Underground Soldier

A companion to the award-winning books Stolen Child and Making Bombs for Hitler.

Fourteen-year-old Luka works as an Ostarbeiter in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, alongside Lida from Making Bombs for Hitler. Desperate to escape the brutal conditions of the labour camp, he manages to get away by hiding in a truck under a pile of dead bodies.

Once free, Luka joins a group of Ukrainian resistance fighters. Caught between advancing Nazis in the west and Soviet troops in the east, they mount guerilla raids, help POW escapees, and do all they can to make life hard for the Nazis and Soviets. After the war, Luka must decide whether to follow Lida to Canada — or stay in Europe and search for his long-lost mother.

Underground Soldier is a companion book to Stolen Child and Making Bombs for Hitler, and a perfect entry point into the series for new readers, as the books can be read in any order.

Here’s an audio interview with Marsha about Underground Soldier from TeachingBooks.net.

Praise for Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch:

“Skrypuch succeeds in making some of the more horrific and lesser-known events of the Second World War accessible and engaging for younger readers.” —Quill & Quire (for Stolen Child)

“An achingly sad and intensely hopeful novel — honest about suffering, but also about resilience. It is gripping in its plot and its striking characters, and full of historical accuracy.” —Canadian Children’s Book News (for Making Bombs for Hitler)
About the Author
MARSHA FORCHUK SKRYPUCH is well-known for her award-winning historical fiction and non-fiction. Her novel Stolen Child was a CLA Book of the Year nominee and won the prestigious SCBWI Crystal Kite Award. The companion book, Making Bombs for Hitler, was an OLA Silver Birch Award Winner. Marsha lives in Brantford, Ontario.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

The corpses around me provided an odd sort of comfort. These people had been my friends and fellow captives. We had worked alongside each other during long harsh months in the Nazi slave camp, helping each other when we could.

Above me was Josip, who had been injured with me in the bomb blast at the factory. In life, he’d tried to protect us younger boys from the harshest jobs, and now, in death, his body was my shield.

Below me were two women and one man who had all died slowly from lack of food. I felt guilty, lying on top of them. They deserved more respect than that, but would I have smothered if I had hidden any deeper in this death wagon? I said a silent prayer for their souls.

Shuffling footsteps close by . . .

I held my breath and closed my eyes. I forced my face to take on the slackness of death. The canvas rustled as it was pulled aside and I tried not to flinch as a beam of light penetrated my eyelids. A guttural grunt. Canvas rustling back in place, returning the truck bed to a welcome darkness.

The snick of a truck door opening and the smack of it closing. The engine roaring to life and the smell of diesel fuel. We were moving. But within moments, the truck idled to a stop, the engine still grumbling. Fear threatened to grip me but I had no time for that. What if the canvas was opened again? I had to look dead. Forcing my body into limpness, I closed my eyes once more.

An exchange of laughter and words in German between the driver and someone else — likely one of the guards at the gate. I held my breath and emptied my mind, then waited for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a minute.

The truck engine roared once again, and we were moving. Relief washed over me, but I knew that my challenges had just begun.

I had to get out of this truck once it was a kilometre or two away from the camp. If I was still here when it got to its destination, I would be burned alive.

I gently rolled Josip’s body away from me and tried to sit up, but I was stiff and chilled and dizzy. I wore nothing but a thin hospital gown, and the jagged row of stitches holding together the wound in my thigh throbbed. The truck pitched and bumped along the bomb-pitted road and I felt queasy from the sweet smell of the corpses.

Crawling amidst the dead, I got to the back of the truck bed and shifted onto my knees. The canvas was tied from the outside, so I worked one arm through where the fabric ended and groped around for the knotted rope outside. As the driver swerved and swayed, probably trying to miss the bigger holes in the road, I grabbed onto the side of the truck bed so I wouldn’t fall, and worked at loosening a single knot. It had begun to rain, making it hard to get a grip on the rope, but finally I managed to loosen the canvas enough.

I squeezed my body out between the canvas and the metal, balanced my bare feet on a tiny bit of ledge and took in one long gulp of cold clean air. Rain washed over me.

My plan was to hold on and prepare for a careful fall, but just then the truck must have hit a pothole. I flew through the air and crashed down in the darkness.

