take one of the chocolates I had just purchased, that it was for her. She was very surprised and asked why, to which I responded with a smile that if she wasn’t there, I couldn’t do any shopping at all. All the other stores around were closed. In the present conditions, everything that used to be normal work, at least to me, acquires now a new and deeper meaning.
Yesterday I went with Father Thomas to the subway station. It was already past 4pm, the streets were relatively quiet, and the sirens were not blaring. The underground did not lack people, however. Some of them were laying on the platform on mattresses, reserved far in advance, someone was reading a book, and some young people were lovingly holding on to each other. Two families were standing together, and their children were joyfully playing around. Cartoons were projected on the wall. I’m sure the subway station fills up completely with people in the evenings. I suspect that’s also how it was last night, since many times and not far away, we heard explosions.
Father Peter announced today that he still wants to give an online lecture on Holy Scripture, according to the original plan. It is obviously for all of those students from the Saint Thomas Institute who can and are willing to participate. It is a great idea.
Over the last couple days, I have kept in my head one of the intercessions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help: “More beautiful than the cedars of Lebanon, Mary we beg you.” Isn’t today her holiday too?
Warm greetings and request for prayers,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 8, 2022, 4:45pm
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
Today Kyiv is very sunny, although it’s cold, -2 °C. At night the temperature drops to -8 °C. When the heating works, it’s not a problem, but many places don’t have electricity or gas. For that reason, people are longing this year for the spring to come faster and for the weather to become warmer. Today I saw pictures of people who were evacuated yesterday from Kyiv. They were wading through the ice-cold river Irpin because the bridge had been blown up, and there was no other way. Some of them were carrying children in their arms.
Let me start today with writing a little about the Dominican laity. There are a couple fraternities in Ukraine: in Kyiv, Fastiv, Murafa, and Zakarpattia. There is also a fraternity in Lviv, which is in the process of reestablishment and has existed since before the war (the Second World War, obviously).
Among the lay people of the Dominican Order, there are old and a few young. Unfortunately, first the pandemic and now the war drastically limit the possibility of having regular meetings, and in some cases they became impossible. The superior of the lay Dominicans in Ukraine, Halina, lives in Fastiv and is very seriously involved in helping the refugees who request evacuation. One of the novices from Lviv has just joined the army. His unit is in the formation process and will be sent very soon to defend Ukraine. I told him that if he ends up in Kyiv, he should try to look us up. A large part of the tertiary Dominicans remain at home, but some who lived in the most dangerous areas were forced to leave.
The Institute of Religious Studies of Saint Thomas Aquinas, which has been run by the Dominicans in Kyiv for the past 30 years, did not completely suspend its activities. Yesterday Father Peter gave a lecture on the Synoptic Gospels. The lecture was obviously online. The participants consisted of a couple first year students and one fourth year. This morning Father Peter told me that teaching about the Bible during war has become for him a new experience of discovering the power and meaning of the Word of God. I agree with him completely. As I daily read parts of the Bible proposed by the rhythm of the Church’s liturgy, I can hear and see more.
The brothers in Lviv, besides their regular ministry, take part in helping the refugees who arrived in great numbers in this largest city in Western Ukraine. Father Wojciech lived for a couple days at the monastery of Benedictine nuns on the outskirts of Lviv. More than a hundred people running from war are sheltered there, among them Benedictine nuns from Zhytomyr. Father Thomas works closely with the city volunteers. The Lviv art museum, located in the city center, became a warehouse of humanitarian resources, and Father Thomas, along with others, organizes it. “Sometimes people ask me,” he told me yesterday, “what I am doing here, since I am Polish. I tell them this is my city, too; I am a Dominican.” Let me add that Father Thomas’ mother is from Lviv. Sometimes people are surprised when they find out who we are, and that we stayed with them during the war. I’m learning, however, that during war I become less and less surprised by things. Thomas was joking that when the food from Poland arrives, he helps the volunteers figure out what the food items actually are. “They cannot understand that ‘Szczecin pepper mash’ is simply ground fish in cans.” For the uninitiated, let me add that this can used to be the number one product for tourists in Communitst Poland. I cannot even remember how many of them I ate during my youth while camping in the mountains.
