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