Kyiv – Saturday, January 21, 2023

Dear sisters, dear brothers,

I’ve been waiting to send this letter until Father Misha and his
volunteers from the House of Saint Martin de Porres are safely on their
way back to Fastiv. They left yesterday with the humanitarian transport
to Kherson. Unfortunately I couldn’t join them, so I’m only getting
reports over the telephone. These days Kherson is very dangerous because
both the city and the vicinity around it are being shelled daily.
According to Father Maksym from the Kherson parish, yesterday was one of
the worst days yet. Apart from multiple attacks from across the Dnipro
River where the Russian army is stationed, one could also hear shots in
the streets. It’s no wonder that many inhabitants left Kherson recently.
“In the morning we were distributing food in the neighborhood close to
the river. Within the fifteen-apartment section of the building, only
three families remained,” says Father Misha.

One might ask if it’s worth it to risk your health and life traveling to
these places. After all, humanitarian supplies can be delivered in a
different way. With the help of trusted local volunteers, one could
still provide supplies to the needy. It would be simpler, cheaper, and
certainly safer. However, anyone who has experienced a face-to-face
encounter with people living near the frontlines — for whom regular
shelling, lack of electricity, cold, uncertainty about tomorrow are a
daily experience — anyone who has seen their joy in being visited, knows
that one should and one must travel to them. It’s a mandate of the heart
and of love. Food, medicine, and warm clothes can be delivered through
other people’s hands; hope in difficult times can only be brought by a
personal presence.

Father Misha told me about a meeting with the inhabitants of
Chornobaivka, where a few months ago a heavy battle was fought between
the Russian and Ukrainian armies. This village is considered the
northern gateway to Kherson, and its airport became a symbol of
Ukrainian tenacity. One of the women was celebrating her birthday.
Apparently she had been awaiting guests since the morning, with a bottle
of champagne!

The war has also created its own dress code, ways of dressing in these
difficult times. For instance, the t-shirts that President Zelenskyy
wears have become legendary. And we have the sweatshirts for volunteers
of the Foundation and the House of Saint Martin de Porres. “Get one like
that for me,” I asked Misha, noticing his new black shirt that says
“Jas. 4:17”. “Just make sure it’s at least triple XL!” “What quote is
that from the letter of Saint James?” I added. “‘For one who knows the
right thing to do and does not do it, it is a sin’,” responded Father
Misha. Strong words! I will remember them for a long time.

I notice that people often hug each other when they meet. During wartime
this form of greeting has become very popular. Before the war, only very
closely related people would dare to make such a gesture publically in
Ukraine. It seems to me that we simply realized how important we are to
each other and how much we need each other. We also realized how fragile
and uncertain our life is. Some time ago, at the farewell with a married
couple who had been our guides, somewhere around Izium in the dark foggy
road leading to Kharkiv, we hugged each other. I had only known them for
a couple hours, but the experience of the road we had traveled and the
bread we had shared with the needy brought us together.

I wrote my previous letter before Christmas. A lot has happened since
then. For instance, we were visited by Cardinal Krajewski who brought
supplies from the Vatican to Ukraine. This time it was power generators
and thermal underclothes, so needed in the winter. We hadn’t planned to
meet, but when we learned that he was traveling to Kyiv, I called him
and invited him to Fastiv. During one of his previous visits, the
cardinal had already met the Dominican community from Kyiv. The papal
almoner spent Christmas Eve with the sisters, brothers, volunteers, and
refugees from the House of Saint Martin, and during the midnight Mass he
delivered a very moving homily. When he spoke of Jesus’ invitation:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you
rest” (Mt. 11:28), he emphasized the word “all”; and it’s so true that
the war can open us to the other and make us go together to serve those
in need. I think this is what the cardinal experienced in his
conversations with the refugees and volunteers.

