#IWSG – Thrive

Before I tackle this month’s question and Insecure Writer’s Support Group post , I must give you some news that was uplifting going forward.

I was chosen as Runner-Up in the WEP-IWSG’s December Challenge The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face with my story Swords to Ploughshares.

Writing fiction set against a horrific war has been difficult to research and write. Other than a small donation to Médecins Sans Frontières, one of the main charities helping in Ukraine, this has been one of the few ways this invalid can help keep people aware of the ongoing injustices.

I will continue to follow events and reflect them in my Challenge posts in 2023.

Unfortunately, that last piece proved inaccurate. I portrayed a peaceful moment during the festive season, yet Russian missiles continued to rain down on Ukraine throughout what should have been the Holy time of Peace.

I will attempt to rectify the inaccuracy in my compilation Freedom Flights, which is an ongoing project. I’ve been working on some Ukraine stories to fill the gap between my 1944 short story and my 2022 flash entries. So, this Runner-Up award is encouraging and uplifting, as I continue following the current war for the 2023 Challenges.

I’m also grateful as my health is so uncertain, I need goals to keep going.

Next week may prove complicated as my term ends with my current hospice team, so we need to find a new provider.

My New Year resolution was to re-start my revision of ‘Fevered Fuse’, my Snowdonia police procedural afresh. However, I can’t find my editor’s comments and in-depth edit – her email is missing and my desktop is still not installed after seven months. I’ve emailed her, hoping she efficiently keeps clients’ files.

Anyway, have great 2023 filled with fruitful writing gems.

Plus, Plot ahead for the Year of the Water Rabbit commencing January 22nd.


Every month, IWSG announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

January 4 question – Do you have a word of the year? Is there one word that sums up what you need to work on or change in the coming year? For instance, in 2021 my word of the year was Finish. I was determined to finished my first draft by the end of the year. In 2022, my word of the year is Ease. I want to get my process, systems, finances, and routines where life flows with ease and less chaos. What is your word for 2023? Why?


Thrive as in my health intentions, despite current hospice issues.

Thrive as in one of the protein drinks I use to stay alive.

Thrive as in my Snowdon police detectives striving to get published.

Thrive as in my Ukrainian pilots surviving and finding genuine peace.

Thrive as in my hopes and prayers for the determined people of Ukraine.

Slava Ukrayini

The awesome co-hosts for the January 4 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pett, Debs Carey, Kim Lajevardi, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, and T. Powell Coltrin!

Finally, don’t forget to visit more active writers via the IWSG site:

Insecure Writer’s Support Group

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Swords to Ploughshares

My December WEP-IWSG Challenge post, using ‘The first time ever I saw your face’ prompt was missing what was outlined as Act 3. However, I felt I needed to write and post this next Part of my Ukraine stories as some kind of conclusion.

When do they become a saga?

Anyway, for those new to this ongoing creation, please note, this present day tale began with my World War II story Feathered Fire, which introduced the Chayka family from Ukraine and appeared in the 2020 IWSG Anthology (No. 5), Voyagers: The Third Ghost.

The current stories open with Part 1, Rainbow Firebreak, for the WEP/IWSG April: Challenge: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/04/20/wep-iwsg-april-challenge-a-hard-rains-a-gonna-fall/.

Part 2, Winged Woes, for the WEP/IWSG June Challenge:     https://rolandclarke.com/2022/06/15/wep-iwsg-june-challenge-please-read-the-letter/

Part 3, Moonbeam Magic, for the WEP/IWSG August Challenge: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/08/17/wep-iwsg-august-challenge-moonlight-sonata/

Part 4, Winged Death, for the WEP/IWSG October Challenge: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/10/19/wep-iwsg-october-challenge-thriller/

Part 5, Soul Seeds, for the WEP/IWSG December Challenge: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/12/01/wep-iwsg-december-challenge-first-time-ever/

Blurb: Night Witches look to the Peace after the firestorm.

Part 6

Swords to Ploughshares


Wednesday, December 21stAirfield “Kalyniv” near the Polish border.

The headlights of six trucks sparkled on the drifts of snow beside the runway. Anzhela and Larisa slid open the main hanger doors.

When the vehicles had parked inside, the Chayka cousins climbed out and greeted the assembled squadron members.

“Our Canadian supporters send seasonal blessings and this first convoy from Poland,” said Kalyna. “The fundraising meetings raised 8 million Canadian dollars—”

Exclamations of surprise and joy erupted from the gathering.

“—with more promised,” added Vasy. “This first consignment includes urgent humanitarian and medical supplies for us and the local community.”

“And others?” asked Anzhela. “Like those in Eastern Ukraine?”

Vasy said, “All arranged and probably more. The Canadians were also concerned we could tackle extreme cold weather requirements. So, as well as thermal blankets and clothes, we’ve included portable generators and stoves.”

“Amazing raising so much,” said Kapitan Mariyka Shevchuk, leader of the newly created Green Wing. “We can now help so many more. If only we could do more to stop the almost daily rocket attacks.”

