#WEP/IWSG April Challenge – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

I decided on the theme of my entry for this month’s WEP/IWSG Challenge over 50 dreadful days ago, and before I checked the apocalyptic song lyrics.

Putin had invaded Ukraine a few days earlier, and I had already researched tyranny in that country for my World War II story Feathered Fire, which featured in the 2020 IWSG Anthology (No. 5), Voyagers: The Third Ghost.

Readers had wanted to know what happened to the Ukrainian sisters, Vasy and Kalyna Chayka, whom I had also built an emotional bond with. So, Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall inspired my brief sequel Rainbow Firebreak, which I hope echoes the idiosyncratic protest song and pays tribute to the ongoing bravery of the Ukrainian people.

More on the invasion of Ukraine below my flash piece.

Apologies if I’m slow to respond to comments or struggle to visit all your posts.

Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via:



Two cousins echo deeds of their grandmothers by resisting tyranny in Ukraine.

Rainbow Firebreak


Saturday, February 26th – Cold Lake, Alberta

Vasy Holub glanced at her cousin Kalyna Sokol. The decision was easy, but they must convince their families.

“We called you here to say we’re travelling to Ukraine. We must assist our besieged homeland whatever our age.”

Kalyna’s oldest son stepped forward. “Then, I’m coming. I’ve graduated so I’m old enough to fight.”

“And die, stupid,” said Vasy’s pre-teen daughter. “It’s a death sentence, mama. Okay, we’ve Ukrainian ancestry, but Canada is our country… since the old Cheyka sisters escaped here decades ago.”

“Show respect, lyuba. Baba Chayka was twelve when she and her older sister fought the Nazis in the Second World War as Nochnyye Vedmy—”

“—and escaped the Stalinist butchers who murdered their parents,” added Kalyna. “They fought for everyone and Ukraine. As their namesakes, Vasy and I will return for us all.”

Her father silenced everyone, then spoke. “You expect us to do nothing. What if I offer my legal skills? And why aren’t your husbands here?”

“They were as shocked as us when Putin launched his invasion on Thursday. They too have relatives and friends there, tato. But they’re assisting with our plans—”

“Remember our grandmothers,” added Vasy. “My baba wrote in her memoir: ‘We lurked in the middle of seven sad forests to avenge our people’. Now it’s our turn. But we need your support. Someone must keep this business running.”

Her mother smiled and nodded. “We will help you prepare, lyuba.”

Wednesday, March 2nd – Przemyśl, Poland

As the packed train drew into the station, Kalyna peered into carriages for familiar faces. The doors opened disgorging a confused crush of refugees from Ukraine.

“Did they catch this one?” asked Vasy. “This is the third without them… unless we missed meeting in the throng.”

“It’s a long journey from Kharkiv… across a country many women and children are fleeing, while the men arm themselves to defend freedom.”

A haggard figure with three kids threw her arms around Kalyna.

“You came as promised. I am so grateful.”

“It’s nothing. Your husband’s grandmother, Galina Sokol helped ours escape Stalin. Did you travel alone? Friends?”

“They went to Warsaw… those who didn’t stay to fight like my husband and father.”

The cousins led Kalyna’s Sokol relatives to their hire car, passing over the keys, and documents to get them to Canada.

“Someone will be at Edmonton airport to meet you. We’re going to Lviv to volunteer—”

“I can’t stop you, but a warning – of the nightmare. Our apartment building was gutted… people were killed. I saw a blackened tree with blood that kept dripping.”

The cousins were undeterred. “Despite the growing brutality, we’re determined to aid our suffering homeland.”

LVIV. A child waits on the train to Poland at the central train station. Many people are heading west in anticipation of Russia’s military renewing attacks in the east
Photograph: Joe Raedle/Getty Images


Sunday, March 6th – Lviv

The recruitment officer stared at the cousins as they approached.

“Wrong building to volunteer for humanitarian work. We only take experienced combat veterans. Sorry.”

They chuckled and handed him the papers from the Ukrainian Defence Attache in Canada.

“We were both majors in the Royal Canadian Air Force at Cold Lake flying Hornets.”

