Kyiv, Monday, August 7, 2023

Dear Sisters, Dear Brothers,

The phones are the first to go off. Almost every Ukrainian has an app installed on his smartphone informing us about the alarms in progress. A few seconds later, the sirens start shrieking. On Saturday this happened three different times, the last one during the evening Mass that I celebrated in the chapel of the Kyiv priory. We’ve gotten used to it, so there’s no panic, no nervousness, like there was at the beginning of the war. I doubt, however, whether anyone is capable of accepting the recurring alarms with complete calm. Especially at night, when the Russian drones and rockets fly over most often. I have to admit that for over a year and a half, almost every morning I have been starting off with checking the news, even when I’m not in Ukraine and don’t have sirens waking me up in the middle of the night.

The Ukrainian Air Force informs immediately of the incoming threats. So it was on Saturday when a dozen or so hard-to-shoot-down hypersonic rockets were on their way from the territories of Russia and Belarus. It’s a strange feeling to know in advance that in a moment, somewhere, people may die and houses may be destroyed. Just like July 6, when in the center of Lviv ten people lost their lives and over 40 were wounded. And a week ago in Kryvyi Rih, the Russian rockets hit a 9-story apartment building, wounding over 80 people. Among the dead were ten-year-old Daria and her mother Natalya. Next to the ruined building, people assembled a mound of flowers and toys. In the picture, you can see two boxes of Barbie dolls. The same ones that are in the dreams of millions of movie-going peers of Daria around the world.

I read the news: “Saturday. At 7:15pm the Air Force announced the launch of rockets from Belarus. They are Kinzharls! Vinnitsa, Khmelnytskyi, Zhytomyr! 7:18pm: A fast rocket missile is heading in the direction of Kyiv. Update: Around 7:40pm, the air alarm was called off in the majority of the regions in Ukraine.” The words of Psalm 11 come to mind: “Look, the wicked bend their bow, they have fitted their arrow to the string, to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart.”

Thoughts about Ukraine, however, should not focus only on the terror of Russian rockets. Despite all this, life goes on. Sometimes you might get the impression that the war has become a vague background behind regular life. The streets of the capital clogged with traffic, the crowds of tourists on the popular mountain trails of the Carpathian Mountains, or the overcrowded trains to Poland, for which getting a ticket during the summer months borders a miracle. To someone looking at Ukraine from a distance, it might seem surprising or maybe even irritating. It might even provoke the question: So maybe this war is not as terrible as they say (with diminishing frequency) in the world media? It is not so, however. The war is a brutal reality for everyone who lives in Ukraine or has relatives here. Although in many ways we try to protect ourselves and rebuild normality, in reality one cannot isolate oneself from the war. Things that do not allow us to forget are cemeteries, hospitals, husbands, fathers, and friends fighting on the front lines.

This letter from Kyiv is appearing after a long break. It was hard for me to get to writing, despite repeated questions from my friends: what’s new with you guys? A lot happened in our Dominican world too. The brothers took part in pilgrimages and retreats, they accompanied young people on their summer trips, and they organised workshops of Gregorian chant. Significant work was done by Father Misha and the volunteers from Fastiv, who were helping the people from Kherson and the surrounding villages that were flooded after the destruction of the dam on the Dnipro. The kitchen that remained open in the very center of the city became especially important. There, anyone in need could get a free meal. Thanks to the support of the Polish government, we brought the flooded areas a couple hundred beds with bedding. In Kherson, a woman whose house was flooded told me that from many people – for whom it seemed that after months of occupation and life under constant fire, nothing worse could happen – the flood caused by the Russians took away their whole life’s property. I admire their determination, will to fight, and gratitude for help.

In July we were visited by the Dominicans from the US and the Czech Republic. As I accompanied Fr. James from the Province of the Holy Name, I could see his living faith when he blessed the people he encountered, asking them at the same time for prayer. It was an important testimony even for me, a reminder that among many tasks that the Dominicans in Ukraine face, prayer for and with people is the most important. At the end of June, the pope’s almoner Cardinal Conrad Krajewski stopped by our priory in Khmelnytskyi for a few minutes. Brothers Wojciech and Igor took his encouragement to prayer and his gift – the pope’s rosary — very seriously. You can join the daily rosary for peace in Khmelnytskyi on Facebook. We were also encouraged to such prayer by the Master of the Order during his recent visit to Ukraine.