“When the Witches are at full strength,” said Kalyna. “Then Command will sanction more missions… especially with six more Hornets.”

Cheers greeted this news.

“Not new Hornets, but earlier models the Canadian Airforce were due to replace,” said Vasy. “They’ve also suppled equipment to repurpose our recovered jets, and for servicing all Hornets.”

Mariyka embraced her wing sisters.

“Maybe we’ll no longer be flying planes from other wings after our Christmas leave.”

“Correct Kapitan,” said Vasy. “Six of us will return with the Hornets after a five-week winter training course in Canada, starting January 9th.”

Green Wing saluted, then Mariyka said, “If anyone plans to be in Lviv on Christmas Eve, you are welcome to join my family and me for midnight mass at St George’s Cathedral.

A typical maple leafed CF-188 Hornet. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Phylyp

Thursday, December 22nd – Lviv Oblast

Her family were all waiting when Mariyka reached their restaurant.

Her mother hugged her. “I’m pleased you wore your uniform, vilunya. We’re so proud of you.”

“So brave too, Kapitan Shevchuk,” said her sister. “Whenever a fighter jet flies low and fast…” She gazed up, then glanced behind. “You remember Tomas, your nephew… he’s staying with us.”

Mariyka remembered… his father had volunteered… and been killed in defending Slovyansk. Tomas had moved to Lviv with his mother, who now helped cook… when there were customers. Eating by candlelight might be romantic, but evading air raids was still a danger at night.

Tomas was watching her from beside his mother. “Papa wore a uniform too. He made me a gun to fight evil Russians.”

“I keep telling my son there are good Russians.”  

Mariyka nodded, remembering Larisa Kovalyov.

“Please can you make me a plane?”

 “I’m not as clever as your papa was, but I can try.”

Her mother waved her over. “One of the POWs at the local camp might make toys.”


Wearing her uniform for courage, Mariyka approached the camp commander, asking if there was a woodworker able to make a toy plane.

“I might have a true craftsman. He’s also a model POW, so I’d be less worried about him making a war toy.”

“That was my concern too. I worry what examples we’re sowing.”

Minutes later, a guard escorted her over to a shed where a man was working a candlestick holder on a lathe.

He turned and stood, removing protective goggles.

He was tall and strong, but it was the sun rising in his amber eyes which melted her.

“I’m Sergei,” he stammered.

She stumbled over her name and what she wanted.

“A wooden jet,” he repeated. “I’m impressed at you women flyers. Our men don’t even dare fly at night.”

A tremor shot through her. Had he heard about the Witches?

Does he fear us?

Time passed in a blissful sharing of dreams and hope. He suggested a better toy. Admitted his opposition to the war, and his immediate surrender when given the chance.

He finished polishing the candlestick holder, and she bought it with some others.

Pillar Candle Holders

“Can the toy be ready in two days – or is that too soon?

“For you anything.”

“Are you allowed to come to midnight mass?”

“I was Russian Orthodox… until Patriarch Krill called this a ‘Holy War’. For you, I will come.”

Saturday, December 24th – St. George’s Cathedral, Lviv

Mariyka and her family waited in the darkness for her squadron sisters. Other families were huddled round candles or torches, gathering for midnight mass on this most holy eve.

Slowly, people went inside, past the stone images of Pope St. Leo and St. Athanasius guarding the portal

Mariyka glanced upwards into the frigid night sky. Would the enemy attack on this night Ukraine defenses might be focused elsewhere? Overcast skies kept the air force grounded and ground batteries blind.

Her eyes settled on the cathedral’s peak and the silhouette of St George fighting evil as a fearsome monster. Putin? He would lose against the followers of St George.

St George’s Cathedral, Lviv — façade: mounted statue of St. George, piercing a dragon with a spear, two statues st. Leo and st. Athanasius, a symbol of the unity of the Church.
Taken from pl:Grafika:SoborSwJuraLwow2.jpg by pl:Wikipedysta:Stako

Then, many of her sisters, all in uniform, climbed the steps and came alongside the balustrade towards her.

“Everyone wanted to attend,” said Anzhela. “But Kalyna and Vasy insisted on remaining with a few volunteers. But they send greetings and blessings.

Mariyka had just finished introductions, when some Ukrainian guards appeared, escorting four Russian prisoners.

Sergei strode up to her and saluted.

“Kapitan Mariyka Shevchuk, it is a pleasure to see you again—” He paused and despite the cold, blushed, then said in Ukrainian, “Solnyshko moi.”

As her sisters giggled, she said, “Lyubimyy, I missed you, but I am honored you came. May I introduce my family and friends.”

 She turned to find Anzhela’s partner Larisa in tears. Then Larisa threw her arms around Sergei.

“We feared you might be dead, dearest cousin. And then Mariyka finds you and falls in love. How?”

“A miracle arising from a gift I need to give… please solnyshko moi.”

Mariyka took his hand and introduced her nephew. Sergei bowed to Tomas, handing him a wrapped present.

“My apologies, but this humble carpenter crafted what I felt you needed.”

Tomas unwrapped the wooden toy. A tractor painted blue and yellow.