 

Reviews:

Reviews:Caroline Chung on Winnipeg Public Library wrote:

Resource Links, April 2014

Underground Soldier tells the story of Luka’s daring escape from a Nazi-run slave labour camp in German-occupied Poland. Motivated by his desire to travel back to Kyiv to find his family, and to eventually return to the camp for his friend, Lida, the reader first meets eleven-year-old Luka as he is escaping in a truck full of corpses. After jumping out, he wanders onto a small farm, and is fortunately taken in by a German couple who heal his wounds, feed and clothe him, and help him continue on his daring journey.

While travelling through the forests, Luka meets Martina, a Czech girl who has also been living in the woods and who accompanies him on his journey. They end up being rescued by members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, and spend the rest of the war supporting the army’s endeavours to protect villagers, provide medical support, and oppose both Hitler’s Nazis and Stalin’s NKVD army. When the war ends, Luka is miraculously reunited with Lida, and as a married couple, they travel out to Canada to begin a new life.

Underground Soldier is a fast-paced story that brings to life an important, and tragic yet hopeful chapter of World War 11 that is not often written about. The presence of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, (UPA) which was comprised of people of all nationalities opposed to Hitler and Stalin, demonstrates that there was a strong and inspiring resistance to both of these dictators in Eastern Europe.

Skrypuch creates a believable central character to teach the reader about the horrors faced by the Ukrainian people during the war at the hands of the Nazis and the NKVD, and about the work of the UPA. Told from Luka’s perspective, the story is scattered with flash-backs to his life prior to the war and the labour camp. The reader learns that his father was sent to Siberia, his mother was sent to a slave labour camp, and both his grandfather and close Jewish friend were killed in Kyiv. The combination of the perilous journey he is currently on, and the horrors faced in Kyiv prior to his life at the camp, powerfully conveys the physical and psychological brutality of the war from the perspective of ordinary Eastern European citizens.

Underground Soldier is an excellent book for students to read and discuss in the class room, since it is both an adventure story and a history lesson rolled into one. Skrypuch’s writing style is clear, and the flash-backs keep the story interesting, dynamic, and poignant. The author’s note also includes some explanations of the historical events and key individuals that would have impacted Luka’s journey, which provide additional historical context to the story. Luka’s journey would encourage readers to conduct additional research to learn more about the experience of Eastern Europeans during World War 11, and about the work of the UPA.

Thematic Links: World War 11; Labour Camps; Hitler; Stalin; Ukrainian Insurgent Army; Family

Caroline Chung

on Orysia Tracz:

“The corpses around me provided an odd sort of comfort…” The first sentence of this young people’s novel sets the scene. This will not be a light easy story.

Caught in the middle of World War II, Luka is a young teenager in Kyiv. He is captured and shipped to Germany as an Ostarbeiter [eastern worker], a forced labourer in a munitions factory. Luka escapes, under those corpses, and attempts to make his way back home to Kyiv to find his family.

The reader learns very much about survival, persistence, and a child’s determination to reach family and home. Luka’s experiences are so detailed that one stops breathing along with him when he is again and again in danger of being discovered by this guard or that soldier. He must make decisions that an adult would have difficulty with. Luka grows up the hard way. He is on a mission to find his parents and a friend, Lida, in the maelstrom of war, and risks everything to do so.

The reader learns so much through Luka’s experiences about history, warfare, medicine, pharmacology, and human relations. Skrypuch is a meticulous researcher, and the reader learns about everything from dressing your wounds with fresh cow’s milk to knowing how to walk in the woods in another’s footprints to avoid detection. The horrific history of Ukraine during the war and the battles against both the Nazis and the Soviets – and the unbelievable inhuman cruelty of both – are shown on a personal level. The friendships are also there – of Luka and David, his Jewish friend in Kyiv, and of Luka and his escaped Czech trek-mate Martina. Luka’s life in the UPA – the Ukrainian Insurgent Army is related in detail, and demonstrates the international make-up of this underground army fighting on two fronts with no external support other than the local population.

A map of Central and Eastern Europe would have helped the reader envision the regions and distances Luka travels. Even though this is a work of fiction, it is based on and inspired by the real experiences of Dr. Peter J. Potichnyj, a retired professor of political science. History is not just what is in a textbook. History is the accumulation of the lives of individual people living through a particular time.

There is an Author’s Note at the back which provides short information on several key historical events such as the Bykivnia massacre (an event, of so many in Ukraine, about which even most Ukrainians do not know).

