Review: ‘Winterkill,’ a novel by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

Holodomor is а genocide of Ukrainian nation committed in 1932–1933. It was committed by leadership of the Soviet Union in order to suppress Ukrainians obedient and the ultimate elimination of Ukrainian opposition regime including efforts to build an independent from Moscow Ukrainian State. In 2006 by the Law of Ukraine “About the Holodomor of 1932-1933 in Ukraine” Holodomor was recognized as genocide against Ukrainian people. In 2010, by the resolution of Court of Appeal in Kyiv region was proved the genocidal nature of Holodomor, the intention of Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich, Postyshev, Chubar, Khatayevych, Kosior to destroy a part of the Ukrainian nation. In 1932–1933 were killed more than 7 million people in the Ukrainian SSR and 3 million of Ukrainians abroad in the regions which were historically populated by Ukrainian: Kuban, the North Caucasus, Lower Volga and Kazakhstan. – National Museum of the Holodomor-Genocide

Winterkill, by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, Scholastic (September 6, 2022) Middle-Grade Fiction

Winterkill will break your heart.

Once again award-winning Ukrainian Canadian author Marsha Forchuck Skrypuch (Making Bombs for Hitler, Traitors Among Us) gifts readers with a pitch-perfect, well-written, extensively researched novel that shows the human side up close and personal of those trapped within the clutches of an atrocity of history that many still say never happened, was a quirk of nature, Eastern European weather patterns, or bad luck.

Joseph Stalin engineered a blatant genocide against the Ukrainian people by the Soviet Union, especially the farmers. He stole their crops and the food in their pantries and gardens and took their personal possessions, farms, and their lives. Whether through fate or coincidence, history is repeating itself with this novel’s release as the Russian Federation has invaded Ukraine while it once again steals the country’s grain.

Nyl lives on a small family farm and, like many of his neighbors, is puzzled when the Russians increase crop quotas while sabotaging the farmers’ ability to meet those quotas. He meets Alice, an idealistic Canadian who comes to Ukraine with her father purportedly to help modernize the country’s farming methods, introduce the promised efficiencies of collectivization, and advocate for the acceptance of mechanization–especially tractors. 

Skrypuch’s genius comes, in part, from making all of her characters three-dimensional, from those who hope to get by and those who turn on their neighbors as informers for personal gain. There are many points of view amongst these friends and neighbors and we see them clearly rather than as statistics delineating those who deny, who hide seeds and provisions, who try to escape, and who die without lifting a finger.

Alice appears at Nyl’s house with her father to take an inventory of everything in the house and on the property. Soon, it’s obvious that this inventory is helping the Russians dispossess the farmers and characterize them as an affluent, lazy drain on society. Alice doesn’t see the connection between her innocent task and the growing number of lost farms and deaths. By the end of the novel, Alice and Nyl are working together to survive and escape. The dead are everywhere. Food is nowhere. 

The people in this novel make it work. We know them. We see them fight. And we see them perish under conditions that remind us of the Nazi terrors and the lack of a piece of bread. 







Putin thinks he’ll win in Ukraine because the world will become bored with the war

In the United States, school shootings, gun control, and the potential of Roe v. Wade being overturned are occupying more and more space on news pages. So, I wonder if today’s CNN story After 100 days of war, Putin is counting on the world’s indifference by Nathan Hodge represents a plausible analysis of the future.  Meanwhile, Biden is sending more missiles. That will help, but will it be enough?

Some analysts say that Ukraine will ultimately cede the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk to avoid a protracted war, more lost lives, and continued destruction throughout the rest of the country.  While I can understand why this result could happen, I hope it doesn’t. It would not only be a loss for Ukraine but a black mark for the rest of the world that could have done more.

The world did little when Putin stole Crimea. So it’s possible the world will slowly forget about the rest of Ukraine, or at least Luhansk and Donetsk because–short of risking a nuclear exchange with Russia, people will see there’s nothing more they can do short of adding Sweden and Finland to NATO. That won’t help Ukraine, though, will it?