He checked their enlistment details.

“Apologies. Impressive – like your mastery of our language.”

“We’re Canadian-Ukrainians, but learnt both dialects as we grew up.”

“Excuse me asking: why flying?”

“It’s in our blood and when we were kids—”

“—we heard the sound of thunder, then saw our first low flying jet fighter. It roared out a warning and a challenge.”

The officer smiled, then shook their hands.

“I’m afraid our forces may be brave, but not as well-equipped as yours.”

“It’s the skill that matters,” said Vasy. “We saw how brilliant your pilots are when we were guests at Clear Sky 2018 hosted by Starokostiantyniv air base.”

The officer closed his eyes.

“The invaders claim they disabled Starokostiantyniv this morning. Where these deployment papers lead you is unclear. Why use the names Kalyna  and Vasy Chayka?”

 Burned buildings marked with bullets holes and shrapnel fragments show the evidence of a brutal battle that occurred in Borodyanka. Photograph: Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

Thursday, March 10th

Trekking east, the cousins were horrified by the devastation. They were relieved to reach a temporary forest base, which used a stretch of road as a runway. Jets were hidden under the trees, echoing WW2 tactics, backed up by anti-surveillance electronics.

The smell of borscht was welcoming as the commander led them to meet tired crews.

“Endless sorties and evading the enemy takes its toll. Fresh pilots are welcome, especially if you are familiar with our jets.”

“We’ve both flown a MIG-29 and an Su-27, since we left the RCAF,” replied Kalyna. “Our air display team has one of each.”

“And we flew against an Su-27 during a Maple Flag exercise at Cold Lake,” added Vasy.

The commander gestured at a female pilot, a few years younger than them. “Perhaps it was Kapitan Ksenia Zelenko – one of our finest”.

The blond aviatrix saluted as she stood, then relaxed.

“An invaluable experience, although I never imagined I’d fly with you again. Together we will drive out these invaders.”

An honour to serve our grandmothers’ homeland—”

Ksenia glanced between them, then produced a black and white photo of women pilots posed by a biplane.

“That one was my mother’s babushka. As a young girl growing up, her example was like a rainbow revelation.”

Kalyna studied the group, then pointed. “And that’s mine.”

Commander Evdokiya Bershanskaya gives a briefing to her “Witches”. (Archives Vlad Monster, http://www.ava.org.ru)


Wednesday, March 16th

As darkness enveloped the base, the  shrouded lights on the runway glowed. The Ukrainian counter-offensive to drive the neo-Stalinists back was about to begin.

“Your targets tonight: six artillery systems blasting Kyiv indiscriminately. Make them pay.”

Ksenia led the trio to their ebony-painted Su-27s.

Nochnyye Vedmy reborn.The night witches will wreak terror again.” 

“May our grandmothers be with us,” said Kalyna.

“We’ll fly to the depths of the deepest black forests to stop tyranny engulfing our world.”

A Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-27 lifts off at a 2017 airshow in the U.K. The Su-27 is Ukraine’s long arm, an offensive fighter with great range and the capacity to carry nearly 10,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, and missiles.

958 words FCA

Unlike the February Challenge where I had the song playing in the closing scene, or in 2021’s Year of the Art with pictures/replicas in the flash, my approach above was different. Does it work? Was it noticeable? Too obscure or blatant?

A clue…

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Hard_Rain%27s_a-Gonna_Fall

Invasion of Ukraine


Events have moved on since the date when my flash ends, and it’s been difficult to write this over the two months since I started and since Putin unleashed his terror with horrific war crimes emerging every day. I keep the live update from The Guardian open on my PC, but feel powerless – beyond donating to Medecins Sans Frontieres: https://www.msf.org/

How this terrible crisis ends is hard to foresee, especially with the daily threat of escalation as Ukrainians find the will to resist.

The war also became more real through a game I’ve played for over a year. Its developers are in Ukraine, and one of their team, a regular on social media, gave a disturbing interview after fleeing Eastern Ukraine. Despite the ongoing destruction of their country, the team refuses to give up, if not fighting, then managing to update the game regularly.