I found it difficult to read this book, and the other two in this series, but not because of the writing, which is excellent. I wanted to keep reading each of the books, but could only do so in short segments. The writer recreates the atmosphere and the situations of war so realistically that my heart and nerves could not take much at once. All I could envision was the experience of my parents, young adults at the time, as forced labourers in Germany during the war. Possibly someone with no connection to the war would find it less stressful to read.

Most of the children’s and young people’s books about World War II in Europe published so far have been about experiences of The Holocaust. The Diary of Anne Frank is well-known, and is on most reading lists and in curricula. The three companion books on World War II by Marsha Skrypuch should be required reading in schools along with Frank’s Diary.

Even though this is classified as “juvenile fiction”, I recommend that adults read all three companion books. Underground Soldier is the final book in the author’s trilogy on young Ukrainians in World War II. The first two are Stolen Child and Making Bombs for Hitler. These do not necessarily have to be read in the order published, but the lives of the characters in the three books are intertwined. Skrypuch has written 19 books, many award-winning, on topics that other authors have not approached. Not only is she a fine writer, Skrypuch is a determined and dogged champion for the underdog and the topics avoided by the mainstream.

Regrettably, while the author’s other books are available in the USA, this and the companion books are not.

Skrypuch’s deeply moving books in this series take us into the horrible world of war and its effect on ordinary people. Regrettably, with the Russian invasion of Ukraine right now, there is no end to the eternal Ukrainian struggle for independence and peace — and how this affects the nation and individuals.

Colette on Winnipeg Public Library wrote:

MYRCA and Marsha

October 2, 2014
By Colette

On September 26th 2014,the MANITOBA YOUNG READER’S CHOICE AWARD was presented to Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch for her novel Making Bombs for Hitler. The award was presented at a special ceremony held at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, with hundreds of kids in attendnace. Marsha was selected by Manitoban tweens who had read at least 5 books from the nominated list.
Students and fans gathered to hear Marsha read from her novels. Making Bombs for Hitler is part of trilogy, brilliantly written since you don’t have to read them in any particular order. Each book follows the story of a Ukrainian child caught up in the events of World War II. Marsha was thrilled to be in Winnipeg, and she shared the story of how her first nomination ever was a MYRCA nomination for Hope’s War, which incidentally is the inspiration for her WWII trilogy. Manitoba clearly loved having her back, judging by the enthusiastic responses from the assembled crowd.

Making Bombs for Hitler is about Lida who was captured by the Nazis and sent to a work camp. There, she struggles to survive under horrific conditions. Although she is only 8, she lies about her age to appear older since she has heard from Luka that the Nazis shoot anyone who isn’t useful. Because her hands are very small, she is recruited first to do the mending, then to make bombs. This is a job the Nazis would only give to slave labourers since the bomb factories were a prime target of the Allies. Marsha’s biggest worry about this book was that her character was too young, but during her research, she discovered that children as young as 5 were found in the work camps. Sadly, Lida’s story really could have happened.

Lida’s friend Luka is the subject of the book Underground Soldier. Luka manages to escape the work camp by hiding in a train car full of the corpses of his friends who died in the camp. Luka decides to walk back to Kiev and attempt to find his father, his last remaining relative. Unfortunately the war is directly in his path and the walk to Kiev is far more distant than he could ever imagine. He meets up with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and wants to join but cannot give up the journey to find his missing family. Will Luka ever realize that everything he loves is gone?

Stolen Child is the story of Lida’s younger sister Larisa, both abducted at the same time. Larisa doesn’t remember anything of her older life, except for hazy snippets of memories in different languages. When the children at school begin to tease her about being a Nazi, Larisa secretly believes they are right. Why can she speak German? Why can she speak Ukrainian and who are these people pretending to be her parents? Marsha told the crowd that this was her favorite book since she considers it the best written. She said that it has the shape of an onion; the reader slowly peels back the layers of Larisa’s memory to discover what really happened to her. The truth will shock you!

After the formal Award Ceremony, the atmosphere was electric as everyone lined up to have their books signed by Marsha. She was nice enough to bring 350 signed bookmarks to give to each one of the students who attended the ceremony! Although her books are about dark times, she is quickly becoming a guiding light of truth. Without books like hers, we would never know about some of the atrocities faced by the Ukrainian people in World War II.