The growing problem for the regions afflicted by war is lack of medicines. Although many pharmacies in Kyiv are still open, the most important medicines are not available. People with long-term diseases, with diabetes, and older people with heart conditions suffer very much. The humanitarian deliveries of medical supplies are now worth their weight in gold.
As I mentioned before, in Kyiv we are working closely with the local headquarters of the city volunteers, which is located a couple hundred meters from the priory. It is actually located in the building of the theater “Silver Island.” Maryna, one of the actresses, is Catholic. After Father Adam Szustak read one of my letters on his online show, she was contacted by her friend who said, “Go to the Dominicans: they have bread.” That was exactly the day that we brought a couple hundred loaves of bread to the priory. And that’s how our cooperation began. The power of social media!
On Tuesday night we were sitting in the priory having dinner with Maryna and her friend, Jurij, who is an actor, too. He told us an amazing story. So he had just returned from the town of Hostomel. I wrote about this city, which is now ruined by bombs and occupied by the Russian army, in my previous letter. Jurij heard from official announcements that a humanitarian corridor was opened to evacuate people, and he went there with his car. He managed to reach the city and pick up a couple people. On the way back, however, he was stopped by the Russian army. It was a miracle they weren’t shot at immediately. The soldiers were very clearly surprised by his “arrogance” and started asking him who he was and what he was doing. He answered truthfully that he’s an actor and works in the theater, and if not for the war, tonight at 7 he would have the premier of Dostoyevski’s White Nights. To check if he was lying, the Russians asked him to act… And Jurij, right there in the middle of the street in Hostomel, with the barrels of Russian guns pointed at him, started playing his role — the Dreamer. He had to stop at the moment when Nastya’s part was supposed to come; Nastya is played by Maryna. The soldiers asked him: Where is she? Jurij pointed to the phone and said, “Right here! She’s trying to call me for the tenth time.” They let him go, together with the people he was saving from hell. I asked him if I could write about him today. He agreed immediately. During the conversation, I said something about the premier that was supposed to happen on March 7. He interrupted me immediately: “Don’t say it was supposed to happen! It did happen!” When the war is over and you visit Kyiv, you must go to the theater, Silver Island.
As a Dominican priory, we are trying not to lose our normal rhythm of the day, which is measured by the liturgy. So there is morning prayer, for which brothers are sometimes missing, but we try to be forgiving to each other during the time of war. At noon Father Jakub calls whoever is around to invite them to say the rosary and stay for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament afterward. In the evening we celebrate vespers and the Conventual Mass, which is the Eucharist celebrated by the whole community. Almost like normal life in the priory. There is a lot of truth in that. We really try to stay normal.
Warm greetings and request for prayers,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 10, 2022, 3:30pm
Dear sisters and dear brothers,
It’s already been a couple days since my last letter. This interruption doesn’t mean that something tragic has happened to us. Quite the opposite. I finally managed to travel to Fastiv. I had already started missing the conversations with my brothers Misha, John, Paul, and Igor, and Dominican sisters Damion, Monica, Augustine, and Gala, as well as the wonderful volunteers who work at the House at Saint Martin, Vera, Katia, and Sophie, just to mention a few. Phone conversations can’t replace actual meetings, after all. The trip to Fastiv, around 80 km, was peaceful. If not for checkpoints, document checks, and all kinds of obstacles that have been built at the entrances to the city, one might say that there are no signs of war. But the war obviously is there and is quite close to Kyiv and Fastiv. And it is very brutal and terrifying. At night in Fastiv, one could hear distant explosions. I must have slept very deeply after all, since only in the morning I learned from Misha that they had an alarm and the sirens had been blaring. Another example of the proverb: the less you know, the better you sleep.
