Time for the June WEP contest. This prompt Please Read the Letter required no thought from me. I immediately imagined someone escaping conflict with a letter in their pocket.
Being a political animal, at the moment I struggle to write about anything but Ukraine, trying to imagine myself in the dire situations those poor people find themselves in. Here is my second story set in the Ukrainian war. Sure, this is a work of fiction, but is based on first-person accounts from news agencies, so it is creative non-fiction, really.
I won't ask you to enjoy my story; I ask you to be thankful for whatever life throws at you. We're diving into a global catastrophe - higher prices, higher inflation, famine, world unrest. The war in Ukraine has certainly added to our woes with lack of food and scarcity of energy directly attributed to the conflict.
Here is my #flashfiction. I apologize in advance that it's nearly 100 words over, but every time I edited, I thought of something else to add.
ESCAPE FROM MARIUPOL
Not trusting the cease fire, the Red Cross hurriedly provides a hot meal before herding us onto a bus out of the Azovstal Steel Plant. My heart aches with grief. I rub stiff fingers over the envelope in my pocket. Is this letter my final link to my husband?
I love my city even in its hopeless state. The shells of
gutted buildings, ruin, rubble, jagged timbers, sagging roofs, broken cement
walls. I am proud of this outpost, this symbol of resistance. It is where I
fell in love with my husband, Bohdan,
in better, more hopeful times. I worked at the steel plant in peace
time, doing quality control. When the shelling started, I stayed, like many
others. Where else could I go? There was scarcely any water or food left in my
The big white bus lumbers along wrecked roads, past
unspeakable detritus. My heart constricts wondering at the fate of hundreds still
Who would have thought these Soviet-era tunnels would
become home for hundreds of civilians and soldiers, where every day, tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery tried to flush us out. Bohdan still lives in that hell of sprawling warrens
of rail lines, warehouses, coal furnaces, factories, chimneys, subterranean
tunnels. An enormous maze, a big city, really, dark and tangled. Will it become his tomb?
One of our saviours in her neat, clean uniform kneels on the
floor and addresses me. “Valentyna
Kovalenko? I hear you
speak English. Do you mind answering a few questions?”
nod, even though it is the last thing I want.
expected you all to be jubilant leaving the destruction, but everyone is so
I shake my head, struggle for words. “The terror of
incarceration is not easily relinquished.”
She takes out a notebook, smiles kindly. “Please tell me
I don't hold back. “You had to have lived underground to understand our
quietude. Living like moles in the dark. Five storeys below ground, sharing a
bunker with seventy others. You cannot see in front of you, so you stay in familiar
places. Eerie dimness. Dogs barking. Children screaming. Walls shaking. People
dying. Missiles shook the plant; we shook with terror. Our bunker could have become
our mass grave.”
“Terrifying.” She looks shaken herself. “Go on.”
“Every day the same. The failing elderly, denied their
medicines, gave their rations to children, to mothers, to pregnant women.”
“That’s extraordinary.” She scribbles in her notebook.
“Not really. We became accustomed to selflessness. ‘I have
lived seventy years,’ an old man
said, handing a packet to a
mother cradling her whimpering child. ‘Take this.’
“That kind old man Oleksiy didn’t
live to board a bus. A last glimpse of daylight denied him.” I knuckle my eyes
with the heel of my hand. “It makes me so sad.”
She nods as if she understands. “Where did you get food?
“Getting supplies inside the plant was risky. The men moved
between destroyed buildings hunting for water and food. Buildings burned as
they army-crawled through darkness with shells whistling overhead. The
Ukrainian troops risked their lives locating formula for infants. When that ran
out, they came up with semolina cooked over candles.”
“Extraordinary. I believe you have a husband, a medic, down
My heart pauses a beat. “Correct. My husband Bohdan has a make-shift
clinic. He has run out of medicines. Now there is little he can do except offer succour to the wounded, the dying. ‘They are in hell, Valentyna,’
he told me when we held each other in a corner of my bunker during a
particularly horrendous attack where the bombs fell every second. ‘More wounded
every day. Some without legs or arms; all exhausted, hopeless.’"
“Yes. God help us, we got used to the constant shaking as
the steel works were slowly dismantled around us. Can you imagine how it was to
sit in a wet, damp basement wrapped in layers of clothing to ward off the
cold, wondering if your next breath was your last?”
The bus lurches from side to side, navigating the broken
road. The Red Cross lady moves to the front, leaving me to wonder who
those soldiers are ahead. My stomach clenches. What if our bus is shelled? What will happen to my husband’s letter? Our baby?
‘Oh, God, save us.’ The pious had cried and wept from
daylight to dark in the bunker. ‘Let the missiles fly over our shelter. Deliver
us from this evil.’ Whether from prayers or luck, no missile hit us because if
it did, all of us would be done for, and I wouldn’t be telling this tale. Please God, let me make it out of here safely for my husband’s
sake, for my child’s sake.
The bus stops. No. No. No. I breathe out when I see soldiers in UN uniforms. They guide our buses around burned-out Russian tanks.
I shrug. “We heard rumours that a plan was underway to bring
out women, children, the wounded. Some grew more fearful; some grew more
hopeful. We knew the Russians shelled civilians in the north when they fled during a cease fire. Underground we had some protection from missile strikes at least. But we
dreamed of being saved before we died of starvation. As you know, three times
we tried to evacuate. Truces were broken. The most terrifying was that time we went
outside and shooting started, so we scuttled back inside like rats.”
I turn my shoulder to the lady, lost in my thoughts.
Finally. My turn came today...
...A final embrace. Bohdan handed me the letter then faded
into blackness. He would stay to the end.
I clutch the letter in shaky fingers. On the grubby reused envelope,
he has written: My beloved child. Please read this letter and know how your
father loves you.
“Ukraine needs its Ukrainian heroes alive,” President
Zelensky said in his address to the nation this morning.
Tears run down my cheeks. Will the heroes come out alive?
Will Bohdan return to meet
the child he sang to in my womb?
Nothing wrong with hope. It is all we have.
“Glory to Ukraine,” I whisper as the bus narrowly avoids toppling
down a bomb-sized crater. “Glory to Ukraine.”
Some letters are written with the greatest of intentions, but may never be read.
Please click on names in my sidebar, or visit WEP, to read more entries to the 'Letter' prompt.
If you love it, please tweet it;
WEP June's #WritingCommunity challenge #writingcontest Please Read the Letter
#flashfiction https://dencovey.blogspot.com/2022/06/junewep-my-flashfiction-escape-from.html #WEPFF
#amwriting #nonfiction #UkraineWar #Mariupol #AzovstalSteelPlant #war