“Thank you, kind Russian. This is wonderful. Now I can pull dead tanks away… and feed people.”

The bells for Midnight mass rang.

Marika allowed Sergei to take her arm and follow everyone inside.

Anzhela took Larisa’s arm. “Peace works best through relationships like ours”

1,074 words FCA

As the terrible war in Ukraine may continue for months, my stories won’t end here, especially since this new romance must thrive.

In fact, my restless brain has outlined another episode. There’s a clue above to the opening event in the New Year. All I need is a WEP/IWSG Challenge prompt to weave into it

With my mind part focused on Ukraine, I have found a highly recommended book – my next Audible listen: https://www.boldwoodbooks.com/book/memory-keeper-of-kyiv/

I am also giving copies of You Don’t Know What War Is: The Diary of a Young Girl From Ukraine by Yeva Skalietska to family members with kids. This Guardian review explains more about the diary: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/nov/22/you-dont-know-what-war-is-by-yeva-skalietska-review-ukrainian-child-poignant-diary

Slava Ukrayini

#WEP/IWSG December Challenge – First Time Ever

As the war in Ukraine continues, so must my tale of two Canadian-Ukrainian pilot cousins unfold to merge reality and inspiration from the WEP/IWSG bi-monthly challenges.

However, my ability to write cannot keep pace with reality. I had outlined a three-act story, but as I wrote it, slowly… while struggling to stay awake – like now – I realized the length would be unacceptable.

So, I dropped Act 3, the promised Swords to Ploughshares scenes. It’s still too long, but my editing brain is frazzled – apologies. But Act 3 is not abandoned, and since it gives a positive conclusion to my Ukraine tales, I will post it in a few days.

As for the horrific war, a just peace is likely months off. Thus, my characters’ trials haven’t ended, so, I may have to write more… if I can prevail.

That depends on my health and the overdue revision of Sparkle Anwyl novel ‘Fevered Fuse’. I’d be remiss if I abandoned my Snowdon Shadows mysteries.

Anyway, on to the Challenge. Please note, this present day tale began with my World War II story Feathered Fire, which introduced the Chayka family from Ukraine and appeared in the 2020 IWSG Anthology (No. 5), Voyagers: The Third Ghost.

The current stories open with Part 1, Rainbow Firebreak, for the WEP/IWSG April Challenge: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/04/20/wep-iwsg-april-challenge-a-hard-rains-a-gonna-fall/.

Part 2, Winged Woes, for the WEP/IWSG June Challenge:     https://rolandclarke.com/2022/06/15/wep-iwsg-june-challenge-please-read-the-letter/

Part 3, Moonbeam Magic, for the WEP/IWSG August Challenge: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/08/17/wep-iwsg-august-challenge-moonlight-sonata/

Part 4, Winged Death, for the WEP/IWSG October Challenge: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/10/19/wep-iwsg-october-challenge-thriller/

Apologies if I’m slow to respond to comments or struggle to visit all your posts after re-connection to the internet.

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


Blurb: Night Witches commit to soul mates in the season of what should mean Peace.

Part 5

Soul Seeds


Saturday, November 26thAirfield “Kalyniv” near the Polish border.

As her ground crew maneuvered the Gripen C into its shielded revetment, Anzhela Havrylyuk tried to ignore the mischievous glances of her partner Larisa Kovalyov.

Shouldn’t she behave now she’d been promoted to Kapitan and given command of Gold Wing?

Yet, everyone knew how intimate they were.

Larisa nodded to her crew mates, then sidled up to Anzhela, snaking arms around her.

“It’s been too long, lastachka.”

“One lonely night apart, myshka, while we moved back here.”

The embrace became a passionate kiss, broken when the Chayka majors approached.

“Sorry to interrupt your reunion,” said Vasy. “We have an urgent request, Kapitan.”

“We need you to take command of this squadron,” said Kalyna. “Temporarily… while Vasy and I are in Canada raising support for Ukraine.”

Anzhela gulped at the responsibility… the expectations. Air Force command no longer saw the Night Witches as an effective squadron after the high casualties during the Kharkiv offensive.

Six… including her wing leader and friend Ksenia Zelenko. Killed saving her.

“You are the best person to guide the sisters through this rebuilding,” said Vasy, putting a reassuring arm across her shoulders. “Our seven recruits will be in good hands.”

“Ignore any male prejudice, which questions the Witches’ ability to train new pilots,” added Kalyna. “We were given the most dangerous night missions… and still succeeded.”

Anzhela saluted, saying, “I’m honored you entrust the squadron to my care. I feel this winter will see us all demonstrate our effectiveness. When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow morning, we drive across the border to Rzeszów,: said Kalyna. “There we join the fifty-three refugees we are helping join families in Canada. On Tuesday, our whole group flies from Kraków via London to Calgary—”

“Our full itinerary and contact details will be posted in the office,” added Vasy. “Plus, a duplicate in the shelter… in case a stray Russian missile deletes our records.”

“As long as it spares our canteen this time,” added Larisa. “Doesn’t a squadron fly better well fed?”