The Dominican priory in Fastiv, a very simple building, is really a slightly upgraded temporary construction crew lodging, and it was donated to the Domincans in the 90’s by a construction company. The conditions are very simple, but the fathers who live there had always been reluctant with upgrades, preferring to invest their means in the restoration of the church, or in the construction of the House of Saint Martin, which became a great center of help for the needy. In a tiny chapel of the priory, we celebrated the liturgy of the hours. In front of us was the crucifix depicting Christ dying on the cross and two statues representing Saint Dominic and Saint Catherine of Siena kneeling at the cross. These old figures come from some Dominican church or priory, from even before the second world war. I remember when Father Misha and I bought them from an antiques seller in Chortkiv. Today we are facing war again, and the brothers are praising God before those same statutes. When I was praying, I was thinking about the Dominican Family. We are receiving so many letters and messages these days from brothers and sisters around the world. So many signs of solidarity, compassion, and assurances of prayers and fasts for Ukraine. Today we were reading in the breviary the homily of Saint Leo. The great pope encourages us to never be ashamed of the cross. “No one should fear to suffer for the sake of justice; no one should lose confidence in the reward that has been promised. The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death.” In these past days, words like these add strength and hope.
After the Mass, I went with Father Paul for coffee to the House of Saint Martin. In the cafeteria, we met one of the families who moved to Fastiv for the time of war. A mother and three children. The little ones were eating colorful cookies — very pleased on this Sunday morning. Another new tenant of our house joined our table, a cat of the Sphinx breed. To me, he is very exotic. With a certain level of distrust he started approaching me. I think he was hungry. Or maybe he was just missing the company of humans, like a large number of animals left behind during the war by their owners. A moment later, the doors opened and a little girl peeked into the room. Out of breath, she yelled in Russian, “Have you seen a black cat?” “No,” we responded. “It’s okay,” she sighed, and kept going. A moment later a mother and a son arrived. On the menu for breakfast was Ukrainian borscht. The young boy very clearly did not want to eat it. His mom started feeding him. I offered her a chair: “Please, sit down. It will be easier.” She thanked me and smiled. Sadness was in her face. Just like on the faces of many other mothers that I met today in Fastiv. On the way back to the priory, Father Paul was stopped by another lady. She was also accompanied by a little boy. “Can we sign up here for the evacuation to Poland?” she asked. Paul explained to her that it will be possible tomorrow. She thanked us and asked if she could sign up someone else in addition to her and her son. As she was leaving she added, “We are from Donetsk. From Horlivka. We’ve already escaped from war once, and now we are escaping again.” Her city was overtaken by Russian separatists in 2014 and became part of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. There are many such families, lonely mothers, children, who have to run constantly for their lives.
The brothers from Fastiv helped to evacuate 972 people since the beginning of the war. A substantial part of them are already safely in Poland. Others moved to western Ukraine. I was able to see warehouses with the humanitarian help arriving in Fastiv from Ukraine and all of Europe. We couldn’t do anything without all of you. Thank you.
Leaving Fastiv, I took with me a couple loaves of freshly baked bread. Again, the smell of bread in my car! Although, the smell was a little broken by the aroma of gasoline that I keep in bottles, since I purchased it on the way to have fuel for an electricity generator. I hope it will work! My return took a couple long hours because at the entrance to Kyiv, every car must be checked. On the other hand, it is comforting that we still have access to the city and that we still have food. The Russians haven’t succeeded in surrounding us.
I passed on a couple loaves of bread from Father Misha to the Polish embassy. I had tea with the Polish ambassador who, apart from the apostolic nuncio, is the only diplomat from Europe who is still in Kyiv, and maybe the only one from the whole world. I was given a couple things that might be useful in helping people. During our conversation we stood by the window. We were surprised and very much overjoyed to see the workers of the Kyiv city services sweeping the streets. Like the old days, like the war never happened. It is very beautiful. These days the simplest normalcy becomes unusually meaningful.
I would like to end with the amazing witness of Catholics from Russia. Somebody was sharing one today from the pulpit. I was very moved by it. If by some miracle its author reads this letter, I would like to thank him for his courageous and humble words. You are a noble person. May the words of Christ be fulfilled in your life: “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:31) …Although, after what you wrote, these words are already being fulfilled in your life.