Breanna Bannerman onhttp://breannebannerman.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/review-underground-soldier-by-marsha-forchuk-skrypuch/ wrote:

LOVED, LOVED, LOVED IT! This is a companion book to Skrypuch’s earlier Stolen Child and Making Bombs for Hitler that stars a male protagonist: Luka. We met Luka in Making Bombs for Hitler, who, along with Lida, was sent to a Nazi work camp where he was forced to live and work through brutal circumstances. With Lida’s help, Luka escaped from the camp, and we finally learn in Underground Soldier what he was up to before he reunites with Lida in the Displaced Persons’ Camp.

Right from the start, this book grabs the reader’s attention; the first line: “[t]he corpses around me provided an odd sort of comfort” (p. 1). Just as in her other books that I’ve read, Skrypuch doesn’t hold back or sugar-coat things, and this what really draws me to her books.

After Luka’s escape from the Nazi work camp, he is determined to find his father in Kyiv, but is briefly taken in by a German couple who run a farm in Nazi-occupied Poland. Their story is quite interesting in that they were moved to the farm by the Nazis to replace the Polish family who lived and farmed there previously. It’s just crazy to think of all the people who were moved around like cattle from one place to another (not to mention killed). I came to really love Helmut and Margarete, as they risked their lives and safety to help Luka recover. One, and I think my only, disappointments in this book is that we’re never really told what happened to them; although, we are told that the territory was reconquered by the Soviets, so I think we can just imagine what happened…

The majority of the books tells of Luka’s involvement with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which he stumbles upon as he tries to get back to Kyiv (with another wanderer with whom he meets up: Martina). As Skrypuch explains, the UPA was a guerilla-army composed of Ukrainians who fought against both the Nazis and Soviets to gain independence (does this sound at all familiar today?!). While being involved with the UPA, Luka continuously thinks about Lida and feels ashamed that he left her behind, when in reality he really didn’t have much choice. His constant thoughts of love toward Lida made me fall in love with him, although there were times I was frustrated with him for thinking his father would be in Kyiv. I’m glad things turned out the way they did.

I could go on and on about this book, but I think I will end it here. This is definitely a captivating and informative novel that I think many will like, as I know I sure did!

Penny Draper on National Reading Campaign wrote:

“The corpses around me provided an odd sort of comfort.”

With the devastating first line of Underground Soldier author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch prepares her readers for the unrelenting tension to come. In historical fiction, one immediately knows when an important story is about to be told, and this is certainly one of them.

Underground Soldier is the companion book to Skrypuch’s award-winning novels, Stolen Child and Making Bombs for Hitler– although each book is a stand alone. It tells the story of Luka, a twelve-year-old boy who escapes a Nazi work camp by hiding in a truck full of corpses. Luka’s goal is to get back to Kyiv to find his family, but first he has to survive. Alone, hurt and hungry, he needs help but it’s hard to know who to trust. Luka makes mistakes, but his determination, courage, resourcefulness, and just plain doggedness will win hearts.

The precarious position of the Ukrainian people–pushed and pulled between the Soviets and the Nazis by the pendulum of war–is well portrayed. Skrypuch also does a wonderful job of illuminating the moral dilemmas forced upon ordinary people during extraordinary times, asking the question: is it possible not to choose sides in a war?

In the end, one soldier is given a single task: to survive long enough to tell the story for all of them. Perhaps Skrypuch is that soldier as she has certainly succeeded in introducing this compelling slice of history to a new audience.

Helen Kubiw on Canlit for Little Canadians wrote:

OK–I admit it. I love everything Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch writes. Maybe it’s because she writes to inform and touch, eloquently accomplishing both without teacher- or preacher-speak. Maybe it’s because we’re both Ukrainian, though not all her stories have a Ukrainian focus. Maybe it’s just because she writes great books. I suspect it’s the latter but I would never deny the others. I knew that I would appreciate Underground Soldier, as I did its prequels: Stolen Child (Scholastic Canada, 2010) and last year’s Silver Birch Fiction award winner Making Bombs for Hitler (Scholastic Canada, 2012), reviewed here. See if I’m not right.

Stolen Child focused on Larissa, a young Ukrainian girl, who struggles to deal with confusing memories before her adoption by a Ukrainian family in Brantford. Her older sister, Lida, is the primary focus of Making Bombs for Hitler, as an enslaved Ostarbeiter taken by the Nazis. Another Ukrainian, Luka Barukovich, becomes an ally of Lida’s, though his escape from the camp hospital leaves her wondering and worrying about his fate. Underground Soldier is Luka’s story, from his escape to his desperate need to return to Kyiv (the largest city in Ukraine) and reconnect with his father who was taken to Siberia by the Soviets.