“The first time ever I saw your face,” said Anzhela, as she traced her lover’s nose, “I thought the sun rose in your eyes.”

“A lifetime ago,” replied Larisa. “Yet still, the moon and stars rise in yours. But if you weren’t studying in Kharkiv when my cousin Sergei was exploring clubs there, he’d never have introduced us.”

“And my life would have been dark. Now we share endless skies, my love.”

The couple embraced, letting the moon play across their snuggled bodies, as it shone through ice-frosted glass.

“Where is Sergei now?”

Larisa wiped tearful eyes. “I read on Telegram he was arrested for protesting mobilization and sent to the front.”

Anzhela shook her head. “That’s so wrong. He’s not a soldier.” She clasped her hands to her head. “I can’t kill him. I’ve already blood on my hands. Why can’t it be Putin’s.”


Monday, December 19th – Chayka Air, Cold Lake, Canada

The main hanger was transformed for this crucial fundraising event. Photos from Ukraine, from proud defenders to precious land, lined the walls. Among them the Night Witches, their jets, and ground staff. If supporters wondered where their aid was going, here was a photographic record.

Above was the Polikarpov U-2 flown to freedom by the Chayka sisters in 1944 – the iconic biplane of the original Night Witches.

Kalyna turned to her husband Leonid Sokol, saying, “Our eldest Aliona has excelled herself organizing tonight’s fundraiser.”

“I said she had your PR talent. Expect to raise another million tonight.”

From a dais at one side, Aliona addressed the gathering.

“Before we eat a traditional Ukrainian meal, I would like you to watch a documentary about the Russian Invasion and our reborn Night Witches – Nochnyye Vedmy.”

Even though she’d been in Ukraine since early March, and seen the team making the film, Kalyna was always moved reliving events and seeing departed sisters… like Ksenia. Looking at the guests, she knew the documentary touched them too.

After it concluded, Aliona said, “While you’re enjoying your meal, study the sheet on your table listing the items Ukraine need this winter. Many like warm gloves are things we take for granted as Canadians, when winter temperatures fall as low over there.”

She paused, and everyone looked at their lists.

“Now consider what you can spare this holiday season to donate to their struggle for their freedom… for ours. Whether it’s money for blankets or a jet, no sacrifice goes unseen. We thank you.”

The Cold Lake Garrison Commander opposite Kalyna leant forwards. “Major Chayka, as you’re serving with the Ukrainian Air Force, I must ask a question before I give my speech. By my count your squadron is five jets short if every trainee qualifies—”

“—and all six recovered wrecks become spare parts. Correct. The UAF who insists on giving us dangerous night missions wont supply new planes, even MiGs.”

“Do you prefer Hornets or Gripens?”

“Gripens suit Ukraine’s situation best. But it’s unlikely Sweden will give us more unless that gives them an advantage over Russia.’’

“Okay. I can work with that for now.”

The commander then talked with his deputy, while studying the donation list.

“Yoi made a good impression on him, lyuba,” said Leonid. ”As you did with me… in a different way, the first time ever I kissed your mouth. As I felt the earth move in my hand.”

He held her close, ignoring others. Kissing her deeply.

“And your trembling heart was there at my command, yagudka.”


As coffee was served, Aliona welcomed the Cold Lake Garrison Commander to speak.

He expressed his pride at being amongst so many brave people, especially the refugees, and those who were helping them settle in Canada.

He praised the documentary, adding, “All those associated with what Chayka Air are doing for Ukraine deserve gratitude. However, we all know more is needed.

“Please, give generously… as I and my fellow officers here will be doing, We can’t donate fighter jets, but we can ensure the Canadian Armed Forces pledges to fill the shortfall of the Night Witches squadron. Slava Ukrayini.”

Everyone clapped, then repeated the battle cry.

The commander approached Vasy and her husband Marko.

“Major and Mr Holub, may I join you, please?”

“Of course,” said Vasy. “We welcome whatever CAF can provide. Can they really fill our shortfall this winter?”

“When I report what you’ve achieved, Hornets will be found. CAF has been pledged to helping Ukraine since 2014… not just in military aid, but also humanitarian. Your help mirrors that and continues to.”

“We have to,” said Marko. “The war will end with our victory. But the recovery will be traumatic and long.”

“Have you made plans beyond the peace?”

“The immediate medical needs,” said Vasy. “More accessible health services for survivors, especially of sexual-based violence. As an all-women squadron we’ve learnt a lot about what remains buried.”

“The commander stood and exchanged salutes with Vasy, then joined his fellow officers.

Marko kissed his wife, long and tearfully.

“I don’t ever want to let you go… not now, not the first time I saw your face.:

“Nor I. The first time ever I felt your heart so close to mine and knew our joy would fill the earth.”

“And would last ’til the end of time, moya dusha.”