“We pray for you. We are ashamed! We are ashamed! We are ashamed that we are Russians. For my whole life now, I will feel guilty before the Ukrainian nation. I never voted for Putin; I went to all the legal and illegal demonstrations to support Ukraine, but I still couldn’t do anything. I would like to ask all Ukrainians for forgiveness for all the crimes which today are being committed at Russian hands. But who needs my contrition if people are still suffering and dying in Ukraine. All Russians are now committing the irremovable sin of Cain, and no explanation will help. I understand that this is my personal opinion, and many, even people with similar views, will be appalled. Nonetheless, a number of generations of Russians will have to carry responsibility for these atrocities. I want to write it openly. If you want to publish it, I will be satisfied. Do not hide my name; I am not afraid. We are praying for you and all of Ukraine. May God give you peace and happiness!”
With greetings and request for prayer,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, Sunday, March 13, 2022, 7:30pm
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,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 15, 2022, 8:50pm
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,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Fastiv, March 19, 2022, 5:30 pm
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:
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,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 22, 2022, 7 pm
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 centimeters 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 center. 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 Ukranian 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 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: “Bo?e we?ykyj 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 demeanor. 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 neighborhoods 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 neighboring 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 the 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 neighborhood. “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,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 26, 2022, 5:30 pm
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, that 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 defense 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 neighboring Irpin], there was an armored 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 favor: “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 neighborhood where the Camelite priory and parish are located. The western suburbs of the city are exceptionally loud, since the battle is being fought only a couple kilometers 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, favorite 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 Levallois-Gallieni); 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,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 30, 7 pm
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,
Jaros?aw Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, Saturday, April 2, 5:20 pm
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
On Sunday, the world learned about the horrible war crimes committed against the defenseless civilian population in Bucha, the city located less than 20 km west of Kyiv. Until recently, it had been an oasis of peace. Now this beautifully located town has become part of the history of human wickedness. That evening, I was listening to the Ukrainian radio. The things that the Russian bandits did — I call them bandits because I wouldn’t call people who are murderers and rapists soldiers — were compared to the events at Srebrenica. During the Bosnian War in 1995, a massacre of thousands of Bosnian Muslims was committed there. Sadly, Bucha is not the only such place in this war. Yesterday I visited Fastiv. When I walked down to the cafe at the Center of Saint Martin, Father Misha was assigning daily duties to the volunteers. Sister Augustine, with a notebook in her hand, was writing down how much, to whom, and where things needed to be delivered. Somebody asked about the Makarivs, to which Misha responded: “They are burying the dead today.”
Many people since the beginning of the war had been buried in mass graves because cemeteries were not available, and the number of victims was very high. I was listening to a story told by a police officer who had driven on the Zhytomyr Road immediately after it was retaken from the hands of the occupying forces. Until very recently, this road was one of the main highways outside of Kyiv leading west. The cop told me how he tried to reach the families of people who were executed to tell them where their loved ones were buried. Thanks to that information, they might be able to find the bodies and prepare a regular funeral. Yesterday I spent most of my day in the car on the way from Kyiv to Khmelnytskyi. I was passing by a few cemeteries in the villages and small towns. One could see fresh tombs decorated with plastic, colorful wreaths that are so popular in Ukraine. I don’t know if the tombs contained victims of the war. But it’s very likely; just like in Zhovkva, where Father Wojciech from Lviv visited yesterday. I must add that I’ve always been very moved by the way the Ukranians say farewell to their soldiers, how they treat them like real heros. When the coffins with their remains are being transported, people come out on the streets and kneel. The same pictures could be seen in 2014 when all of Ukraine was saying farewell to the so-called “Heavenly Sotnia,” the people who were killed in Kyiv at Maidan Independence Square during the Revolution of Dignity. I took part in one of these farewell ceremonies a few years ago in Ivano-Frankivsk. I will never forget it. The protests that happened at that time at the Maidan and President Yanukovych’s removal from power could be considered an impulse that was used as a cause of the aggression of Russia against Ukraine. This war has already lasted for eight years, and its victims could be counted not in thousands, but in tens of thousands of people.