Sent to the camp hospital from whence most leave dead, Luka is encouraged by Lida to find a way out which he does, hidden in a truckload of dead bodies. His escape from the truck is just the beginning of a tortuous journey towards the mountains that he knows will link with the Ukrainian Carpathians and home. It’s not surprising that, with the Nazis taking his mother and enslaving him while the Soviets arrested his father and oppressed the people of his homeland, Luka is cautious and suspicious of anyone he encounters on his journey. The enemy is everywhere and everyone. A Ukrainian-speaking German couple, Helmut and Margarete, are one of his first allies, though he has much to fear when he learns that both their sons are Nazis. As he continues his trek, Luka is reminded of the many incidents, both personal and national, that have shaped his distrust of both the Nazis and the Soviets. With the repeated and horrific losses of life and whole-scale destruction, Luka realizes Ukraine and its people are spoils of war, to take or destroy as need be.

His journey is helped when he meets Martina Chalupa, a Czech girl, whose skills in tracking, evading detection and survival are superior to his. After they are helped at an underground hospital of the Ukrainian Red Cross, Luka and Martina join the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) to help protect and defend against both the Soviet Red Army, the NKVD (the brutal Soviet law enforcement agency) and the Nazis, both from targeted attacks, death camps, and large-scale destruction. Even after Hitler commits suicide in 1945, UPA is still committed to fighting Stalin and his NKVD, as Luka is to finding his loved ones: his father, his mother and Lida.

Underground Soldier is not an action war story; it is a sobering tale of a people wedged between two evils with no “winning” possible. Those who seek the thrill of an enemy-laden, gun-fighting game between good guys and bad guys will not find it here. The horrors of war are evident as is the compulsion to save loved ones and survive. But Underground Soldier is a more involved story, obviously painfully researched by Marsha Skrypuch, to include all aspects of World War II and its aftermath as endured by Ukrainians such as Luka, Lida and Larissa and by so many others. The story revealed information that I could link to my own family’s history, as I’m sure it will for many Ukrainians whose parents or grandparents lived through WWII in Ukraine and environs.

In this emotion-laden plot-driven story, Marsha Skrypuch will touch new readers to this trilogy and provide closure for those who’ve read Stolen Child and Making Bombs for Hitler. There is no happy ending for any of war’s victims, but by providing clarifying details and authentic experiences of those whose stories are embedded here, Marsha Skrypuch honours both the past and the future of Ukrainians and other victims of World War II everywhere. Informing and touching, Underground Soldier is Marsha Skrypuch through and through.

Karen Upper on Near North Schools wrote:

Underground Soldier is a moving and inspirational companion book to Stolen Child and the award winning, Making Bombs for Hitler.

This is Luka’s story…..his journey …his painful coming of age during a time, when survival was the key. Luka’s brash escape from a slave labour camp, thrusts him into situations where improvisation becomes the fundamental instrument for his survival — alluding German sentries.

This is a very powerful story, and even though the characters of Luka and Martina are fictional, the events experienced by them are based on real and little known events during a very horrific time in World War II. Often those who were escaping the injustices of the Nazi’s, would also find themselves fighting against the Russians at the same time.

Scenes of total injustice, brutality, violence and all the horrors encountered during war and endured, are skillfully balanced by the author, into a story that shows that courage, perserverance, determination and compassion can have just as strong as an impact on the human psyche and help one to overcome any adversity.

Highly Recommended for students and adults!

on Ex Libris Notes:

Thirteen year old Luka Barukovich has escaped from a work camp by hiding in the back of a truck loaded with corpses. Luka has reluctantly left his friend, Lida Ferezuk behind, to whatever her fate will be. He can only hope that one day they will see each other again. Luka had been a slave working in a metal factory making bombs but was wounded in the thigh during an attack on the factory.

Luka intends to walk over the mountains and back to Kyiv where he hopes to reunite with his father who is in Siberia and his mother. He sets out for the mountains in the distance but while walking through a farmers mucky field, Luka badly cuts his foot. Cold, hungry and not properly dressed for travel, Luka manages to find shelter in the farmer’s barn. His luck changes the next day when he is caught by the farmer’s wife attempting to steal food from their well stocked pantry.