If Russia is allowed to keep the Donbas region, will it be forced by a treaty agreement to pay reparations to Ukraine for the lives lost, infrastructure destroyed, homes and businesses lost, and people displaced? I suspect not–or perhaps a token amount that adds insult to injury.

I am by no means an expert on international policy, much less Ukraine. Yet I feel the need to say something here, fragile as it may be, to remind people that the war is still going on and that now is not the time for our indifference.


Reminder: “Winterkill,” a novel by Ukrainian Canadian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch, will be released on September 6 and is available now for pre-order. The novel tells a gripping story of how the Soviet Union starved the Ukrainian people in the 1930s — and of their determination to overcome. This genocide is known as the Holodomor.

Sunday’s Goulash

  • Yard Mowing: One thing is certain. When we mow the yard on Saturday, we’re going to be stiff and sore on Sunday. Much of what we’re mowing is old fields rather than a yard. That means when we sit on our riding mowers for a couple of hours, we’re subjecting ourselves to a bone-jarring ride. The picture shows the fields on one side of the house, stretching eastward past the original smokehouse.
  • Call the Midwife:  We’ve been watching this 1950s/60s PBS drama since it first aired in 2012. The writing and acting are compelling, and it’s interesting seeing how medicine and midwives existed somewhat differently than they did during the same time period in the States. At the outset, the program was based on former midwife Jennifer Worth’s memoir of working in East London.
  • Ukraine. I posted a few words about this brutal genocide on my Depot Cafe blog because it’s difficult watching the daily tragedy without feeling angry, sad, and helpless. If I were a poet, I might turn to literature as one way of trying to understand the pointless death and destruction. There’s precedent for Putin’s madness. Stalin orchestrated the terror-famine in 1932 and 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. Most of the world views this famine as intentional genocide–just as we view what’s happening now.
  • Thomas-Jacob Publishing Anthology. I hope those of you who would like to read this free book in a PDF, MOBI, or EPUB file have been able to download it from the publisher’s site here. Since the stories, poems, and excerpts are arranged alphabetically by author, my short story “The Smokey Hollow Blues” leads off the collection. Smokey Hollow was a real neighborhood in Tallahassee, Florida, a place I knew about when I was growing up. The city wanted to destroy it via so-called urban renewal, and they did.
  • Cats! Our cats sleep in the bedroom at night. When we turn off the TV late in the evening, they hover around the bedroom door waiting to be let in. Katy sleeps on the bed. Robbie curls up in a box with a towel. They’re kicked out in the morning as soon as one or both of them starts committing infractions. As you can see, I’ve used clip art here rather than any real pictures of the crimes. We’re too sleepy to take pictures at 4:30 a.m.


Sunday afternoon potpourri

  • According to Radio Free Europe, “Russian officials have accused Ukraine of mounting a helicopter attack early on April 1 on the fuel depot located near Belgorod, not far from Russia’s border with Ukraine.” My first thought was, “Stop Whining. You’ve destroyed Ukraine and now you feel put upon when they strike back?” While conceding the depot was a viable target, Ukraine says they didn’t do it. Oh really. Well then, kudos to whoever did do it.
  • Spring means watching the yard get shaggy and then trying to figure out what it’s going to take to get the riding mowers running after a winter of just sitting there. One finally cranked up after we put the trickle charger on the battery for a while. Apparently, the other one will need a new battery inasmuch as the charger message said BATTERY SHOT TO HELL.
  • I’m looking forward to reading The Librarian of Auschwitz, next up on my nightstand. Written by Antonio Iturbe, the novel is based on the true story of Dita Kraus. Here’s the publisher’s description: “As a young girl, Dita is imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken from her home in Prague in 1939, Dita does her best to adjust to the constant terror of her new reality. But even amidst horror, human strength and ingenuity persevere. When Jewish leader Fredy Hirsch entrusts Dita with eight precious volumes the prisoners have managed to sneak into the camp, She embraces the responsibility―and so becomes the librarian of Auschwitz.”
  • Meanwhile, author Luis Alberto Urrea announced on his Facebook page a soon-to-be-released book of poetry. I like his work a lot, so I’ll be looking forward to Piedra as soon as it becomes available on Amazon and other online sellers. While I’m waiting, perhaps I should re-read my favorite from him The Hummingbird’s Daughter, a historical novel.
  • Speaking of new books, my publisher Thomas-Jacob will soon release a collection of poetry, excerpts, and short stories that includes my story “The Smokey Hollow Blues.” I’m excited about this volume and am looking forward to reading everyone else’s contributions.