On the way to Khmelnytskyi, when the navigation app on my phone led me through a variety of tangled streets, I noticed mothers strolling with children in the villages. I’ve never seen this before to such an extent, and I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of kilometers on Ukrainian roads. I spoke recently with the Polish ambassador in Kyiv who told me that during war, one notices children with a particular intensity. He is absolutely correct! It could be that we do this because of some subconscious compassion, some particular concentration of attention on these little persons who wander now with their mothers and grandmothers through the quieter parts of Ukraine and the world. Others sit in dark, cold basements of Mariupol like shadows, to avoid being found by the murderous army. One can see many cars heading toward Kyiv. The withdrawal of the Russian army and another peaceful day in the capital clearly caused some of the inhabitants to return. I saw city buses yesterday morning on the streets of Kyiv and a notice saying that one can cross the Dnieper on the subway. It seems like a small detail, but for the daily lives of normal people, functioning public transportation is essential. The mayor of the city, however, advises the citizens of Kyiv who are now living in safe neighborhoods not to rush their return, for at least a few more days. The city is still not completely safe.
Many humanitarian convoys are going in the direction of Kyiv, and from there, farther to the east, north, and south. They consist of long lines of trucks, just like the one I passed in Letychiv that was bringing aid from Turkey; but they also include vans and passenger cars with volunteers. There are also coach buses regularly shuttling people from Poland. One particularly drew my attention. The sign behind the windshield said, “Slupsk — Mariupol.”
I could see cars filled with people and luggage, sometimes attached to the roof, with registration plates from the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, and Kharkiv. How far they’ve already driven! They have decided to leave, as people from these regions are strenuously urged by the authorities, since heavy fighting might take place there very soon. Two buses filled with people from Mykolaiv and Kherson left Fastiv yesterday. Sadly, the Russian army uses civilians as living shields; that’s why the authorities ask people to leave and allow our army to fight the enemy with dignity.
In the outskirts of Khmelnytskyi, a smiling young volunteer girl was pointing to a thermos, offering hot tea to passersby. It’s a very simple gesture but very important for these people, because it means that someone is awaiting them.
Since the very beginning, one of the weapons of this war has been words. I will not describe Russian propaganda, since everyone knows it well. Instead, let me mention some signs and billboards on the highway. In many places in Khmelnytskyi, I’ve seen posters in English saying, “Russians are killing our children.” There are also religious themes. On one of the billboards along the highway, the soldiers of the occupying army were depicted as servants of the biblical Herod. Some time ago, on one of the barricades in Kyiv, I saw a copy of the so-called “Saint Javelina”, which is an icon of Our Lady adorned with Ukrainian symbols and holding, instead of the Child Jesus, an American handheld anti-tank missile, the Javelin. I understand the perhaps noble intentions of the author of this painting, but I really don’t like it. I think the same way about the saying that’s been painted and repeated almost everywhere since the beginning of the war: “To the Russian warship, go ___.” Many wise Ukrainians who I respect enormously started protesting against vulgarity in public debate. Eastern Rite Bishop Taras Senkiv said it best: “It’s not an instrument of war; it’s a sign of defeat.”
I am sending today’s letter in the morning from the priory in Khmelnytskyi. I came here to meet with Brothers Jakub and Wlodzimierz. This place has become a shelter for refugees from Kyiv and Kharkiv, like many religious houses that have opened their doors to become homes for people escaping from war. We are not only giving to them. Especially since most of these things we offer we have received from others. But as I discover over and over again, it is they who are a gift to us. I experienced this for the first time a couple months ago when our Kyiv community hosted refugees from Kabul. It’s a little like the poem “Justice” by Father Jan Twardowski, which I’ve been carrying with me throughout my life:
If everyone had four apples
If everyone was strong as a horse
If everyone was equally defenseless in love
If everyone had the same thing
No one would need anyone.
It looks like we live in the time of God’s Justice, when we need each other.