1229 words FCA

Slava Ukrayini

As promised I wrote Act 3 after posting this Flash. Link to next Part:


The Ongoing War in Ukraine

As I wrote the October Challenge post, Putin’s disastrous invasion escalated. So, I ended up writing more background information. So, this is Post II, in which I refer in places to the Challenge post:


Ukraine’s successful counter-offensive revealed likely war crimes from a torture incident to mass graves in a forest. Russian troops and separatist forces ran en masse, abandoning valuable equipment and supplies.

This was swiftly followed by Russia’s sham elections and illegal annexation of four regions of Eastern Ukraine.

Echoes of Hitler’s annexation of Sudetenland before WWII.

Internationally, almost everyone condemned the annexations, especially given the evidence of coercion by Russian forces, and the ludicrously inflated results. And Ukraine already controlled a percentage of the regions, then liberated more of the occupied territory after the pronouncement.


As his invasion failed, Putin announced partial mobilization which resulted in thousands of eligible Russians fleeing the country. Meanwhile, those conscripted seemed poorly equipped, barely trained, and sometimes dispatched overhastily to the front-line. There, hundreds are surrendering, rather than fight.

Putin and some in his clique have threatened the use of nuclear weapons. For now, the West has promised a punishing conventional response.

When someone, probably Ukraine, bombed the strategic Kerch Bridge linking Russia to Crimea, annexed illegally in 2014, Putin’s birthday was ruined, and he ‘lost his rag’.

The bloody reprisals were as expected from Putin’s newly appointed commander for the retreating invasion, SERGEI SUROVIKIN. Raining missiles down on Ukraine’s civilians is a typical war crime ordered by General Armageddon – hence that playground attack.

Amidst the ongoing brutality, this had to be my closing scene of my October Challenge post.

Putin was hoping he could frighten Ukrainian civilians into capitulation. But they are more determined to prevail, as the British were during the Blitz in WWII. The bombing of German cities had a similar reverse effect.


Looking ahead, my flash for December flash is provisionally titled ‘Swords into Ploughshares’ as that is where my green conscience needs to go.

War fever has engulfed so many of us. Yet, when even Germany’s Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, is a Green and strong supporter of Ukraine, I feel my response is somewhat vindicated. But there must be a humanitarian solution, not one that strengthens the military-industrial complex I so vehemently opposed when active in green politics.

I must end with this video of Ukrainian women soldiers singing the protest song Bella Ciao in Ukrainian.

This is the flower of the partisan,

oh bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao

this is the flower of the partisan

who died for freedom

Slava Ukrayini

#WEP/IWSG October Challenge – Thriller

As the war in Ukraine continues, so must my tale of two Canadian-Ukrainian aviatrix cousins unfold to merge reality and inspiration from the WEP/IWSG bi-monthly challenges.

This October Challenge presented another interesting writing prompt in Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’. The war continues to throw up horrific images, but the extraordinary Kharkiv Counter-offensive seemed to be more encouraging.

However, I had sown a spectral seed in the last scene of the August Challenge, with aviatrix Ksenia Zelenko frightened for her brother in a Russian prison.

So, I wrote the Ksenia story as the main arc, and tried to fit in two additional events in real life, which felt significant.

But there was too much ongoing destruction and too much escalation that I had to discard one of those real-life incidents – the discovery of a Russian torture building – and so many more tragic events. This seems to be one of those tough choices writing historical fiction entails, especially in historical flash.

Instead, I pruned enough words to add a closing scene echoing ‘Thriller’ and reality.

I am aware how this war has distracted many of us from other pressing crises like climate change. And there are other humanitarian emergencies, so I’m impressed when the Ukrainians are trying to help others in say African countries. And don’t forget their concern, a few months back, for getting their grain out to those starving abroad.

Although most don’t see this terrible war ending soon, I am outlining an upbeat positive piece for the December Challenge. However, I am prepared to keep writing into 2023, even if the pieces don’t fit with Challenge prompts and I must post ‘independently’.

That depends on my health and the overdue revision of Sparkle Anwyl novel ‘Fevered Fuse’. I’d be remiss if I abandoned my Snowdon Shadows mysteries.

Anyway, on to the Challenge. Please note, this present day tale began with my World War II story Feathered Fire, which introduced the Chayka family from Ukraine and appeared in the 2020 IWSG Anthology (No. 5), Voyagers: The Third Ghost.

The current stories open with Part 1, Rainbow Firebreak, for the WEP/IWSG April Challenge: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/04/20/wep-iwsg-april-challenge-a-hard-rains-a-gonna-fall/.

Part 2, Winged Woes, for the WEP/IWSG June Challenge:     https://rolandclarke.com/2022/06/15/wep-iwsg-june-challenge-please-read-the-letter/

Part 3, Moonbeam Magic, for the WEP/IWSG August Challenge: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/08/17/wep-iwsg-august-challenge-moonlight-sonata/

As people have asked where to find all my Ukraine stories, I’ve started creating ‘Freedom Flight’, which will be a collation/collection of them all.

Chapter/Part 1 will be ‘Feathered Fire’, my historical fantasy which at present is only available in the IWSG Anthology ‘Voyagers: The Third Ghost’.

However, there may be complications using a published piece. Will it be difficult getting permission?