‘Winterkill’ from the award-winning Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch coming in September

The Holodomor, also known as the Terror-Famine or the Great Famine, was a famine in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. The term “Holodomor” emphasizes the famine’s man-made nature and alleged intentional aspects such as rejection of outside aid, confiscation of all household foodstuffs, and restriction of population movement. The Holodomor famine was part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–1933 which affected the major grain-producing areas of the country. Ukraine was home to one of the largest grain-producing states in the USSR and as a result, was hit particularly hard by the famine. Millions of inhabitants of Ukraine, the majority of whom were ethnic Ukrainians, died of starvation in a peacetime catastrophe unprecedented in Ukrainian history. Since 2006, the Holodomor has been recognized by Ukraine alongside 15 other countries as a genocide against the Ukrainian people carried out by the Soviet government. – Wikipedia

I met Marsha online some 30 years ago when CompuServe and its forums were kings of the Internet. It was obvious to me then that she had both the passion and the talent to bring obscure historical events (as we view history in the States) to light in award-winning novels. As Ukraine fights, once again the evil thrust upon it from Russia this is the perfect time to remind people that such atrocities have happened before. I hope a large number of people will pre-order this novel.

From the Publisher:

Ukrainian Canadian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch tells a gripping story of how the Soviet Union starved the Ukrainian people in the 1930s — and of their determination to overcome.

Nyl is just trying to stay alive. Ever since the Soviet dictator, Stalin, started to take control of farms like the one Nyl’s family lives on, there is less and less food to go around. On top of bad harvests and a harsh winter, conditions worsen until it’s clear the lack of food is not just chance… but a murderous plan leading all the way to Stalin.

Alice has recently arrived from Canada with her father, who is here to work for the Soviets… until they realize that the people suffering the most are all ethnically Ukrainian, like Nyl. Something is very wrong, and Alice is determined to help.

Desperate, Nyl and Alice come up with an audacious plan that could save both of them — and their community. But can they survive long enough to succeed?

Known as the Holodomor, or death by starvation, Ukraine’s Famine-Genocide in the 1930s was deliberately caused by the Soviets to erase the Ukrainian people and culture. Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch brings this lesser-known, but deeply resonant, historical world to life in a story about unity, perseverance, and the irrepressible hunger to survive.

National Museum of Holodormore-Genocide


Sunday potpourri on Saturday

  • My contemporary fantasy The Sun Singer will be free on Kindle from March 27 through March 31. This is a hero’s journey novel set in Glacier National Park.
  • I’m happy to say that after having hormone shots every six months to supplement the radiation treatments I had for prostate cancer several years ago, I’m now done with the shots. The last one was Wednesday. They’re worse than tetanus shots when you get them and provide you with a few days of weird after-effects.
  • When I wrote yesterday’s post about sex scenes, I didn’t have space to mention that some authors have plenty of sex in their novels without writing the scenes. They include a lot of innuendoes but never include the actual encounters. One author I’m thinking of here is Stuart Woods whose output includes his series of Stone Barrington novels. Stone jumps into bed with almost every woman he meets, but we never see it happen. The books are basically crime thrillers.
  • While our drip coffee makers last about 12-18 months, our microwave has lasted at least ten years. Now it’s shutting itself off whenever we cook something on high for 10-15 minutes. So, we ordered a new Hamilton Beach and have it ready to go as soon as our trusty Sharp bites the dust. The appliances my parents bought during, or just after, WWII lasted longer than my parents.  I wish today’s products were just as durable.
  • While working on a short story set in Tallahassee, Florida’s former Smokey Hollow neighborhood, I was surprised to hear from people who said they were born and raised in Tallahassee and had never heard of it. Then it occurred to me that the neighborhood was destroyed by “urban renewal” in the 1960s, possibly before the people commenting online were born. If you live in Tallahassee and want to learn more, I found More Than Just a Place to be a handy reference.
  • I like the idea of authors getting together to support Ukraine, offering their signed work for an online auction that will run from March 19 through April 12. Unfortunately, I heard about it too late to get involved  But what a great idea. I hope the auction raises a lot of money to combat the madness coming out of Russia.


