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,
Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, March 22, 2022, 7 pm