Part II will be all my Challenge pieces on the current conflict in Ukraine, however that may resolve.   

Apologies if I’m slow to respond to comments or struggle to visit all your posts after re-connection to the internet.

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


Blurb: In Ukraine, Night Witches gamble their lives against Fate.

Part 4

Winged Death



Tuesday, August 30th – Kanatovo air base, Kirovohrad Oblast.

Ksenia leant closer to her brother Kyrylo as darkness shrouded them.

“How much longer have we? We’ve so much to share. Evading death takes a miracle.”

“No time to talk about the Azovstal steel mill. Nor enough faith for your miracle. Soon I must go. Tell me about the counter-offensive, please.”

Did he know? Why? Had he chosen to die again?

No. Never let him leave. Sibling persuasion.

“Our squadron received official approval as an active unit… for this offensive. We have fifteen pilots now, all-women. Plus—”

“—six more NATO compatible jets.”

He knows everything. Of course.

“Yes. The Swedes sent more Gripens. With our new command-and-control systems and surface-to-air defenses, we can field an integrated air and missile defense force—”

“—all-women like the original Night Witches, but deadlier. But I must go home now.”

“Not yet, Kyrylo. We need each other. Stay, please.”

“We will be together soon – forever.” His figure wavered in the moonlight.


“Sacrifice. Please. Grandma calls.”

Then, he vanished – joining their ancestors.

A harbinger of fate? Whose?

Thursday, September 8th

Cold Lake, Canada (21.00) and Kanatovo, Ukraine (Friday, 06.00)

Leonid Sokol had been in shock since hearing the news at 11.30. Reaching his wife Kalyna in Ukraine had proved disturbing as front-line information was shrouded in secrecy. Rumors of high casualties made him fear the worst as time passed with no contact.

How dangerous were the current air operations? Were the Witches being used for night missions? What was the cost in lives?

The sound of her voice was relief, but tears flowed as he said, “Queen Elizabeth died today… we knew it would happen. We’ll mourn her.”

“We heard when Zelenskiy extended sincere condolences on behalf of the Ukrainian people. What did our prime minister, Justin Trudeau say? He’s known her personally much of his life.”

“He called the Queen ‘a constant presence in our lives’ and said his compatriots would always ‘remember and cherish Her Majesty’s wisdom, compassion, and warmth’—”

“Agreed. A life of dedication well lived. Time now to end the horrors here. Make all this carnage meaningful.”

“I fear what’s ahead. More than weapons are needed.”

Sunday, September 11th – Eastern Ukraine

The twelve Night Witches went silent as their three majors entered the briefing room, along with the commander of their ground units.

Vasy uncovered a map showing Russian positions east of Kharkiv. “Again, we’re tasked with a front-line night mission clearing enemy command & control targets. First, we must clear obstacles facing tomorrow’s thunder run. The lighter faster vehicles our brigades are using will bypass strong units. So, our second selection of targets are those.’

Ksenia continued the briefing assigning targets to the various wings.

“My wing will clear out this detachment of tanks. Remember everyone, we don’t have air supremacy in this sector.”


Explosions lit the night as the other wings found their targets. But Russian defenses were now alert and their rockets were incoming.

Ksenia’s Gold Wing had yet to attack their target, although their drone operator had locked in the co-ordinates.

As Ksenia and her wing-sister Lieutenant Ganna Kohut flew a protective pattern above, Lieutenants Anzhela Havrylyuk and Mariyka Shevchuk closed, launching multiple AGM-88 missiles.

Several explosions were confirmed as hits by her instruments. Ground defences tried to bring down the attackers as they climbed out of range.

Before Ksenia and Ganna could attack, four Russian Sukhoi Su-30s flew towards them.

“Don’t engage. Evade. Jink home.”

As the enemy launched heat seeking missiles, Gold Wing all fired off flares and chaff. Then began a combination of tight maneuvers, knowing missiles couldn’t maneuver as nimbly as their jets. And their Gripens’ electronic counter measures sent strong electronic signals, jamming radars.

More projectiles closed from below as the wing turned and barrel rolled in different directions.

Unable to track the jets anymore, most missiles flew past, losing their locks.

But the Russian Su-30s kept following, despite the danger of Ukrainian anti-aircraft defences nearby.

Russian Su-30

Ksenia prayed at least one enemy would be downed.

But they too were dodging attacks, and the Russians seemed intent on one target now – Anzhela.

Ksenia had to protect her friend. She turned towards the pursuers and when in range opened fire with her Gripen’s Mauser BK-27 cannon. Then rolled away, diving groundward.

All four Russians followed, firing missiles and cannon.

Despite the darkness, she flew as close to the treetops as possible, and under every powerline she remembered.

Approaching Kharkiv, she climbed, hoping her pursuers would flee from Ukraine’s air umbrella.

Hopefully her sisters had followed orders and returned to base.  But two jets remained on her radar – one a Su-30.

Higher she climbed, twisting to lose her pursuer, who before running, launched a final missile.

It exploded by Ksenia’s wingtip.

Blood blurred her vision as her Gripen spun down.