Fiction That Goes Beyond the Ukraine Headlines | Kirkus Reviews

As much time as I spend reading newspaper and magazine stories about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, not to mention Instagram posts and Twitter threads, I still find myself wanting to read Ukrainian fiction, to learn more about the country on its own terms.

There isn’t a huge amount available in English, but if you can wait until March 29, Deep Vellum will be publishing Andrey Kurkov’s Grey Bees, written in 2018, in a new translation by Boris Dralyuk. Set in the “Grey Zone,” the no-man’s-land between Ukrainian soldiers and pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region, it tells the story of beekeeper Sergey Sergeyich, who finds himself one of the last two inhabitants of his forsaken village. Our review says, “Kurkov transforms the abstractions of geopolitics into an intensely human account of compassion and persistence.”

Source: Fiction That Goes Beyond the Ukraine Headlines | Kirkus Reviews

We can learn a lot about a country through its fiction, essays, and poetry; I appreciate the articles I’ve seen lately that focus on materials written by Ukrainians and/or about Ukrainians. If you read the article, you’ll find several other reading suggestions.

Meanwhile, in an article from Publishers Weekly, comes this news: “Ukrainian publishers are turning to Polish and Lithuanian partners to print and distribute books for the more than three million Ukrainian refugees that have fled the war in their country. Ranok, Urbino, and VSL, among the most prominent Ukrainian houses, and have already begun printing in Poland, while the Ukrainian Book institute is working with smaller Ukrainian houses to collect print-ready files to send to printers abroad.”

You’ll find some audiobooks to listen to from this article in the Seattle Times: “Dive beneath the surface of the Ukraine-Russia War with these 6 audiobooks”

As David Wright says in the lead, “As all eyes turn to Ukraine, audiobook listeners can dive beneath the roiling surface of each day’s news to better understand the history, culture and experiences of Ukrainians and Ukrainian Americans.”


За Україну (for Ukraine)

Я читав, що американці не воювали б так, як ви воювали, якби на нас напали, як на вас.

Ви надихаєте нас і соромите нас, тому що ми не втручалися. Ми надіслали зброю та припаси, і ми чули, що вони були корисними. Якщо наша відправка допомогла, то ми можемо спати вночі.

Ми погано спимо. Образи з щоденних новин про смерть і руйнування в Україні переслідують наші мрії. Деякі з нас мріють, що ми бачимо жах на власні очі, тому що саме так ми повинні бачити його – а не на телебаченні, як ніби ваша боротьба – це фільм.

Можливо, ваша сміливість одного дня надихне нас знайти власну мужність, щоб врятувати себе, якщо до цього трапиться, і врятувати інших, які просять нашої допомоги. Сьогодні ми відпочиваємо в цілості й здоров’ї в наших домівках, далеко від звуків бомб, танків, ракет та останніх слів загиблих. Завтра, можливо, ми схаменуємося і відповімо на ваш дзвінок.

Поки не настане завтрашній день, ви перебуваєте в наших думках і на нашій совісті. Мені шкода, що ми не робимо більше, коли наші боги говорять нам, що ми повинні робити більше.

Ми любимо вас більше, ніж дозволяє наша влада.



I have read that Americans would not fight as you have fought if we were attacked as you were attacked.