On a different note, a musician I know (from my equestrian days), David Gilmore has colleagues over there, plus a Ukrainian daughter-in-law. Disturbed by the Russian invasion, he has released a new Pink Floyd single Hey Hey, Rise Up!, with proceeds going to Ukrainian humanitarian relief. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2022/apr/07/pink-floyd-reform-to-support-ukraine

Pink Floyd – Hey Hey Rise Up (feat. Andriy Khlyvnyuk of Boombox)

I’m resisting adding more rabbit warrens I explored – like the Royal Canadian Air Force or fire rainbows. Maybe if you ask in a comment.

For now, I will close with this article, which demonstrates what some Canadian veterans have been doing: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/17/canada-veteran-evacuating-ukrainian-kids-cancer Other veterans, like Vasy and Kalyna, have gone to fight, for instance as part of the Canadian-Ukrainian Brigade: https://nationalpost.com/news/world/exclusive-so-many-canadian-fighters-in-ukraine-they-have-their-own-battalion-source-says

Photo: A Ukrainian flag flies in a damaged residential area in the city of Borodianka, northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Photograph: Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock

44 thoughts on “#WEP/IWSG April Challenge – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall

    • Thanks Jemima. Initially, I didn’t worry about the prompt, then I realised the song was terribly appropriate. So, every scene has a line or phrase from the lyrics:
      Scene 1 – verse 1: ‘in the middle of seven sad forests ‘.
      Scene 2 – verse 2: ‘with blood that kept dripping’.
      Scene 3 – verse 3: ‘heard the sound of thunder… it roared out a warning’.
      Scene 4 – verse 4: ‘young girl… a rainbow’. (One of few positives in the song, and gave me my title).
      Scene 5 – verse 5: ‘to the depths of the deepest black forests’.


  1. I’m with Jemima—I don’t care about the prompt (I don’t know the song anyway, at least not off the top of my head). Great story about a heartbreaking situation. I love that the characters are neither young nor male, too. Glad you wrote it, and hope that you will be able to write a happy ending for it, though I’m not holding my breath.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Rebecca.
      I talked about the prompt to Jemima.
      I wanted to echo and contrast my IWSG story, so I stuck with female MCs but added age and experience – I estimated they’d be mid 40s++.
      Every day I follow the news and wonder how pilots like the cousins are surviving, where are they, how will the war end… for them and for the real people struggling to survive.

      I want to continue this next challenge and perhaps for the year.


  2. Your post inspires. This war is heartbreaking on so many levels. Both nations fought together against the Nazis. There are so many personal connections between Russia and Ukraine, so many intermarriages. How do those people manage in this crisis? And what about their kids?

    Liked by 1 person

    • To me, Olga, those connections are one of the greatest tragedies. When I researched my WW2 story, it was set in what is now Belarus, and the anti-Nazi forces were Ukrainian,Russian, Belorussians, and many other nationalities united as Red Army and partisans. Those bonds must have grown, despite Stalin and his minions, and now Putin and his. A terrible legacy is being sown, I fear.


    • Canada was the safe haven the original sisters dreamt of,so it seemed fitting for their granddaughters to return, Nancy. And Canada has alwars been special to this Brit who was at college there.


  3. Hi Roland – brilliantly written – you brought them to life for today, while going back nearly 100 years past other horrors – this one is just appalling. Their families are living on … in both Canada and Ukraine …

    I can understand you having difficulty continuing the story… it is just plain frightening and must be horrific to live through …

    Really well done – I empathised and felt for the two sisters, their families and their ancestral country … thank you for the excellent answer to the prompt – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Hilary for your encouraging words.
      Despite the difficulty – and the uncertainty – I intend to continue the story in future challenges, if possible. Every day adds to the horrors, but they can’t be ignored.
      It’s hard to imagine what families like these are going through.


  4. The pull of the ancestral country is always strong and mystical, and I like the poetic story arc – the return of the grandchildren to fight for their grandmother’s land. Great job!