With warm greetings and request for prayer,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Khmelnytskyi, Tuesday, April 5, 8am
Dear sisters, dear brothers,
Little Romek celebrated his sixth birthday yesterday. When I was visiting the brothers in Chortkiv two days ago, he was sitting with his dad in our priory’s parish office, which also functions as a guest room. They were looking at something on his computer. We peeked in for a moment, and he immediately ran to us, embraced Father Svorad, and announced to everyone: “I will have a birthday in two days!” He became a little embarrassed when I said that if that’s the case, we’ll have to find some kind of a gift for him. His dad immediately responded that the greatest gift for them was being able to take shelter with us. They had arrived from Kyiv with their whole family at the beginning of the war and were very graciously received by Father Svorad and Father Julian. The brothers are already used to the fact that their small house is a little louder and much more joyful. Romek’s mom is a terrific cook. And that’s the best way to Dominican hearts. On the way back from the church, which is about a kilometer from the priory, I stopped by a toy store. I hoped that Romek would like a Lego fire engine.
Chortkiv is very important for the Dominicans. Our church is considered one of the most beautiful Catholic buildings in Ukraine. It is also a shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary. Here, during the Second World War, the Soviets murdered our brothers. We all hope that the beatification procedures that began years ago will some day raise them to the altar. The state authorities gave back to the Order the priory building that is adjacent to the church. Unfortunately, many church buildings in Ukraine, and particularly priories, have not been returned to their original owners. Somehow we managed to get ours. For some time already, we’ve been planning for the priory to serve, after renovations, not only as a home for the brothers but also as a help center, a little like the house of Saint Martin in Fastiv. In the present situation in Ukraine, finalizing these plans seem not only appropriate but urgent.
Like almost all cities in western Ukraine, Chortkiv received many refugees. One can clearly see that the tiny streets of this charming little town are filled with families and mothers with children. At the city council building, tents are set up with humanitarian aid. Help is also offered at the cathedral of the Eastern Rite Catholics. It’s not the only church in Ukraine where I saw, alongside the liturgical space and an area for people coming to pray, boxes of food, cleaning supplies, and mounds of baby diapers. I thought of the words of Christ: “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Many churches now contain both the Bread of Angels, the Holy Eucharist, and the bread from human guardian angels around the world who did not forget their brothers and sisters exiled from their homes by war. Father Svorad, who is from Slovakia, told me that he often meets refugees at prayer in our church. Some people ask for conversation or prayer; some light a candle in front of Our Lady; some ask for confession. The vast majority are not Catholics and often had nothing to do with the Church previously, either Eastern or Western. Years ago, when I was a pastor in Chortkiv, I placed in the church a figure of Saint Joseph, the protector of emigrants. I wanted the people of this city to pray through his intercession for their loved ones who emigrated from Ukraine. Now our Saint Joseph must be very busy. He knows what it means to be on the way and escape from the anger of Herod. Saint Joseph, careful protector of Jesus and Mary, patron saint of emigrants and refugees, pray for us!
I spent the next two days in Lviv. When I reached the priory in the biggest and also most beautiful city in western Ukraine, Father Thomas, dressed in white habit and black cappa, was just leaving for an ecumenical prayer for the intentions of the victims of war. I joined him. Panikhida, a memorial service for the dead in Eastern Churches, was celebrated in the city center at the monument for the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko. Representatives of all faiths in the city were present, including the bishops of both Catholic rites, as well as the Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Dymytriy. In the face of the tragedy of thousands of Ukrainians murdered in recent weeks, which became symbolized by the town of Bucha, I see in a much more profound way the need for common prayer and for calling with one voice to God, begging for mercy. At the end, the participants lit blue and yellow candles. They were left on the sidewalk, arranged in the shape of the Ukrainian coat of arms. This prayer was also attended by many refugees, whose number in the city is very high. It was the first ecumenical celebration like this in Lviv since the beginning of the war.
The time of war is a difficult time for our priories, parishes, and ministries. So many people left their houses, and a significant part of them went abroad. Will they come back, and when? Time will tell. We can already feel the emptiness because a large part of these people were actively involved in the lives of our parishes and communities.
