A Message from the Dominican Sisters and Friars in Ukraine

Updated June 13, 2022, 9 a.m. CST

Updates From Our Dominican Family in Ukraine

Here is an update from Kyiv by Father Jarosław Krawiec, Vicar Provincial of the Dominican Province of St. Hyacinth.

Dear Sisters, Dear Brothers,

Today I made a phone call to an older woman whose son fights on the frontlines. “Good morning, this is Father Jarosław…” On the other end: silence. I introduced myself again and explained why I’m calling. After a while, she told me that the unfamiliar male voice in the receiver had surprised and frightened her. How true; during wartime a phone call like this could have brought bad news about her son. Mrs. Nadia isn’t the only mother though, or wife or daughter, who picks up the phone with apprehension.

A week ago I traveled by train from Kyiv to Khmelnytskyi. Across from me was sitting, or practically laying down, a young girl. She drew my attention because she reminded me of Maryna, a volunteer and actress from the Kyiv theater “Silver Island,” who had worked with us at the beginning of the war. This girl, though, was on crutches. The day before, she had severely twisted her leg, tearing some ligaments. I could sympathize, since I’ve also had problems with walking recently. My seatmate was going to visit her boyfriend who is serving in the military. She clearly cared about this meeting, since even a serious injury didn’t prevent her from traveling. On the platform in Vinnytsia, a young soldier was waiting for her. It soon became clear that I wasn’t the only one who had been watching the couple. “If he took her purse, it would be easier for her to walk,” the women sitting near me observed dryly. The young man was clearly inexperienced and looked like he didn’t quite know what to do. I hope the war will be gentle to them and that they’ll still get time to enjoy together and learn how to care for each other.

The war causes people to show their emotions. I see it almost every day on the streets of Ukrainian cities. Our priory is surrounded by military bases, so there’s no shortage of men and women in uniform walking around. People here instinctively feel that we can’t waste our time since there’s not much of it left. Especially when a boyfriend, husband, or wife could be sent any second to the frontlines. Unfortunately we’ve been hearing more and more about the painful losses on the Ukrainian side. Father Tomek recently took a picture of the Field of Mars in Lviv. It’s a large square next to Lychakiv Cemetery. The new Ukrainian heroes have begun to be buried there. “It’s a tragic calendar measuring the days and months of war,” I wrote to Tomek. “The last time I was there in the winter, the square was empty,” he responded.

Many people who had left Kyiv while it was under fire and besieged by the Russian army are now returning. It’s easy to tell that the young people were missing their own city, and above all, each other. As I was walking along Khreshchatyk Street, I stopped for a bite in a world-famous restaurant chain. Whether it was out of hunger or joy that it’s finally open, I don’t know. There was no shortage of customers. Standing at a screen where you order, a teenager was explaining to her friend how she had been able to order things in Poland that aren’t available here. I’m happy these young people have come back and that the metropolis has very recently come alive again. I agree with Ruslan Gorovyi, a Ukrainian author whose books I’ve been reading, that we’re winning this war as long as we’re staying alive. After 108 days of daily battles, of bombs and rockets falling in practically the whole country, most Ukrainians have accepted the war as a fact of life.

“It’s a very important experience,” Ruslan explains. “In moments like this, you don’t save your life for later. You don’t say that when we have won, then we’ll go on with our lives. No. It is now that is our life. And there will be no other for us. Whatever is happening around us, we are to live our own life as long as we are able to.”

On May 24, which is the liturgical memorial of the Elevation of the Relics of Saint Dominic, Father Gerard, the Master of the Order, established a new Dominican priory in Khmelnytskyi. Obviously the act was of a formal nature since the brothers have been living and serving there for a couple of years already. Now our presence in this city has achieved an official status. I’m happy this happened, and I’m convinced that the Master’s decision will always be a sign of hope, a kind of confirmation “from above” that as Friars Preachers, we are needed in Ukraine. Especially now.

I went to Khmelnytskyi to personally thank Father Jakub for his service, since he’ll be leaving for Poland. I hope he’ll put to good use his command of the language and the experience he gained in Lviv and Khmelnytskyi; he’s going to take over a Ukrainian language ministry at the priory of Saint Hyacinth in Warsaw that’s already existed there for four years. After the Sunday Mass, a number of people stopped by the sacristy to say goodbye. A couple with two kids thanked Jakub for his humility in ministry and daily life. It’s always beautiful to hear that a Dominican brother is seen for his humility. The brothers in Khmelnytskyi, apart from their ministry in the priory, also help at the biggest diocesen parish in Ukraine, the parish of Christ the King.

