Wednesday 15 June 2022

#JuneWEP - my #flashfiction, ESCAPE FROM MARIUPOL

Hi there!

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. 



Steel plant after evacuation

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 bombed-out city.

A screech. A judder. My bus joins the convoy. Through the foggy window, I blink in the unaccustomed light, take a final look at the plant’s twisted steel, smouldering from the latest missile barrage, a never-ending pall of smoke rises from metal towers.

The big white bus lumbers along wrecked roads, past unspeakable detritus. My heart constricts wondering at the fate of hundreds still hiding underground.

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?”

I nod, even though it is the last thing I want.

I expected you all to be jubilant leaving the destruction, but everyone is so quiet.”

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 about it.”

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? Water? Medicines?”

“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 there still.”

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.’"

“My God.” 

“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.

The lady is back. “Did you think you’d make it out alive, Valentyna?”

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.

WORDS: 1098


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 #WEPFF #amwriting #nonfiction #UkraineWar #Mariupol #AzovstalSteelPlant #war

Please join WEP in August for a challenge based on Moonlight Sonata.

Thank you so much for stopping by. I know blogger is messing up comments, so if you're unsuccessful and want to tell me about my story, please email me:


Wednesday 1 June 2022


 Hello and welcome to the June IWSG where writers gather around the campfire and discuss the ups and downs of the writing life. It goes without saying that the purpose is to encourage each other. I know I always learn something! 

Alex's awesome co-hosts for the June 1 posting of the IWSG are SE White, Cathrina Constantine, Natalie Aguire, Joylene Nowell Butler, and Jacqui Murray! If time allows, please visit them.

I'm not answering the question today. 

I haven't been able to get Michael di Gesu's last IWSG post out of my head all month. Michael posed the question - 'when is it time to do a complete rewrite of your novel?' 

Michael went on to say - 'Originally I wrote this [Mommy Kay] as a memoir and had sent it to a top editor in NYC. She made several suggestions and I was almost finished when the person I am writing about decided she wanted changes. MAJOR changes.' Which to me, Denise, tore the heart out of the book.

My heart plummeted. What a situation for Michael to face. I know he'll come to a positive conclusion, but at the end of the day, he's potentially faced with three years of his writing life coming to naught. 

Or is he?

I've always believed that writing is the best way to learn your craft. I struggle to make sense of the craft books that line my shelves - I don't have the brain for them - people are always saying - read this or that - my brain fizzes, probably because I'm basically a pantser, or Discovery Writer - trying to be a plotter. Which only works for me as I have two sharp critique partners who love structural editing and walk me through the 'beats' of a good plot. Painful, but you've gotta do it as readers are smart people, they know when a 'beat' is missing.

So I think I wrote Ray Bradbury's 'million bad words' before my writing approached competency. I have about 5 books I haven't touched yet, but I'm powering on with new ideas. Now the flow is much easier. The six books I published in 2021? Most were begun in 2016 when I didn't have much of a clue - so a long hard road to getting it anywhere near right. 

There are mainly two lines of though re a deep re-write. The self-publishing gurus at 20Booksto20K FB group recommend forgetting about published stories full of holes which you recognize after you've become a better writer. Just get on and write the next book, and the next. Whereas others recommend making those changes that annoy you or perhaps reviewers found irritating. (For a list of sites which help the self-publishing journey, click on the image in my sidebar where I gathered them together for Damyanti @Damyantiwrites).

I did a re-write on my first of series vampire novel, Betrayed, because I couldn't not,  mainly sharpening up the beginning. Edition 2, according to Amazon. Along with a more 'to market' cover, time will tell if a new set of ads will make the time invested worthwhile. (((shrugs))) Who knows?

With traveling and having the flu, I was out of writing commission for 5 weeks, so now I'm playing catch up. One of the things I did was to make a page of My Books, where all my publications, or soon-to-be publications are in one place. I hope you'll take a peek. If a book appeals to you, contact me in the comments or via email and I'll send you a free copy if you'll review it for me. As a beginning self-published writer with a small fan base, gathering reviews is the hardest part. The good news is that I'm going to cut down on the 5 years I polished these 6 books. The companion book to 'Paris Dreams' will take me a year at most. Whoop-de-do.

But back to Michael. To re-write or not, that is the question?

What do you think? I'm sure Michael would appreciate your input along with moi. (I've added the link to Michael's post above).


And always with the WEP. Today the first post of the month goes live. If you want to sharpen your skills, or get eyes on your new WIP,  you're welcome to post an extract.

Thanks for coming by.