Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Reading about Ukraine


Reading about Ukraine


Our blog’s themes for March are optimism, forward-thinking, and passion. It seems difficult in recent days to muster any optimism. The past week has seen horrific images of a democratic country under attack by a dictator. A military convoy miles long travels down the road toward Kyiv; Kharkiv is surrounded, with heavy loss of life. Thinking forward, it’s hard to imagine that Russia’s brutality will end any time soon. But passion…that’s something we’re seeing every day, as Ukrainians make Molotov cocktails, sign up to fight, and display courage under extreme pressure.


One middle grade author who’s written frequently about Ukraine and its history is Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. A Ukrainian-Canadian author, Skrypuch’s books include a series of historical novels about two Ukrainian sisters, Krystia and Maria. The first two novels, Don’t Tell the Nazis and Trapped in Hitler’s Web, focus on the girls’ experiences during World War II.


The most recent, Traitors Among Us, was published last year. It focuses on what happens to the sisters when they are imprisoned by the Soviets after the war. In an interview I did with her last September about the novel, Skrypuch said: 


“From my research, I realized that refugees like Krystia and Maria were far from safe at the end of the war, even though they had been given asylum in an American refugee camp. 


Thousands of survivors just like them ended up being kidnapped right out of Allied refugee camps and taken into the Soviet Zone, where they were interrogated and tortured into signing false confessions, and then held in secret compounds called ‘silence camps.’ 


I wanted to know how Maria and Krystia would cope if this happened to them. I especially wanted to know how they would (or if they could) escape. There were 10,000 young people who had the experience that they did after the war and I wanted to shed light on it.”


Asked what she hoped readers would take away from the book, she said: “History as we know it only scratches the surface of all that has happened in the past. There’s so much that we don’t know and what we don’t remember and learn from, we’re bound to repeat.”


At a time like this, these books are important reading.


--Deborah Kalb