On the Solemnity of the Epiphany we opened another house, this time for
those uprooted by war. It is a cause for great joy in these difficult
times and for even greater gratitude to all who contributed to its
creation. More than a dozen people are already living there, including
mothers with small children. It is already the third house we’re running
in Fastiv to help those in need. The Archbishop Visvaldas — the
apostolic nuncio in Ukraine who came to bless the building — and I
talked to Oksana and her nine-year-old son Zhena. They had come to us
from Bakhmut at the beginning of the war, fleeing the bombings. Her
husband, the boy’s father whose name was also Zhena, had died fighting
for a free Ukraine.

Another person who took part in the opening of the house for refugees
was Bartosz Cichocki, the Polish ambassador in Kyiv, and he was joined
by his wife Monika. They have been personally involved in our work for a
long time. Happy that another good initiative succeeded, we joyfully
agreed that this “Fastiv experience” has changed us. This is how mercy

I was very impressed by the benefit concert given by the youth choir of
the National Academy of Music in Kyiv, which was organized in the great
hall of the Dominican Institute of Saint Thomas Aquinas last night. A
group of young artists performed ten pieces by Ukrainian composers. One
of them was the traditional song “I go by mountain and by valley,”
beautifully performed by Oleksandra Stetsiuk, that tells, in the dialect
of the Carpathian Lemkos, the story of a girl crying, after losing her
love: “I go by mountain and by valley. I don’t see anyone. My heart
cries. My heart cries. Out of great sorrow.”

Listen to this song performed by Oleksandra at an earlier concert!

The war takes the lives of great people every day and breaks the hearts
of their loved ones. As I was browsing the news that my friends share
with each other, I found the obituary of Victor Onysko, a film editor
who became a Ukrainian soldier a couple months ago. He died in battle on
December 30, at the age of 40. I never met Victor, although I knew him
in a sense through many great Ukrainian movies that he co-created. His
wife Olga shared her memories of him on Facebook. She also shared her
pain that is so common now in Ukraine. I have to admit that I cannot
read Olga’s words without emotion.

“My heart will always remain in this terrible 2022. Because you remain
in it. My hero. My love. My everything. I don’t know how to continue
living and breathing without you. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to
dream again.

The only thing I want now is for this Russia-ist [In modern Ukraine,
they created a word that combines the words Russia and fascism.] evil to
be punished as soon as possible and for the fewest people as possible to
feel this unspeakable and burning pain of loss.

I didn’t write much about you here; I was afraid, I’m ashamed to admit,
to do harm. FB is not the best place for sincerity. And you always told
me that your field reports from the Ukrainian front were only for me.
You were supposed to edit movies, but instead ‘edited’ a military
reality as a company commander. Twice in ground zero – in the Kherson
region and the Donbass. Without any possibility of seeing each other.
You are very tired, but you took care of your brothers. You’ve survived
every single loss. You told me that there is no greater torture in war
than to inform the families of the death of their relative. Now I felt
it on myself. It broke my heart when your soldier sobbed into the phone
and swore to me that he didn’t know a better person and a better

They say heroes never die. Unfortunately, they do. They are dying now by
the thousands, forever leaving their relatives with incurable wounds in
their souls. I would be grateful for injury, disability, amputation,
ptsd… or anything as long as you’re alive. But unfortunately we
weren’t that lucky. I will never be able to hide in your arms, hear your
voice, laugh at your jokes and argue for hours about movies.

The only thing left of you is a 9-year-old girl with your gray eyes.
Thanks to you she had a fantastic childhood with motorcycles, bicycles,
tents, skis, music, Balkan mountains and concerts in Berlin. And when I
couldn’t breathe through my tears for the whole day on the train, she
patted me on the head and said that dad fought for our freedom and we
will never forget him, and that dad will always be in our thoughts. My
and your adult little one. One of thousands of innocent children whose
parents were killed by the damned Russism.

It hurts. It hurts beyond words…”

With greetings and request for prayer for those whose loved ones were
taken by war,

Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, January 21, 2023, 4pm

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