There is a war in Ukraine. Apart from those who have joined the army, the war is fought by ordinary people who persevere, not giving in to doubt and hardship. Among those who continue to persevere, an important place is occupied by religious sisters.
KAI recently had the chance to speak with Sister Karolina, a Franciscan Sister Servant of the Cross, who tells us about the situation in Zhytomyr.
Paweł Kęska: Sisters, what has been happening at the Franciscan Sisters’ house over the past five days?
Sister Karolina, FKS: The situation was very tense from the very beginning. We prayed for peace in the churches and in our communities. On February 24 at 5 a.m. we were awakened by a huge bang and the noise of airplanes. We got up in shock. We realized that something terrible had happened. We went to church, and there everyone was already saying that there was a war, that Russia had invaded us. So we started praying.
This is a completely new reality and everything is moving very fast. A lot of people are leaving. Mostly to Poland, but not only. We run a day care center for blind children here. First thing in the morning we called everyone and told them not to bring their children. These children have been heading for the countryside with their families, because it is safer there. But we stayed in the city to be with people, to support and accompany them. At the beginning it was calm, but since two days there are more and more rocket alerts. Yesterday two rockets hit the airport. It is far from us, but there was a terrible bang and everything was shaking. There is a lot of stress. We are praying, we are trying to live a normal life, but there are still those sirens.
When the sirens go off, we run for the Lord Jesus.
What do you do when the sirens go off?
When the sirens go off, we run for the Lord Jesus. Everyone has to run to the shelter as quickly as possible. We take the Blessed Sacrament from the chapel and go down to the corridor on the lowest floor of the house – because we don’t have a basement. We pray. When the sirens stop, we go out into the street, meet our neighbors and assess the situation together. We support each other. The priests have opened their churches for those who have nowhere to hide. When the sirens go off, I know that people are welcomed there too.
The priests have opened their churches for those who have nowhere to hide. When the sirens go off, I know that people are welcomed there too.
So when the sirens go off, you run to the chapel to protect Jesus?
Yes, and then we stay in prayer and wait until everything calms down. Lately the nights have been difficult because the alarms are so frequent. But God helps us to survive.
How do you pray in such a situation, how do you talk to God?
We have the Blessed Sacrament in front of us, we stay in Adoration, we say the Rosary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, we ask for peace, for God’s mercy on the world, on us, on our neighbors, on the city, on Ukraine. We know that our lives completely depend on God. We are completely in His hands and defenseless at this moment. We are learning true trust through this, yes personally I think my faith is not that strong either. I am also learning as well.
What’s happening to the most vulnerable in Zhytomyr?
We try to help as much as we can. We help together with Caritas. One of the sisters from another community called and asked for help in cooking meals for the civil defense. There is a priest from Caritas here who distributes basic supplies to those most in need. The volunteers have become very organized. Everything is moving at such a rapid pace. Today we called a lady we know whose husband has enlisted in the civil defense to ask if there was anything we could do to help equip his unit. The woman told us that people have immediately offered so much that they have enough. Everyone is very involved in helping one another. There is a great unity.
We all pray for the conversion of Russia and the conversion of those who attacked us. Evil is at work in all this. We are supposed to overcome evil with good.
How do you understand this situation?
We offer it to God in prayer. We do not understand why we were attacked. We all pray for the conversion of Russia and the conversion of those who attacked us. Evil is at work in all this. We are supposed to overcome evil with good. And so we try to do that by, among other things, praying the Rosary, because Our Lady asked for the conversion of Russia. Many people are praying for this conversion. We also pray for the soldiers. For our own who defend us, but also for those on the other side. There is poverty and despair there too, because they are husbands and sons. There is poverty on both sides.