The farmers,Helmut and Margarete, are Germans who were given the farm by the Nazis when they overran this area. They have two sons, Claus, who is serving at the Eastern Front and Martin, whom they mention nothing about. Luka learns Helmut’s farm is near Breslau, in what used to be Poland, but is now part of the Third Reich. All of the Polish people who lived on these farms have been forcibly removed and the Germans moved onto them.

Helmut and Margarete clean Luka up, treat his wounds, feed him and lock him in one of the bedrooms for the night. Luka wants to escape and continue his journey to Kyiv, but Helmut and Margarete insist that he stay. Weighing the risk of having him stay at the farm against the chances of him dying on the way to Kyiv, they decide he should stay until he has recovered his health. They advise him that with winter coming on he will not likely survive the journey.

Luka stays with them for a time but when their son Martin pays an unexpected visit to the farm, they decide it is too dangerous for Luka to remain. Luka hides while Martin visits but he quickly places Martin’s voice as that of Officer Schmidt from the labour camp. If Schmidt finds him, Luka knows he will be shot on sight.

Helmut and Margarete pack a rucksack of food and warm clothing for Luka and take him to the forested area along the Oder River where they drop him off. They tell him to follow the river south to reach the foothills. For Luka this journey will ultimately bring him to safety but it will not be without tragedy.Luka manages to make it to the Polish-Czech border, avoiding the German bandit hunters who kill those hiding in the forest. By mid-December he has reached the mountains and there he encounters the people working in an underground Red Cross hospital. It is here that he learns about the Ukrainian Insurgent Army which is fighting both the Germans and the Russians. Luka decides he wants to be a part of this underground army. But he soon realizes that he is better suited to healing than killing.

When the war ends, Luka is persuaded to go to the refugee camps in the hopes that he will be able to find his mother and also Lida.

Underground Soldier is the third short novel in Skrypuch’s trilogy of novels which includes Stolen Child and Making Bombs For Hitler. These are companion novels which explore events that occurred in Poland, Russia, Germany and the Ukraine. Stolen Child introduces young readers to the horrific Lebensborn program which involved the Nazi’s removing children (with “Aryan characteristics”) from their parents with the intent of Germanizing these children. Five year old Larissa Ferezuk is stolen from her family and “adopted” into General Himmel’s family and renamed as Gretchen Himmel. However, her sister, eight year old Lida is sent to a labour camp. We read about her situation in the novel, Making Bombs For Hitler. On the way to the labour camp, Lida meets a young man, Luka, who befriends her. Now in Underground Soldier, we learn of Luka’s fate.

Luka is a strong character, determined to find his father and mother and also to be reunited with his friend, Lida. He is loyal to his country and devastated to learn that Kyiv has been destroyed. Eventually he comes to realize that his plan to find his father is probably impossible. Luka represents all those people, young and old, who survived the war only to learn they were the sole survivors- that their families perished or were incarcerated in Soviet Russia and likely never to be freed.

In addition to being a well written story, Underground Soldier provides readers with information about certain aspects of the Second World War in Eastern Europe that they might not necessarily know about. For example, for people living in Eastern Europe,(Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, and Ukraine) the Nazi’s were but one of two enemies – the other being the Soviets. For people in the western world, the Soviet Union was considered an ally working towards the destruction of the Nazi regime. But both Joseph Stalin, who was the leader of the Soviet Union, and Adolf Hitler of Germany oppressed the people living in Eastern Europe when they came to occupy land in these countries. Liberation from one meant oppression by the other; the Gestapo was simply replaced by the NKVD (Soviet Secret Police) when the Russians “liberated” areas held by Nazi Germany and vice versa.

Another interesting fact is how the Soviets treated the survivors of the Nazi-occupied areas of Russia and Eastern Europe. These people were hunted down by the NKVD and sent to camps in Siberia by Stalin who considered them traitors for being captured! Luka was one such person and his youth was no excuse for being in a labour camp.

We also learn through the characters of Helmut and Margarete how families in occupied countries like Poland lost their farms to Germans who were settled on the land taken away from these people. Often these families were sent to work camps or simply murdered.

A map of the area Luka traveled through would have been interesting and helped the reader to more easily place the events in the novel. There is an Author’s Note at the back which provides short notes on several important historical events such as the Bykivnia massacre.

