A snowfall in Kyiv, Ukraine (Reuters) A snowfall in Kyiv, Ukraine (Reuters) 

Nuncio to Ukraine: Real peace needed as winter frost sets in

Residents of the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv seek to resume their everyday lives and return to Mass as engineers try to restore regular power and heating, with Archbishop Kulbokas noting that the power surges break many appliances but people keep up their hope.

By Salvatore Cernuzio – Kyiv, Ukraine

A blackout in Kyiv is triggered as early as 3:30 p.m., when the gray sun sets behind the Dnipro River. In half of the city, the windows of skyscrapers and gas pumps shine; the other half would be shrouded in total darkness if it were not for a few sparse Christmas decorations hanging on balconies. After a few hours there is a changeover: where there was light, darkness takes over and vice versa.

Residents of the Ukrainian capital have been living in these conditions for weeks after the destruction of important energy infrastructures. "But you don't hear gunfire like before," says the Apostolic Nuncio to Ukraine, Archbishop Visvaldas Kulbokas. This phrase is often repeated by many of Kyiv's citizens, as if to ward off the terror of new attacks and to confirm the idea that, having overcome the most critical phase of the conflict, this the "new situation" will also be overcome.

The lack of light and electricity occurs for hours and sometimes days, and the inability to warm up from a freezing cold that drops three degrees below zero even at 11 a.m. Snow also plays its part, having fallen thickly in every neighborhood for days, covering the golden domes of Orthodox Churches and even the steps of Maidan Square, where the 2014 revolution took place.

Power coming and going

Parishes, offices and families are looking for electric generators. From the Italian city of Jesolo, thanks to a fundraiser, 40 will arrive in the coming days.

They will be distributed mainly in the outlying areas and in "new Kyiv," the space built in the 1980s and 1990s. In the residential neighborhoods, however, where embassies and the Presidential Palace are located, conditions are much better.

"We, too, however, have our own problems," the Nuncio tells the group of journalists traveling to Poland and Ukraine with their respective Embassies to the Holy See whom he welcomed at the Nunciature.

He speaks from the same Nunciature where, until last May, tables were used as barricades and mattresses stretched out along the corridor on the floor below to avoid being exposed to attacks from the air or standing too close to windows.

"There is a generator here," Archbishop Kublokas explains, "but in the event of a blackout you can have independent light for six to seven continuous hours, no more. Power surges break everything. We spend our time fixing the washing machine, stove, internet network, and so on." 

Nadia's escape

The heating problem is setting up dramatic prospects for winter, so much so that the mayor, Vitalij Volodymyrovyč Klyčko, has urged elderly and frail people to leave the city and find shelter in neighboring countries such as Poland. Nadia, 74, a young face framed by curly hair and gnarled working-class hands, landed on Wednesday in Poland, after more than nine months of war in Ukraine.

"When the first bomb went off I was at my son's, out of town. I came back weeks later but didn't recognize my home. A piece was missing... I decided to stay anyway, but now they told me it was better to leave. I have no plans for my life."

A life restarting

Nadia is gone, but many people choose to stay instead. The general impression is that Ukrainians, at least the citizens of Kyiv, want to try to lead a life as normal as possible. "We have to continue," Archbishop Kulbokas says again and again, "to live somehow."

The devastation of the war in Izyum, Ukraine
The devastation of the war in Izyum, Ukraine

"On Monday, when an air-raid siren alerted all of Ukraine, we continued to work. After nine months we cannot do otherwise." Walking around the streets of Kyiv, many still propped up by frisa horses, you see people going grocery shopping, waiting for the bus, letting the children play in the driveways. Or go to Mass."

"We restored the seven daily Masses, which, because of Covid and even more with the war, we had reduced to three. We canceled the Russian-language Mass; no one was attending anymore. It was replaced with a Ukrainian service," explains the Latin-rite Archbishop of Kyiv-Zhytomyr, Vitalii Kryvytskyi.

The journey to Kyiv

Among Ukrainians there are also people who come back after having been elsewhere. On the train from Przemyśl to Kyiv, only one carriage was free. There were women travelling with children and a Chinese man, who found himself in Ukraine, he explains, "for work reasons."

The journey took ten and a half hours, with more than an hour stop at the border for checks on each passport with a soldier in a camouflage suit with a yellow and blue flag sewn on his arm looking into the face of each of the passengers to check if the face matched the photograph. Another soldier, however, holding a drug-sniffing dog on a leash, asked, "Why are you going to Ukraine?"

In the wagons, the heating is excessive but serves to take away the cold that lingers from outside. As you enter the Ukrainian countryside, snow-covered trees and abandoned houses can be seen from the window.

"Borodianka", "Bucha", "Irpin", one reads on signs. Places of horror reported by the world's media. Horror that continues, even now that Christmas is just around the corner. "We know that the tables of families may be missing someone, among those who died or those who left for the front," says Archbishop Kryvytskyi.

"Every missile that falls lengthens the peace process. And peace will not come next morning, it is a process. We are living a moment of transformation."

Hoping for peace

"We must pray for peace, hope for peace," insists Archbishop Kulbokas, who reiterates his hopes for real peace, and not a phony one that would risk triggering more wars in the future. 

"I see on social media," the Vatican diplomat adds, "numerous videos according to which the peace Russia is thinking of is just a 'ceasefire' to reorganize and annihilate Ukraine sooner or later. That's what people here really fear."

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09 December 2022, 11:20