Calling Fr. Misha in Fastiv today is almost a miracle. So far I have not succeeded. No wonder, it’s Sunday and the war … but also his birthday. So I’m counting on a miracle.
Dear Sisters, Dear Brothers,
on the first Sunday of Lent, the Year of the Holy Cross, proclaimed by Roman Catholic bishops, began in Ukraine. But in fact, its beginning was on February 24, on a Thursday after 4:00, when the first Russian missiles hit Ukraine. “Now as never before – our shepherds write today – we understand Christ on the way of the cross.”
On Saturday, most of us got involved in shopping and helping those who had been badly hit by the war. It takes a lot of time and energy. Father Oleksandr, borrowed from Caritas by bus, together with volunteers transported people from Irpien. This city, located several kilometers northwest of Kiev, was bombed and destroyed by the Russians. Over the last few years it has developed a lot and, like Kyiv, it attracted young people and families. Today, a large part of the inhabitants of Irpien have been left homeless. As soon as the fighting in that area ceased, the municipal authorities and volunteers rushed to help these people.
In the evening, with one of the monastery volunteers, we went to the Kiev train station. In the middle and the train station is huge – gigantic crowds. For safety reasons, the lights were turned off in most of the rooms. It was dim and noisy. People’s conversations were mixed with messages coming from megaphones about trains arriving and departing. Travelers need to listen carefully to them, because it’s almost the only way to find out. The people at the station are mainly families and mothers with children. Also with those who are completely tiny, who should sleep in their beds at this time. I walked past my dad, who calmly but firmly said to his little children: just hold on tight to mom. It’s terrible to get lost in such conditions. Lots of children sat with telephones in their hands. They were playing, having fun, it is some consolation, a chance to distract them from what is happening, at least for a moment. Ohmatdyt, a children’s hospital known throughout Ukraine, is located near the station. He works all the time, although he has already been bombed. There were also elderly people at the station, I saw a few people in wheelchairs. Someone had a dog on a leash. My own brother Mariusz, who is a Paulist monk, serves and lives in Lviv. He told me in the morning that there were a lot of dogs at the Lviv train station. Some of them, unable to take them further, left them hoping to find new owners.
When we returned to the convent, it turned out that we needed to sit in the car again. Our cook, who lived in the convent during the war, fell down on the stairs. We were scared that she broke her arm. We called an ambulance immediately, but in a state of war, the ambulance teams do not go to such cases. We were given the addresses of the two nearest hospitals. It was after 8:00 p.m. and the curfew had begun, which meant that people were not allowed to leave their homes. What to do? I put on a white Dominican habit and walked to the nearest intersection guarded by territorial defense. Our boys, seeing me with weapons, set themselves up in defensive positions. So I held out my hands to let them know I wasn’t coming with bad intentions. We talked for a while and agreed that we need to take a car and go to the hospital, because it is difficult to wait until morning with such pain. However, they advised not to rush on the way and slow down at each checkpoint. The streets were completely deserted, so we were quickly at the emergency room of a nearby hospital. It turned out that our lady did not break her arm, but sprained it or twisted it. The surgeons did what needed to be done quickly and we were able to go back. Same path, same controls and questions. In the hospital, although most of the lights were turned off in the evening, there are still patients. Not only in war. The emergency room staff told me: after all, people have “ordinary” diseases all the time. Under these conditions, I figured that was one of the worst things that could happen to someone. And what are people to do in places cut off from the world by hostilities? I prefer not to think.
In the hospital, I talked for a while with the policemen guarding it. In Kiev, the Dominican habit evokes rather surprise and curiosity, and in times of war, often suspicion. However, a short explanation is enough, and since there are monasteries and monks in Orthodoxy, we are also treated with sympathy. At the end of the short conversation, the gentlemen asked for a blessing.
Calling Fr. Misha in Fastiv today is almost a miracle. So far I have not succeeded, so more about Fastov will be in the next letter. No wonder, it’s Sunday and the war … but also his birthday. So I’m counting on a miracle.
Yesterday night, help from Chmielnicki reached us by train. Many thanks to the friends of Christ the King Parish, where our brothers also serve, and to its parish priest, Fr. Mykola, for sharing what they have received with us. Almost a ton of food. Most of Fr Oleksandr took to the convent in the morning