The next day, I read the assignment of Fathers Wojciech, Włodzimierz, and Igor, who just became the community of Khmelnytskyi. An assignment is a formal document in which the prior provincial orders the brother to live in a designated priory and orders the superior of this priory to accept the brother with kindness and treat him with love. I hope that Father Wojciech will be a good superior of the new Ukrainian priory under the patronage of Saint Dominic.

In my letters, I frequently write about animals. It’s unavoidable, since they’re victims of this war too. During my most recent trip on the train, I felt a little like I’d stepped onto Noah’s ark. One lady was walking along the car with a dachshund, and another lady, afraid of the possibility of an animal fight, requested, “Please, don’t come near, because we have cats.” To finish, let me tell you the story of the dog Masha, which was first told to me while driving in the car and then published by Father Misha in Fastiv on his Facebook page:

“Last week I joined the volunteers from the House of Saint Martin de Porres and a team from San Angelo Café, and we prepared another street festival for the people of Borodyanka. Near our food truck with burgers and hotdogs stood a woman with three dogs. She was wearing a winter coat. People were looking at her with disdain, and she herself clearly didn’t have the courage to stand in the line. A friend I was talking to explained, ‘She’s our local crazy-woman, but she and her dogs saved twelve people.’ The rest of the story was told by the woman herself after we offered her three hotdogs and a delicious coffee. The lady had her own style, and when she took the cup in her hands, she said that real coffee should be without sugar because with sugar, it’s not coffee anymore. ‘The first days of March were terrible. The main street of Borodyanka was completely ruined. It was all happening after March 8. I was walking on the street with a handcart and my dogs, and one of them, Masha, bit my pants and started pulling me toward a ruined house. I told Masha what I thought of that behavior using very strong vocabulary, but she would not let it go and kept barking. Ignoring my disappointment, she kept pulling me in the direction of the ruins. Finally we got there. The dog ran ahead and kept barking in one specific place. I went over with curiosity, bent down, and heard human voices coming from below the rubble: “We’ve been here for six days, we need food and water, please help!”’ Masha later found four more people in a different ruined house. Since the woman herself looked very unusual, she managed to walk the streets despite the Russian army’s presence in Borodyanka. She walked with dogs and a cart in which she had water and food. When the occupying soldiers asked her what she’s doing, she always responded that she’s feeding the dogs. Meanwhile, for a couple weeks, she continued bringing water and food to the people under the rubble.”

By accident, or maybe not by accident at all, I found a poem online, “Sleep my little child,” by famous Ukrainian poet Serhiy Zhadan. It’s a moving war lullaby written a few years ago to commemorate the life of the 15-year-old boy Danylo. He died tragically in February 2015 in Kharkiv during the Russian separatists’ terrorist attack at the March of Unity. The poem ends with a simple but true statement: “The longer the war goes on, the more courage is needed.”

Don’t forget about Ukraine! With greetings and request for prayer,

Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, June 11, 4:10pm

If you would like to send a donation to our Dominican Brother, Jarosław Krawiec, please leave a comment below and we will send you banking information to send an international wire transfer. 

Updated May 29, 2022, 1 p.m. CST

Updates From Our Dominican Family in Ukraine

Here is an update from Kyiv by Father Jarosław Krawiec, Vicar Provincial of the Dominican Province of St. Hyacinth.

Dear sisters, dear brothers,

Recently I’ve spent most of my time sending letters. It was hard to find spare time to do it sooner, but it’s very important to me that thank-you notes from the brothers in Ukraine find their way to all the people supporting the Dominican mission in the country at war. Many people and many institutions around the world help us, so the work of sending letters will still take some time. Writing addresses, signing letters, and attaching post stamps might seem boring and purely mechanical. It isn’t so, however. For me, all these actions became emotionally absorbing, stirring my curiosity and, above all, bringing forth an enormous gratitude. I know that behind every name, address, priory, province, and institution are good and generous people. You are our friends — our sisters and brothers. Unfortunately, we don’t have the addresses of all our benefactors, so if any of you don’t receive my handwritten letter, please be assured that we remember all of you in our prayers. We are in Ukraine, and we serve all those in need on your behalf as well.