    The level of worldwide sympathy for the Ukrainian refugees and outrage against Russia this has war generated is heartening for any peace loving person, but also baffles somewhat. It beats me why the other victims of injustices from other, much longer standing conflict zones, such as Palestine, or even Sudan, do not generate the same reactions in the world community.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The ancestral homeland remains strong for many, even if distanced by time or space. I felt an urge to each their grandmothers’ flight. My maternal grandmother was Chilean, so even though I’ve never been there, I’ve tried to support human rights there… as an Allende supporter.

    I suspect the greater worldwide reaction over Ukraine is threefold: greater media coverage that may fade if the war drags on as it did in Afghanistan; this is a high-tech conflict on the front line between NATO and another superpower with a 3rd WW hovering in the wings; echoes of WW2 with Nazis, war crimes, dictators, unresolved grievances.

    However, as someone who has been an active peace protestor for 40 years, I share your bafflement. I was outspoken during the Falklands-Malvinas conflict, joined non-violent protests against cruise missiles, and edited a magazine that covered issues like Eritrea, Nicaragua… and Bhopal. MSF, the charity I’ve supported for decades, just posted a harrowing Sudan report where they have been active since 1989.

    Perhaps, we are seeing a fundamental shift in global attitudes – one that was slow to avoid Nazism.


  6. Beautifully writ, Roland. Perfect story arc with the granddaughters returning to their home country. This story can certainly be continued. Perhaps in the letters from the granddaughters from the front.
    I’ve gotta say, I think the prompt is important despite words to the effect that the prompt doesn’t matter. I think you drew inspiration from Dylan’s song, as we all did. It deepens our renderings.
    Medecin sans Frontiers is my charity. I admire how they roll their sleeves up and get on with it despite great danger.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Denise. I feel the writing falls short of the original, but maybe I can recapture some ‘Feathered Fire’ magic next time. Letters are a neat idea for the ongoing story, perhaps mixed with other scenes.
      Pleased you also support MSF. I’ve always been impressed by the way they’re among the first humanitarian groups into war/disaster areas… with their sleeves rolled up.


  7. It’s stunning to see such bravery as the Ukrainians fight to defend their land. The photos of the devastation are heart-wrenching. This is a wonderfully written story of bravery and family.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. A beautiful story. I’d like to think I’d have done the same thing. Even today. Fighting for freedom now seems even more important as so many in government office are slowly but deliberately stripping them away, all across the world. The situation in Ukraine is just heartbreaking. Well done, thank you!
    We chose the prompt long before our current events, but it’s the song itself that I think most found inspiring. That’s everyone’s choice. We’re all influenced by different things when it comes to inspiration. That’s the joy of the WEP.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Yolanda. I’ve wondered for decades, the more I read about the 1930s, if I’d have volunteered in Spain as that felt frighteningly similar to Ukraine. I pray for a better resolution this time.
      The prompt would have been topical other times, sadly. So, a great choice.


    • That peaceful resolution is so crucial, J, although I fear what will happen. Some statements from Russians about ‘humanitarian corridors’ and ‘a ceasefire’ have been disturbing and twisted.


  9. A well-written and educational piece. I have relatives in Lithuania, but the truth is, I know almost nothing about them. We wouldn’t know each other. I am estranged from most of my family. Vivid connections like those depicted in this story are a foreign and fascinating concept to me.
    The Night Witches are a source of inspiration for a woman who secretly started identifying as a feminist back in 1973 at the age of eight years old. Women can do anything that men can do and it is tiresome that in the twenty-first century we are still seen as decorations and unpaid labor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pleased you found it educational as I try to sneak facts into my historical fiction pieces where possible. I have to admit to knowing nothing much about Lithuania. And for Ukraine I had to do my research – starting from when I researched my Night Witches story.
      I share your belief that women can do anything that men can do. I grew up with Quaker ancestors who championed such rights issues.
      The Soviet aviatrixes including the Night Witches were inspirational.


    • Thanks Kalpana. Glad it evoked that reaction.
      Bershanskaya was a successful and loved commander, whom I admire along with her ‘Witches’. I even had her appear in my original story, Feathered Fire.


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