She had to eject.

No. Her plane would hit the city.

Fight to regain control.

Another explosion – the Russian.

Steer to open spaces.

A field of harvested wheat. Food saved.

Too much blood.

“I’m dying. Kyrylo was right. Together forever.”


Thursday, September 15th – Kanatovo air base, Kirovohrad Oblast

Anzhela planted the sunflower seedling on Ksenia’s grave. “She saved my life. Why?”

Her partner Larisa and their son hugged her. “For freedom.”

“You avenged her,” said Vasy. “By shooting down that Su-30… not over the city. You saved lives.”

The surviving squadron personnel bowed their heads, then added seedlings to the other graves of their fallen friends.

“Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”

Above the spirits of all departed Night Witches keened, yearning for a peaceful resolution.


Monday, October 10th – Kyiv, Ukraine

The Russian S-300 missile dropped with precise intent toward its military target – Ukrainian children in a playground.

Putin’s genocide mushroomed as deadly explosives fell, and blood was spilt all over Ukraine.

More innocent corpses. Bodies pulled from devastated buildings.

A special military operation with a spiraling cost in lives.

1,000 Words: FCA

KYIV, UKRAINE – OCTOBER 10: A view of the scene after several explosions rocked the Shevchenkivskyi district of the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv on October 10, 2022. Vitali Klitschko said that multiple explosions were heard in the center of Kyiv today morning. There is no further detail on the incident yet. (Photo by Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Although that’s my October Challenge piece, I have more on the War in Ukraine. So. I’m splitting this post in two. For more on the War, including a link or two and a video, plus plans for the December Challenge, and two female Ukrainian soldiers, watch out for Post II in a minute or two… or go here: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/10/19/the-ongoing-war-in-ukraine/

Slava Ukrayini

#WEP/IWSG June Challenge – Please Read the Letter

This month’s WEP/IWSG Challenge was as inevitable as the dreadful and ongoing tragedy in Ukraine. I’ve attempted to continue my tale of two aviatrix cousins from April, using the suggested approach of ‘correspondence’ – nowadays emails etc.

However, I was unable to catch the emotions involved as others did so well last Challenge. Also, I failed to edit down to 1,000 words.

My excuse… tomorrow, June 1st, we complete on our new mobile home, and we move the following day.  So, I’m scheduling this in advance of the Challenge deadline and may be offline for some of June, while we await internet connection.

Please note, this follows on from my World War II story Feathered Fire, which featured in the 2020 IWSG Anthology (No. 5), Voyagers: The Third Ghost, and my brief sequel Rainbow Firebreak, for the #WEP/IWSG April Challenge https://rolandclarke.com/2022/04/20/wep-iwsg-april-challenge-a-hard-rains-a-gonna-fall/.

Apologies if I’m slow to respond to comments or struggle to visit all your posts after re-connection to the internet.

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



Messages keep hope for Mother Ukraine alive.

Winged Woes


Wednesday, April 27th – Luhansk region, Ukraine

Ksenia Zelenko kzelenko99@psu2.ua

To: kzelenko97@psu1.ua

Pryvit Kyrylo,

I’ve prayed for you since the steelworks defence became desperate though brave. Can I believe in a miracle with help and consultation from the angels of the deep?

Please believe dearest brother.  Mariupol will be liberated. We will be together.

With my winged sisters Vasy & Kalyna, I helped retain control over most of our airspace. Now Russian air activity focuses on southern and eastern Ukraine. We will harass then drive them back across the border.

Love, blessings, and prayers.


We will have a good day when we win.

Slava Ukrayini.

One of the Ukrainian soldiers under siege in the Azovstal steelworks. Photograph: Dmytro Kozatsky/Azov Special Forces Regiment

Saturday, April 30th – Cold Lake, Canada

Leonid Sokol lsokol@chaykair.ca

To: ksokol@chaykair.ca

Darling Kalyna,

May this find you fighting fit. The kids share the family’s concerns for you both. Dispel our anxiety as news from Ukraine feels unclear. You must be on the Eastern front, halting renewed Russian attacks.

We watch President Zelenskiy’s addresses, hoping the war ends soon. We read the Ukraine’s Armed Forces report on nine Russian attacks repelled in the last 24 hours. Guess the reborn witches were somehow involved in the destruction of multiple enemy ground and air units.

I know you cannot reveal military secrets, but we have to know you’re safe. Please answer, lyuba.

 Chayka Air thrives, despite your absence. Seems our eldest, Aliona has your PR talent, making the most of pro-Ukrainian sentiment. Chayka Air displays are raising funds for humanitarian aid.

Promise you’ll keep the secrets and the memories we cherish in the deep.


Slava Ukrayini.

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.

Saturday, May 7th – Luhansk region, Ukraine

Vasy Holub vholub@chaykair.ca

To: mholub@chaykair.ca

Dearest Marko,

We didn’t mean our silence to feed your fears. Yes, we maintain some military secrecy when another victory is being devised. The welfare of defenceless and innocent civilians  must be paramount.

We are well and love you all. Stay safe and secure yourselves.