Two days ago Father Misha, with the help of volunteers from the House of Saint Martin in Fastiv, organized a picnic for the inhabitants of Borodyanka. Borodyanka is one of the most devastated cities around Kyiv. I’ve already mentioned it a few times because our brothers in Fastiv have been helping its citizens for a while now. Last year, Father Misha finally fulfilled one of his dreams and bought a food truck. It’s a truck that can be used to prepare and serve hot meals. This ancient vehicle, with two large propane tanks attached to the back, drove the 70 km between Fastiv and Borodyanka surprisingly nimbly. And the children weren’t the only ones who were excited. Although we didn’t manage to provide french fries, we were capable of making delightful hotdogs and hamburgers. I fully shared everyone’s enthusiasm. Nowadays it’s hard to find good fast food, even in Kyiv, because the most popular of these chains are closed. How much worse it must be in Borodyanka, so tragically destroyed by Russian bombs and tanks, where it’s hard to find even a grocery store.

The menu of our food truck, which offered everything free of charge, also featured coffee: real, delightful, and aromatic. That was the biggest hit among the adults. Only a few months ago, coffee was absolutely normal, and nobody paid attention to it. Before the war, while driving overnight from Kyiv or Fastiv to Warsaw, we would stop in the morning for coffee in this very city. Today you can’t buy coffee in Borodyanka. I learned that while trying to find one for myself. “If I could find the money, I would immediately open a coffee house in this place,” said Father Misha when we talked about it last night. “People are longing for it. They want to go back to normal, everyday comforts.” I agree with him wholeheartedly; I’m very happy that, apart from building materials for renovating destroyed houses and necessary items like medicine, flour, oil, canned meat and bread, the volunteers from the House of Saint Martin make a huge effort to provide some token of a different, normal, pre-war world for those who have been suffering. Mrs. Natalia, who lives in our Kyiv priory with her elderly parents, told me how much she longs for this lost, normal world — how much she would love to simply sit down in front of her house in the morning and peacefully drink a cup of hot coffee.

Over the last week, I traveled a lot on trains. Partly out of comfort, partly out of necessity due to the lack of gasoline. Many trains in Ukraine consist mostly of sleeping cars. Each of these cars has its “providnyk”, a railroad employee who serves the passengers.

“Have you been working throughout the whole war?” I asked the woman responsible for my car. “Yes, I’ve been riding all this time,” she responded. “I would like to thank you. You are a real hero to me.”

She was a little surprised by what I said. She immediately stopped what she was doing and called over her colleague. I listened to their stories about how they served on the evacuation trains in the most dangerous moments of war. They showed me pictures of bullet-ridden cars and rockets flying over the Kyiv train station from the first weeks of war. People like them are real heros. Without their work, millions of human beings wouldn’t be able to evacuate to safety. Many Ukrainian railroad workers suffered as a result of war. Mr. Volodymyr showed me a picture on his phone of his relative whose face was covered with wounds after one of the most recent rocket attacks. As we were finishing our conversation, I ordered a coffee. The paper cup had an advertisement with a beautiful slogan: “Ukrainian things are becoming the best.” I don’t know how to say it better.

On the way to Kyiv, I overheard the conversation of the children running around in the car. They were traveling home with their moms. They didn’t know each other before, so they were describing their houses while they were playing. In their conversation, they mentioned alarms, explosions, artillery barrages. I wondered how deep the psychological wounds are, in all of us and especially in the young Ukrainians afflicted by this war.

The Institute of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Kyiv, run by the Dominicans, is operating online just like all the other schools and universities. It allows students who are spread around Ukraine, or even the world, to participate in the classes. Father Thomas, who moved to Kyiv about a year ago, recently started his topics course on the concept of a person in the writings of Romano Guardini and Joseph Ratzinger. The course is attended by seven people. That’s pretty good for our school and wartime. Father Petro, the director of the institute, has already opened a recruitment campaign for the new academic year. I’m very curious how many people, and who, will apply to begin studies in September. Among the prospective students, we have one soldier. He asked if we offer remote classes, since it will be very difficult for him to travel to Kyiv. I’m glad that in such a difficult time in Ukraine there are people willing to study theology.