You inspire us and you shame us because we did not intervene. We sent weapons and supplies, and we hear that those were helpful. If our shipment helped, then we can sleep at night.

We are not sleeping well. Images from the daily news of death and destruction in Ukraine haunt our dreams. Some of us dream we are seeing the horror first hand because that is how we should be seeing it–not on television as though your struggles are a movie.

Perhaps your courage will one day inspire us to find our own courage to save ourselves if it should come to that, and to save others who ask for our help. Today we rest safe and sound in our homes that are far away from the sounds of bombs and tanks and missiles and the last words of the dead. Tomorrow, perhaps, we will come to our senses and answer your call.

Until that tomorrow arrives, you reside heavily within our thoughts and upon our consciences. I am sorry we are not doing more when our gods are telling us we should be doing more.

We love you more than our government will allow.

That long line of refugees

When Ernest Hemingway’s dispatches from the Greco-Turkish war of 1922 began appearing in a Toronto newspaper, readers discovered a new style of war reporting that read, in some ways, like a novel, telling a story that put readers in the story.

When I read these dispatches during my journalism school days, I was most taken  by his description of an endless line of refugees: “Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Andrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. No end and no beginning. Just carts with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walking along, keeping the cattle moving. The Maritza river was running yellow almost up to the bridge. It rained all through the evacuation.”

But what impacted me most strongly, was that in a dispatch sent several weeks later, he wrote: “No matter how long it takes this letter to get to Toronto, as you read this in the Star you may be sure that the same ghastly, shambling procession of people being driven from their homes is filing in unbroken line along the muddy road to Macedonia. A quarter of a million people take a long time to move.”

The power was not only the writing, but the fact that in between reports while the world went about its everyday business, this line of people was still on the road.

NewsClick photo

I think of these reports now as I watch or read reports of the long lines of refugees fleeing Ukraine, fleeing from a man who claims his army doesn’t target civilains, and that all the time when I’m not reading the news, those refugees–like the endless line of people from the Greco-Turkish war–have been on the road, cold and hungry while I was having dinner, being shalled while I was sleeping, walking endlesss steps while I was watching television.

The power of the scenes on TV and Internet news sites comes partly from the horrors described. It also comes from the fact that while we come and go, the tragedy in Ukraine is a 24/7 nightmare. While I’m sitting here typing this post and drinking a glass of red wine, another man is walking toward Poland carrying his dying child, one of many in an unending line of other such men and other such children.


Putin thinks he’s shooting fish in a barrel

While the war’s not going the way Putin thought it would, which the world salutes with praise of the Ukrainian people and President Zelenskyy, the end seems sadly predestined.

And the world watches without doing anything to stop the carnage. If Russia weren’t a nuclear power whose mad leader hadn’t threatened to rain ICBMs down on any country that intervened militarily, would anyone have sent in troops backed by air strikes?

I assume so. Logically, nobody wants a nuclear war in response to knocking out Russian tanks, artillary, and planes with conventional weapons. To risk that, seems immoral.

But watching Ukraine being destroyed also seems immoral. I suppose most of us check the news in hopes that Ukraine has somehow prevailed only to find out that, say, a hospital has been destroyed and that–slowed down or not–the Russian advance is continuing.

So, we’re immoral no matter what we do. Not that that makes Putin anything other than a war criminal. But how do we sleep at night?

I don’t think we can.

I suppose the President has asked: (1) Can we kill/capture Putin with a black ops team? (2) Do we know where all of Russian’s missles are and, if so, can we take them out?

If he asked these questions, the answers were probably not to Biden’s liking. So, of course we did nothing. According to the latest poll I saw, most Americans agree with this. As far as I can tell, Europeans also agree with confining our efforts to diplomacy.

So far, I think we’re worrying more about rising gasoline prices than the number of Ukrainians killed daily by the Russians. Some speculate that if Russian isn’t stopped in Ukraine, it will move on to Moldova and Poland. This makes me wonder if doing nothing is really the best option.

What do you think?