Naturally I was concerned whether this could increase the tension in Ukraine to the point of even a fullfledged war breaking out, and for a couple of days I was wondering whether it was wise for me to return to Ukraine. But the devotees reassured me that everything was stabel and peaceful as always in Kharkov.
So I returned on the 22nd of July - just in time to prepare for yet another transcendental event: the two-week course 'Exploring the Roots of Spiritual Culture' for ladies coming together from various parts of Russia, Moldova and Ukraine.
Some devotees had canceled their participation out of fear to be so close to the war zone of Eastern Ukraine. Sometimes the parents did not allow their daughters to come to Kharkov. But as soon as we had some vacancies the spots were immediately taken by others who were more bold and did not worry so much about the fighting going on in Donetsk and Lugansk.
This year it was also not easy to rent the hostel of the college where all the ladies would stay for two weeks. The headmaster of the college had been forced by the government to sign a statement that he would be willing to make the hostel available for refugees from the war zone.
Only a few days before our course began he agreed to sign the contract to host our matajis - something which certainly added a good pinch of anxiety to our planning.
All in all I felt it to be indeed a glorious victory that we managed to conduct this course against all adds - despite the troubled political situation. I always find it very demoralising to cancel programs - devotees easily lose inspiration, determination and faith in the leaders.
On the 27th of July we welcomed around forty ladies to our Kharkov community. As every year Prema Mataji was overseeing all the arrangements and was caring very affectionately for our visitors, making them feel at home.
We had a wonderful group of intelligent and eager matajis participating, most of them being young in Krsna consciousness and below the age of thirty. But also some senior ladies of around fifty years of age had joined us, and thus we relished each other's association in a very mixed group, embarking together on a deep learning experience and internal journey.
The fact that the devotees also lived together in the hostel brought them very close. They often shared realizations in the evenings about the topics we discussed during the day, and this created a very intimate and confidential atmosphere - almost like an extended family of sisters, mothers and aunties.
The schedule was rather intense: every morning after the usual morning program we had three hours of seminars, and after lunch we continued for another two hours. The first week is especially transformational and somewhat taxing for the false ego. Indeed, materialistic culture is not only increasing the identification with the gross body, but also subtle body - infact it is blowing up the false ego to the maximum through a never ending competition of who is more unique, special and extraordinary. And thus it is nothing else but the false ego which rebells and protests against spiritual culture, not agreeing so easily to be subdued. However, a sincere and introspective devotee recognises this and feels regretful for having served the orders and demands of the false ego for such a long time...
And to finally make the first step towards defeating the false ego is great victory and leads to true peace and happiness, which could clearly be perceived: all the ladies became so joyful and peaceful, realizing their purifying duties which are very natural for those who drive the 'female vehicle'. It was almost like putting fish back into water....
Krsna has given us a perfect system for purification, which at the same time leads to harmony and stability in this material world. Whenever we reject Krsna's system, thinking that our system is better, we end up in chaos and misery.
After the first week of the course, in the middle of the night, I woke up by a bomb blast and machine gun fire. It was 2:30 am, and I was lying in my bed, sensing a smell of imminent war.... I couldn't go back to sleep, wondering what to do. Maybe it was the right time to leave Ukraine.
The day before I had spoken to my mother on the phone, who was naturally a little worried. I had laughingly answered to her concerns: "Don't worry - when things become too scary here I can always jump on the plane and leave...." And she had remarked: "Well, don't wait until it is too late - you might not be able to get out...."
Now, in the middle of the night I couldn't help but remembering this conversation, and for the first time during my stay in Ukraine I became a little fearful....
I started chanting my rounds since I could not fall asleep again. Later I rang Acyuta Priya Prabhu, the Regional Secretary of Ukraine and asked for his advice. I consider him to be a careful and intelligent person, and after he found out the cause of the blast via internet he advised me not to worry and simply continue with the seminar. The Ukrainian office which draws men to the army had been blown up in the city, and nobody had been injured or killed. Never a dull moment.....
After another week of seminars we concluded our course with a sweet and affectionate closing ceremony. Devotees shared deep realizations, expressing their gratitude for what they had received. I had requested the ladies to bring a wrapped up little present, and I re-distributed them so that each and every one of us received a gift. I also shared some maha tulasi leaves from Radha Madana Mohan in Goloka Dham/Germany, and some dust from Pundarik Vidyanidhi's place in Bangadesh - holy substances which are always cherished by the devotees. And we concluded with a joyful kirtan - firmly establishing within our minds that the ultimate goal of receiving deeper insights into the principles of spiritual culture is to be peaceful and stabel in this material world, so we can whole-heartedly chant the holy name.
Since we concluded the course two days before Balarama's appearance day which fell this year on Sunday the 10th of August, some of the ladies decided to remain in Kharkov for some more days to celebrate this event with us.
The Vaisnava festivals are becoming nicer and nicer in our Kharkov community. Devotees are eager to decorate the Deities, the altar and Srila Prabhupada's Vysasasana and cook many palatable offerings for Their Lordships, and the atmosphere is always surcharged with devotional energy and a festive mood.
We had a nice program deepening our meditation on Lord Balarama: an abishek with a prayerful kirtan, followed by a deep lecture given by Sahasrajit Prabhu, one of the senior devotees of the community. I was also invited to share some little drops of nectar about Lord Balarama, and we concluded with another kirtan and a feast.
On the same evening we had rather spontaneously arranged the very first little Ratha Yatra parade in Kharkov.
The city authorities had given us the choice of either taking Lord Jagannath through the city but without chanting Hare Krsna or doing any kind of 'religious propaganda', or taking the parade into a park on the outskirts of the city, where not so many people would see us, but where we were allowed to chant to our heart's content. We opted for the second choice and went to the park.
Surprisingly quite a few people and friends of our community had come to attend this historic event. We had also made some endeavor to advertise it - on the radio and with posters around the entire city. And some people were fortunate enough to receive Lord Jagannath's mercy....
The parade was rather short but joyful - once up and down the main lane through the park, and we concluded with a little cultural program and distributed prasadam and books.
It was a good little rehearsal for a bigger Ratha Yatra next year - if the city authorities would allow us....
We certainly received a glimpse of taste - enough to make us eager to endeavor for a bigger program next year, and I marvelled that Srila Prabhupada must have been pleased with our attempts, especially during these disturbed times of war in Ukraine......
Your servant, Devaki dd