Apologies for the delay in posting April’s WEP/IWSG Challenge. Although ‘Life Is Beautiful’ was a good fit for my ongoing Ukraine stories, I struggled to write recently, mainly for my usual excuse of declining health. Also, this piece required extra backstory and some political maneuvering – not least getting the Witches’ NATO jets out of Ukraine before any are in Ukraine for real. I hope the next episode will allow my Witches to fly in Ukraine skies again. Finally, my apologies for running too long to make this episode work.
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/
Part 6, Swords to Ploughshares, to conclude the WEP/IWSG December Challenge and close 2022: https://rolandclarke.com/2022/12/10/swords-to-ploughshares/
Part 7, Winter Resolution https://rolandclarke.com/2023/01/31/wep-iwsg-challenge-resolve/ This extra post leads into this month’s Challenge entry and included a plot event I foreshadowed in Part 6.
Part 8, Winds of Change https://rolandclarke.com/2023/02/15/wep-iwsg-february-challenge-gone-with-the-wind/
I’m unsure what fate has waiting for my Witches. Unless I ignore reality, NATO holds the cards on when they can be deployed. However, I resolve to continue these stories until there is a just conclusion to the horrendous war.
Blurb: Night Witches find family, new friends and allies.
Thursday February 16th – Airfield “Kalyniv” near the Polish border
All twenty Night Witch pilots, and their ground crews crowded the briefing room. Even Kalyna and Vasy were unaware of why Maksym Bondarenko had called this emergency meeting.
“Air Command West’s intelligence believes this airfield will be targeted by Russian missile strikes… imminently,” he said. “Tuesday’s encounter with other pilots in the Lviv restaurant and further incidents indicate Russian informers in this area.”
He let the muttered shock subside.
“We cannot afford to lose this squadron or let the presence of NATO-standard jets provoke an excessive response.”
“Should we evacuate somewhere?” asked Kalyna.
“All essential elements should leave as speedily as possible. We have arranged with the Polish Air Force University in Deblin to relocate the squadron there. Arrangements have also been made for the 2022 Night Witches to train in Polish air space with other NATO air units, until the squadron is needed.”
“So, who remains?” asked Vasy.
Maksym produced a modified ground plan for the airfield. “We have a team who will create wooden dummy Soviet-style planes in camouflaged revetments here. Other jets will fly in and out giving the impression of activity.”
“While the full squadron trains in Poland,” said Kalyna. “And I recommend we take our three crashed MiG 29s to rebuild.”
“We can begin the evacuation tonight commencing with all five flights,” said Vasy. “Please don’t see this as any more than a tactical withdrawal while building on our training. In fact, this confuses the enemy—”
“And gives them another fake victory over wooden targets,” added Maksym, waving them to the exits.
As the squadron left the briefing, Mariyka Shevchuk tried to suppress her conflicting emotions knowing she couldn’t tell those she loved why she was leaving again. Yet she had connections to Deblin, so tears formed.
Her friend and Chief mechanic, Dariya Boyko said, “We’ll return soon, I’m sure.”
“We will. But Deblin is where I trained.”
But fear tore at her. Was Sergei suspected of spying? But how as a prisoner?
The five flights left their home base in darkness, taking a circuitous route to confuse unfriendly observers.
Shortly afterwards the ground crew made the five-hour truck journey to Deblin. Just a skeleton detachment remained to assist with camouflaging the base.
Thursday, March 2nd – Deblin Military Air Base, Lublin, Poland
The two Chaka Majors had requested their flight commanders come up to their tiny makeshift office. It was best the University had found for them, overlooking the revetments where their precious twenty jets were parked.
“We’ve been here two weeks,” said Kalyna. “And from your reports, all our pilots have mastered the NATO jets they were assigned with. Next, we must fly more mock combat missions against Polish Air Force MiG 29s… except unannounced. If there are no questions, have any of you anything to report?”
No one spoke, so Kapitan Anzhela Havrylyuk stepped forward. “As our appointed Recruitment Officer, Colonel Bondarenko advised me there may be fewer volunteer from within Ukraine, so I should look here—”
“—among the refugees?” asked Vasy, “Or the students?
“Both as we must prepare to cover losses in the next counter-offensive. I’m focusing on refugees as Mariyka is our Student Liaison. Anyway, I might have found a couple of refugees, but training will be an issue. I told them how to get in touch.”