We asked Brother Václav from the Czech Republic what made him travel to Ukraine and stay in Fastiv. He said that in one of my letters that he translated to the Czech language, he read about the volunteers who teach love of neighbor. The words of Brother Václav ring true particularly now when we are praying for one of the volunteers, Dennis, who died on the street in Kyiv, killed by a drunk driver. Places where we can learn fraternal love from others and with others are worth finding.

I met Oksana at the beginning of the war when she managed to get out of the Irpin, which was at that time under Russian occupation. She is an artist and is preparing an exhibition of puppets. She named it: “Return to Irpin”. She says that what she wants to show is not just puppets, but true human stories told in this unusual way. We were deliberating the best way to help the wounded soldiers in the hospital in Kyiv. At some point she said: “We are all ‘rozmajbutnieni’.” She is using a word that cannot be found in a dictionary. The Ukrainian word “majbutnie” means “what is about to happen” and sounds similar to the English “maybe”, although it expresses the future as more certain and more established. “Rozmajbutnieni” means those who are deprived of the future. The play on words and meanings wonderfully depicts Ukrainian reality. In our regular life, we walk dressed in dreams. Quite often our future is planned many years ahead for us and our children. “Rozmajbutnieni” is to be stripped of all that we would like to happen. It’s a naked present-tense with planning reaching no further than tomorrow or maybe a week. Obviously we are not going through “rozmajbutnieni” in the same way, but when I’m asking Father Misha in Fastiv about the plans for the coming months or even weeks, I can’t always get an answer.

Marzena from the group “Charytatywni-Freta” told us about the most recent humanitarian mission to the Kharkiv region. Zavody is a tiny destroyed village from around Izyum where Father Misha and the volunteers from the House of Saint Martin de Porres are helping to rebuild houses and farms. “How have you found us, here, at the end of the world?” a Zavody woman asked a surprised volunteer from Poland. “It was God,” Marzena responded quickly. Apparently this short sentence touched the woman’s heart deeply because she started crying. When I heard Marzena’s story over the phone, I thought about the Good Shepherd who goes to the deserted places searching for the lost sheep.

During my recent visit to Switzerland, Bernard, a journalist from, gave me a couple dozen little statuettes of smiling Jesus, which could fit in a matchbox. They were a gift from the Little Sisters of Jesus from the Swiss monastery in Aubonne. Bernard made a documentary about the unusual life of Sister Mary Hedwig who lives in that community. In Poland, the great apostle of the smile was Saint Urszula Ledóchowska. In Switzerland, Father Maurice Zundel wrote about it: “The most powerful force in the world is the smile. A smile makes us alive, just as lack of smile makes us die. When there is no smile, life diminishes. Wherever there is the smile, life flourishes. The smile is also something that is most fragile.” So much joy was given to us by Sisters Renata and Kamila, Orionist sisters from Korotych. In July, they came to Fastiv and Kyiv with a group of about twenty kids, of whom many came from occupied or destroyed villages of the Kharkiv region. The sisters told us that sometimes the children unexpectedly – at dinner, over tea, or during play – start telling how the bombs were dropping on their houses, how they were hiding in the basements, how someone died. How many painful memories they carry in themselves! All of them were visiting Kyiv for the first time in their lives. I saw with what great veneration they lit the candles in the Orthodox Sabor of Saint Nicholas and how they looked with awe at the mosaics in the Sophia Cathedral. I wouldn’t be myself if we didn’t also go to the entertainment center. It’s a fun place that always lifts kids’ spirits. I know it well because two years ago, we went there with a group of refugees from Iraq.

Yesterday, World Youth Day ended in Lisbon; a couple of young people from the parish in Fastiv were there with Sister Augustine. In Kyiv, just after sunrise, a huge Ukrainian coat of arms was hung on the over-100-meter-high statue. On the steel statue’s shield, which is made out of stainless steel and shines brightly in the sun, just a couple days ago you could still see a Russian sickle and hammer. I went there at dawn to see Mother Ukraine from the bank of the Dnipro in this new, finally Ukrainian, version. It is an important symbol in an important process of breaking away from the Soviet past.

I ask you to pray for Brother Nikita from Kharkiv who is about to finish his novitiate and will take his first vows in our Order next Sunday in Warsaw.

With gratitude for all your help offered to us and Ukraine and with constant request for prayer,

Jarosław Krawiec, OP,
Monday, August 7, 2023

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