On Wednesday afternoon, I went for a walk. I was told that a military parish of Eastern Rite will have a funeral service for three soldiers. I decided to join the prayers, led by a bishop. I didn’t know these soldiers who died on the front lines, but when I participated in their funeral, I felt like they were close to me. I prayed with gratitude for their service. They paid the highest price for me also, that I can be safe in Kyiv. The oldest of them was 49 years old, and the other two were just young boys. Looking at the mother of one of them, pained and in tears, I thought about Mary who stood at the cross of her Son. The stations of the cross of Ukraine, in many places of the country, ended with “The Laying in the Tomb.”
The church was filled with people. Among them were many soldiers, who carried the coffins of their brothers. Next to me in the long line toward the narrow entrance of the church patiently stood the president of the Ukrainian Parliament. Before the war, we had met briefly in Kyiv. After the war began, I wrote him a short message, assuring him of our prayers. He wrote back, “Father, let us pray for Ukraine.” Now, we spoke politely for a few minutes. The most important Ukrainian politicians who run the country have passed a very difficult exam in faithfulness to their homeland.
On my journey, I managed to visit Dominican Sisters in Chortkiv and Zhovkva. Since the beginning of the war, they have been very involved in helping the needy and organizing humanitarian transports. I didn’t inform the sisters in advance about my visit to Chortkiv. Whenever I go to them, they are extremely hospitable, which expresses itself, among other ways, by a wonderfully supplied table. During the time of war, I didn't want to create additional trouble, so I decided to knock on their door without any previous notice. The door was opened by Sister Eugene, the superior of the community. The other two sisters had gone to deliver supplies to Yasnyshche, which is 125 km from Chortkiv. It’s an important place because it’s the birthplace of the foundress of the Congregation of the Dominican Sisters, Roza Kolumba Bialecka.
Yesterday I arrived in Zhovkva. I celebrated Mass in the community chapel, which has icons of Dominican saints on the walls. How good it is to pray in such company: holy icons and wonderful, courageous sisters. After that, we had breakfast, and the sisters told me about their ministry. A lot happens in Zhovkva because it is located close to the Polish border. In the first weeks of war, the sisters enormously helped thousands of refugees who were waiting every day at the border crossings. Now in cooperation with local volunteers, they provide humanitarian help that is so needed in Ukraine. I continued my trip with Liana, an unusual volunteer from Zhovkva. She is a historian and works at the museum in Lviv. I learned a lot from her about helping and about life during war. She was on her way to receive a delivery of medical supplies from the USA that will be used to save the lives of our soldiers on the front lines.
Dear Readers of my letters, I crossed the border yesterday and am presently in Poland. I will return to Kyiv in two weeks. If you live in Warsaw or nearby, I would like to invite you to the retreat I will preach in the church of Saint Hyacinth on Freta Street, beginning on Palm Sunday and lasting until Wednesday of Holy Week. Since my letters have always been the sharing of what I personally saw, heard, or experienced in the places touched by war, I will take a break from writing. I would love if letters of the story of war will not be necessary in the near future. Thank you for your solidarity with Ukraine, for help, for money, and above all, for your prayer and Lenten sacrifices in the intention of peace.
With warm greetings and request for prayer,
Jaroslaw Krawiec OP,
Lviv — Zhovkva — Warsaw, April 8, 8:45 am
Give to help the Ukrainian People
Our Polish Dominican brothers are working tirelessly to provide food, clothes, medical care, and housing in their priories for refugees streaming across the border from Ukraine. Our brothers in Ukraine are also at work providing food and medical supplies to Ukrainians who remain in their homeland.
Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are in need of our support. Together, we’re working to help them, and so can you!
Funds donated will be collected by the Western Dominican Province, then transferred to the Polish Dominican Province, who is administering funds for the care of refugees and for the friars still in Ukraine.
If you’re inspired to also help, please make a gift as soon as possible, and join us in working to alleviate the suffering from the war in Ukraine.
God bless you for your kindness!
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