Kalyna thanked Anzhela, “Good start. Even if they require basic training, we will need cadets in peacetime. How are the students reacting to our presence, Kapitan Shevchuk?”
Mariyka answered. “At first, curious about our all-women squadron. A small group always gathers when I’m trying to eat in the canteen. Being a graduate from here helps… and half-Polish.”
“I’m sure you’re careful what you say,” said Kalyna. “There are issues we cannot discuss – even with our allies.”
Mariyka nodded. “Like why we have NATO jets. And why we are here. Being a Polish speaker, I can detect when anyone is too inquisitive. However, overall, they welcome us. There are two or three female cadets who wish they could fight the Russians now.”
The Chayka majors consulted each other, then Kalyna said, “If they are mature cadets, close to getting their wings, they may prove suitable recruits… if they’re serious. Find out more, and we’ll talk with their instructors and the Commandant.”
“I will arrange to talk to them somewhere off-campus and find out more about them. Anzhela, should join us.”
“Good idea. Keep us updated,” said Vasy. “Kapitan Sobol, you have a report from Kalyniv Field.”
Maryna stepped forwards. “As ordered, Sable Flight has been flying night patrols in Polish airspace near our homebase. We were joined by a flight of M-346 advanced jet trainers from here, flown by their best cadets. During this joint exercise, we observed signs of damage at Kalyniv. Rather than endanger the training flight, I requested a ground unit operating a drone to assess what the Russians had destroyed.”
As Maryna handed over the footage, she added, “If we had stayed, the Night Witches would have been crippled,”
Saturday, March 4th – Deblin Military Air Base, Lublin, Poland
Mariyka fought back the tears as she gazed across the runway in the direction of Lviv… towards home… everyone she loved. Who had the missile buried?
“We’re so sorry to tell you like this,” said Kalyna.
“There is still hope for everyone,” added Vasy. “The rescuers will keep working through the night… and we’ll keep you informed. Have you comrades you can be with?”
“Anzhela and I were planning to spend time with those three Polish cadets. But—”
“Go as planned. Is there somewhere special you went as a cadet?”
“Too special… my aunt has a mirror restaurant. But she doesn’t know I’m here—”
“Then you need to be there for her tonight. Tell her everything you can. An ideal test for your cadets too.”
Zvenigora Restaurant, Deblin
Too many echoes of her buried home… Mariyka shivered, but she forced herself down into the identical cellar restaurant as Lviv.
“Larisa and I are here for you, sister,” said Anzhela. “Observe and learn, cadets. Repeat nothing unless we instruct you to.’
A tall woman left the bar and rushed over to Mariyka. They embraced, tears flowing.
“What brings you here, my special niece. Although your uniforms—” She paused seeing the cadets. “I remember you graduating in that Polish academy uniform – I was so proud.”
Her tears returned, and Mariyka knew she must give the terrible news.
“Aunt Agnieszka, the tragedy is not official yet, but—”
“I already heard, Mariyka. Family grapevine. We will mourn my sister Danuta and the others. But at the right moment as we have done since the Warsaw Ghetto. First, we celebrate life’s beauty. Please eat with us… when you have introduced your friends.”
“This is a 2022 Night Witches Squadron sister, Kapitan Anzhela Havrylyuk and her partner, Larisa Kovalyov.”
Anzhela presented the Polish cadets, “This trio, Daria Jankowski, Maja Andrysiak, and Nadzieja Chlebek, are due to graduate from the University… from ‘The School of the Eagles’. Bravely, they wish to fight the Russians, so we are advising them.”
Agnieszka bowed to them all in turn, then led them to a private table.
“Welcome, Enjoy a family meal with us.”
After a Jewish blessing, they were treated to Cheese Lokshen Kugel.
Observing the movie poster for ‘Life is Beautiful’ on the wall, Anzhela said, “That was an emotional film. Excuse me for asking, Agnieszka, but you mentioned the Warsaw Ghetto. Did you—” t
“Lose family during the Holocaust. Our Jewish grandmother died in Warsaw ghetto, as did many of her friends later. They will never be forgotten. I’m sure there are others here who lost ancestors.”
Daria and Maja nodded and closed teary eyes.
Nadzieja glanced around the table, then said, “Genocide continues, though not on that scale. My Ukrainian grandmother tries to ensure we don’t forget Stalin’s attempted ethnic cleansing – the Holodomor, the man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine, when millions died.”
“And now Putin talks of more genocide,” said Mariyka. “Together we must stop him.”
FCA 1354 words
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