Today our Dominican community in Khmelnytskyi is celebrating a unique solemnity of the elevation of the relics of Saint Dominic. A year ago, the brothers expressed their desire to have the relics of our Father and the founder of the Order in their house. These dreams were supported by Father Wojciech, the theologian of the papal household, who advised us to make a request for relics to the Roman monastery of the Dominican nuns on Monte Mario. The nuns responded favorably, and the relics of Saint Dominic and Saint Sixtus arrived in Khmelnytskyi. As preparation for the solemnity, Father Oleksandr from Kyiv preached the retreat at the parish of Christ the King in Khmelnytskyi, which is the parish of our priory. Today’s Mass will be presided by Bishop Nicholas. It’s another chance to see this Dominican brother who recently ordained Father Igor. Bishop Nicholas praised the pastoral work of Father Irenaeus in Mukachevo, who was evacuated from Kharkiv along with his parishioners at the beginning of the war. “Nicholas made me a confessor at the cathedral,” said Father Irenaeus, who spends a lot of time in the confessional but also helps the bishop by celebrating Masses in the neighboring parishes. God assures that people have access to the sacraments in this difficult time of war.

There’s a saying that you help more by giving a fishing rod than by giving a fish. Our sisters, brothers, and volunteers from the House of Saint Martin de Porres preferred to bring the people from Andriivka and Krasnohirka chicken rather than eggs. Both towns still look horrible, although their residents fixed a lot and cleaned up what was left by the unwanted guests from the east. Most of the household animals were lost during the war or were eaten by the Russian soldiers stationed there. That’s why a long line of smiling people quickly formed around our car to receive small chickens. We gave away over two thousand of them. After all, it’s Easter, and chicks symbolize new life, hope, and rebirth.

With warm greetings and request for prayer,

Jarosław Krawiec OP,
Kyiv, Sunday, May 22, 10:45pm

If you would like to send a donation to our Dominican Brother, Jarosław Krawiec, please leave a comment below and we will send you banking information to send an international wire transfer. 

Updated March 2, 4 p.m. CST

Dominicans Remain in Kyiv, Continue to Serve

Hours before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine this message was received by Dominicans around the world from our Ukrainian Dominican Sisters and Brothers.  This morning further news arrived from Sister Pilar Barrio, European Coordinator of Dominican Sisters International, that members of a Spain-based congregation of sisters with a mission in Ukraine have left their convent for the Spanish Embassy where they will await evacuation. Please pray for all people of Ukraine and for their country's "peace, freedom, territorial integrity and independence." 

Fr. Petro Balog, OP

We, citizens of Ukraine of various ethnic identities and citizens of other countries, who live in Ukraine, united in valuing freedom and peace, declare our solidarity and support for Ukraine and condemn the new attempts of the external aggressor to disrupt peace.

Ukraine is a peaceful home for us all. A peaceful home where we have been enjoying happy family life and warm-hearted friendships, productive work and creative projects, art, science, business, civic activism and public service.

Since renewing its independence in 1991, Ukraine has been a place with unique opportunities to create, to voice disagreement, and to start a new initiative.

Ukraine has never attacked another country and has always respected the principal provisions of the international law, including internationally recognized state borders.

Aspiring to support and to strengthen peace in the world, Ukraine has taken unprecedented steps in the first years of its independence: Ukraine voluntarily disposed its nuclear weapons, then the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, in exchange for guarantees of its independence, territorial integrity and inviolability of its borders provided in the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. The Memorandum was guaranteed by five powerful countries, who are permanent members of the UN Security Council: the Russian Federation, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, France and China. However, in 2014, in blatant violation of the Budapest Memorandum, the Russian Federation committed an unprecedented act of aggression in the 21st century Europe against Ukraine.

As consequence, the occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea, the city of Sevastopol and part of Ukraine’s east are temporarily no longer the space of freedom and hope that we used to know. However, we shall not lose our hope as we continue to join efforts to protect peace, freedom, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine.

Today, the Russian Federation is openly threatening a new intervention, denying Ukraine’s right to self-determination and peaceful life.

We urge the world to support Ukraine in all possible ways to defend sovereignty and territorial integrity, peace and security.

Fr. Petro S.Balog
Dominican Friar, Associate Director, Verbum
Thomas Aquinas Institute, Kyiv, Ukraine

(Photo of Fr. Petro Balog courtesy of  Nanovic Institute for European Studies, Notre Dame.)

2 thoughts on “A Message from the Dominican Sisters and Friars in Ukraine”

  1. I am sending a donation by way of the Springfield Dominicans, IL USA.
    Heart felt sadness for the death and destruction of sacred spaces including their homes.

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