Today, the Ukrainian government confirmed the last civilians trapped in the Azovstal plant were evacuated. But our remaining brave defenders appear unlikely to surrender as they vowed to stand until the end – even if many are severely wounded, some crippled. We fear the Russians will capture any who survive and surrender. With their Azov association, they could be imprisoned or worse… executed.

If that happens, please ask my father if he can legally help defend at least one of them: Kyrylo Zelenko, the younger brother of our wing-sister Ksenia. He is not a member of Asov, nor does he share the beliefs of comrades with far right views. Our own clashes with neo-Nazis in Canada has been a warning of irrational reactions. Too late, too late. A fool could read the signs.

We must arrange a virtual meeting. Is tomorrow too soon?

Our hearts are with you all. Mine is yours forever.


Slava Ukrayini.

Women evacuated from Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol stand next to service members of pro-Russian troops at a temporary accommodation centre in the village of Bezimenne. Photograph: Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

Sunday, May 8th – Chayka Air Virtual Meeting

Cold Lake, Canada (15.00) and Luhansk, Ukraine (00.00)

Vasy Holub: Apologies for making the family wait while we honoured the Fallen.

Leonid Sokol: No problem. The time difference means we were running fund-raising aerobatics in aid of Ukraine.

Marko Holub: For our Motherland. Which is why your father will assist Ksenia’s brother and comrades. But he warns there are risks. The far right here in Canada could misuse this support.

Ksenia Zelenko: We’re still grateful. Kyrylo wanted to join us, but the siege hardly pauses. Life is dire. Starvation, infected wounds, and when their water runs out the inevitable end.

Marko Holub: A desperate crisis so our government must act. We hear Zelenskiy’s pleas but feel powerless. You three… night witches are fighting for everyone. We’re relieved our prime minister Trudeau visited Kyiv today—

Leonid Sokol: — and agreed to expand economic and defence cooperation.

Kalyna Sokol: We’re proud to be Canadian and Ukrainian. Especially on this Day of Remembrance and Reconciliation marking the end of World War II. Let’s hope Putin doesn’t escalate this war in his Victory Day speech tomorrow.

Vasy Holub: Which could play into far right hands. Ironic this invasion has strengthened their influence. I fear what lies ahead. More death and devastation.

Ksenia Zelenko: And a false peace if Putin is allowed to seize our eastern provinces. We will only have a good day when we win outright. Slava Ukrayini.

1944 Polikarpov Po-2 of The Shuttleworth Collection, United Kingdom
Ukrainian Air Force Su-27 at the RIAT 2018 airshow

Thursday, May 12th –  Sievierodonetsk, Ukraine

Kalyna Sokol  ksokol@chaykair.ca

To: lsokol@chaykair.ca

Darling Leonid,

News services will show footage of our latest blow to the invaders. You gotta reap just what you sow. I know you all fear for our safety, but rest assured we’re safe.

Today, we flew a dawn raid to help our ground forces repel multiple enemy attempts to cross a strategic river here in the Donbas. Our forces inflicted heavy losses, but the Russians will retaliate. Sievierodonetsk may be targeted. So, we’ll move to another temporary airstrip. Witches keep flying.  

My love forever. I miss your arms around me.


Slava Ukrayini.

Friday, May 20th –  Mariupol, Ukraine

Kyrylo Zelenko kzelenko97@psu1.ua

To: k.zelenko99@psu2.ua

Lyuba Ksenia,

This may be a farewell message. I dread never seeing you again, dearest sister.

We have orders to surrender our positions to the enemy.

Inevitable as we’re struggling in unsanitary conditions, wounds bandaged with non-sterile rags, no essential medicine or water.

Our fate might be worse.

I dread being executed for war crimes… as a ‘neo-Nazi’. You know I’ve never been one. But I must stand and die with my friends, some holding views I ignore. First we fight for freedom and Ukraine. Only when we prevail can we argue politics.

Will they herd us to prison, stage a show trial, then death? Or a bullet as we surrender beside a mass grave?

This is a final plea for help. Is it too late to pray for that miracle?

It’s crazy how it all turned out. We needed so much more.

Love, regrets, and hope.


You will have a good day when our people win.

Slava Ukrayini.

Ukrainian servicemen carry a wounded comrade as they are being evacuated from the besieged Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, Ukraine, 17 May 2022.

1,012 words FCA

As with the April Challenge, I’ve slipped a few lines of Please Read the Letter lyrics into my digital interactions.

Invasion of Ukraine

Events have moved on since the date when my flash ends, and it’s been difficult to write this as the horrors Putin unleashed continue every day. I keep the live update from The Guardian open on my PC but feel powerless. All I can do is use my writing to express my support.

 May I plead for donations to Medecins Sans Frontieres, who work worldwide and are often the first charity in and last out: 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, but the Russian attacks continue to wreak destruction on another Motherland. Somehow, I will attempt to find the positive conclusion to my Ukrainian story that mirrors reality.

A resident stands next to debris of an open market destroyed by a military strike in Sievierodonetsk. Photograph: Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters