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:



Nilanjana Bose said...

This took me right into the tunnels, the mangled steelworks and that bus. It is heartbreaking and infuriating at the same time what is going on, the never ending violence and suffering.
I hope the MC makes it out and also that the letter survives but never needs reading because the letter writer can speak those words himself to the addressee some day. Though I know the last one's a forlorn hope.
Brilliant interpretation, Denise, as powerful and moving as your other Ukraine flash.

Jemi Fraser said...

Oh, my heart! This is so well written. Beautifully done, Denise!

Elephant's Child said...

Heartrending. And no doubt truth for too many. For far tooooo many.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Nila. I have achieved my goal then.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Jemi, glad it touched you.

Denise Covey said...

Yes Sue I agree sadly,

Debbie D. said...

"Nothing wrong with hope. It is all we have." Your entire story moved me, Denise, but that line summoned a few tears. Powerful stuff!

Jamie said...

Extremely powerful. This is the kind of story we, everyone, especially people with the power to make changes and stop this war-- need to read. To remember what is going on, how easily it could be any of us. Exceptional story.

N. R. Williams said...

Poignant. This line is especially telling, I shake my head, struggle for words. “The terror of incarceration is not easily relinquished.” Our news here was all about Ukraine up until the shooting in Valdia, Texas. (sp) A terrible legacy that is uniquely American. As always, well written.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Denise - brilliant ... I thought of going this route - but it'd have never surpassed this one. I really struggle to contemplate what is going on - and why the world has reached this point - Putin will forever be reviled.

So well written - thank you for this heartfelt post - Hilary

Lenny Lee said...

Oh, Miss Denise, what a heart wrenching story. I felt like I was on the bus, sitting next to Valentyna and listening to her story. I know it’s a work of fiction, but it reveals the reality of what so many Ukrainians are experiencing. Selflessness has become a means to survival. It’s difficult to watch the news and see the death and destruction unfold before our eyes. Your story gives us a close up and personal glimpse into these horrors.

A Hundred Quills said...

This tore me up Denise. Specially that tagline in the end. I do hope Bohdan's letter will be read few years down the line. As you said, hope is all we have.

cleemckenzie said...

Very touching, Denise, and one hundred percent appropriate for this WEP and a recognition of what's happening in Ukraine.

Olga Godim said...

The horror of this war, of any war, comes through in your story. I wanted to cry. And I wanted to hope too. To hope that this senseless war will end soon. A great post!

L.G. Keltner said...

Such a heartbreaking tale. I can only imagine the horror of living through what's going on in Ukraine right now.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Debbie. Your comments means a lot to me.

Denise Covey said...

Everyone doesn't see things from the same perspective, sadly. Those who need to read and feel, don't.

Denise Covey said...

Yes, I have CNN on most of the day and people said Americans would lose interests, having ADHD when it comes to news outside of their country. I saw it morph from Ukraine/Russia war to Roe/Wade, then to Brooklyn and Uvalde shootings. Now back to Jan 6 riots. A lot of talking but not much action, sadly.

Denise Covey said...

I really enjoyed your entry, Hilary, although I would have loved some company writing about Ukraine. You're not alone in trying to contemplate what is going on. You're right about Putin.

Denise Covey said...

I'm glad you felt like you were in the story Lenny. Sadly it is the reality for so many innocent people. Thanks for your kind comments.

Denise Covey said...

Hope is all we have. I'm glad that line just came to me. Without hope, what is the point?

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Lee. As I said, it looms large in my head.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Olga. The sooner it ends, the better, but what happens with the rebuilding after the senseless destruction? Shudder.

Denise Covey said...

Yes, Laura, we can only imagine.

Janie Junebug said...

Well done!


Denise Covey said...

Thanks Janie!

Damyanti Biswas said...

This was such a heart-wrenching read. However, I think more people definitely need to read up and make themselves aware of such a situation.

Carrie Ann said...

Oh my...powerful, heart-wrenching...I can only repeat what everyone is well written.

Michelle Wallace said...

A heart-wrenching piece to acknowledge the unspeakable horror experienced in war-torn Ukraine.
Well written, Denise.
Powerful and poignant, too.

Denise Covey said...

Glad you enjoyed it Michelle!

Denise Covey said...

Thank you Carrie Ann.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Damyanti. Not everyone wants to know the depths of depravity man can aspire to.

Nick Wilford said...

So eloquently and beautifully done. You really put across the horror and the hope. And we have to highlight the hope.

Ornery Owl of Naughty Netherworld Press and Readers Roost (Not Charlotte) said...

Excellent writing. There are no words I can say to do it justice.
I sometimes despair that I have to live on a disability allotment of $1240 and get most of my provisions from the food bank. There is very little left after the bills are paid. My son often reminds me that even though our situation is difficult, we are in a better position than many people, even in the United States.
(My son is high-functioning autistic and not able to hold a normal job. He isn't on disability because one of us has to be able to amass savings in case of an emergency. I cannot have more than $2000 in savings.)

Denise Covey said...

Oh wow you are in a situation. Your son is right, times are tough for many people, but having bombs aimed at you is the worst kind of tough. Thank God for caring people who provide food and other services for those who struggle on a pittance.

Denise Covey said...

Horror and hope. Would have been a good tagline Nick. Thank you.

Arti said...

When news stories cover the relentlessness of war, somehow the effect seems distant--perhaps it is the disconnect / aloofness (ironic) that is the inherent nature of the 24 hour coverage and connectivity of media and TV. Reading your brilliantly crafted story broke through that disconnect. The impact is palpable.

Hope is all we have and I sincerely hope that the letter is read by the recipient in a peaceful Ukraine.

Kalpana said...

How vividly you portrayed the feelings and thoughts of people living through this war. A huge hand squeezed my heart at the thought of Bohdan writing that letter to his unborn child who might never make it out of the birth canal.

Yolanda Renée said...

Hi Denise,
So heartfelt and real. I can't imagine the horror that is being lived at this moment by so many innocent people. Our news coverage is lax. Falling off to almost nothing as they give it over to Trump, again and again. Heaven forbid the truth is told. It might upset the influencers. How I hate ignorance. Sorry. Truly, well done!

Denise Covey said...

I know what you mean Arti. I'm glad I opened it up a bit. Let's hope that the hope these people have comes to fruition.

Denise Covey said...

Yes, so poignant. I can scarcely imagine the dangers on all sides.

Denise Covey said...

Oh yes, the return of the great Trump. So sad to give him so much oxygen AGAIN! Poor America! Poor the world! Poor Ukraine because they're the only ones standing up to Putin. I think we'll regret not doing more.

J Lenni Dorner said...

A very powerful piece. People sometimes forget to think about the people, the living individuals, involved in these situations. You did a fantastic job with this. Very deep, very moving.

I wrote a humorous piece for the June WEP prompt (it isn't adult, though some may mistake it as such at first, depending on your hobbies).
And I'm contemplating my favorite book worlds for the IWSG July prompt (I'm co-hosting). Any thoughts?
Over at Operation Awesome, we're gearing up for our Pass or Pages query contest with July's family saga genre. Know any writers who might want to enter?

Emma Parker said...
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