Skrypuch has crafted yet another excellent novel that deals with a very dark part of history without being too graphic. Historical novels allow us to examine and to think about the past, and hopefully to learn a thing or two about tolerance and living peacefully with those from different cultures.

Sean Graham on History Slam wrote:

For as much as history may fall under the ‘Humanities,’ occasionally the humanity of the past gets lost. Writing about the past can become clinical and historians can become immune to some of history’s horrors. Facts and figures of deaths in a war, for example, are faceless and can fail to elicit a strong emotional reaction. Personalize those numbers, however, and their weight is easier to appreciate.

That is exactly what Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch does inUnderground Soldier. The story follows Luka, an adolescent who has escaped from a Nazi slave labour camp during the Second World War. The conditions of Luka’s escape – by lying in a truck of dead bodies as it leaves the camp – serve as a precursor to the series of unpleasant, dangerous, and risky circumstances awaiting him.

As he struggles to survive, he is subjected to the brutality of the war. With both the Nazis and Soviet Union representing threats to his life, Luka is faced with a dire situation as he examines his options outside the camp. It is here where the book flourishes, as Skrypuch’s poignant style allows the reader to absorb Luka’s feelings, eliciting empathy and compassion.

In the podcast, Skrypuch says that this allows kids to understand what it’s like to be bullied, but there’s an equally important message to the historian. Stats are composed of individuals – individuals with unique stories and experiences. As a result, the book serves as a reminder of history’s humanity.

In addition, Skrypuch takes the reader through a part of the Second World War that is generally forgotten in Canada. Luka’s story does not resemble the one told in most Canadian history textbooks. It’s not a tale of D-Day or Dieppe, but one of which Canadians should be more familiar.

And while the book is classified as historical fiction, Skrypuch has gone to great lengths to ensure its historical accuracy – spending the better part of a decade conducting research. The character of Luka may be fictional, but his experience is all too real.

Underground Soldier is a companion to Skrypuch’s two previous Second World War books,Making Bombs for Hitler and Stolen Child. The three work as a trilogy, but each can be read and followed on its own – a true testament to Skrypuch’s masterful ability to craft stories.

While the intended audience may be children, Underground Soldier is a great read for adults. Its strength may be in capturing Luka’s emotions and taking readers along for the ride, but its value goes well beyond the storytelling. The book informs about a forgotten piece of the Second World War while serving as a reminder of history’s humanity. It’s easy to see why it has been highly anticipated by so many students across the country.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch about Underground Soldier. We talk about the origins of her love for books, writing historical fiction, and her research methods. We also chat about shining light on forgotten elements of the past and literature’s ability to heal old wounds.

Sean Graham is a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa where he is currently working on a project that examines the early years of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He has previously studied at Nipissing University, the University of the West Indies, and the University of Regina and like any red-blooded Canadian his ultimate dream is to be a curling champion while living on a diet of beer and poutine

Michelle Ruby on Brantford Expositor wrote:

The release of the third book in a Second World War trilogy by city author Marsha Skrypuch couldn’t be more timely.

The young readers’ novel, Underground Soldier, tells the story of the terrorization, enslavement and killing of Ukrainians by both the Soviets and the Nazis.

The underground army formed by Ukrainians included people of many nationalities and ages with one thing in common — the desire to live in a democratic country.

“This parallels the Euromaidan conflict where regular people of all ages and nationalities took to the streets and proclaimed they would rather die than take the corruption anymore,” said Skrypuch. “It just goes to show how timely history can be.”

Underground Soldier is the story of 14-year-old Luka, who works as an Ostarbeiter in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, alongside Lida from Making Bombs for Hitler, the second book in the trilogy, which began with Stolen Child.

Desperate to escape the brutal conditions of a Nazi slave camp, Luka manages to break free by hiding in a truck under a pile of dead bodies and joins a group of Ukrainian resistance fighters.

Caught between advancing Nazis in the west and Soviet troops in the east, they mount guerrilla raids, help POW escapees and do all they can to make life hard for the Nazis and Soviets. After the war, Luka must decide whether to follow Lida to Canada or stay in Europe and search for his long-lost mother.

“They were 10 years in the making,” said Skrypuch of the trilogy. “Finishing it feels like a relief but there is also a sadness. The characters were in my head for so long.”

Underground Soldier is the prolific, award-winning city author’s 18th published book.

Skrypuch will be in Toronto on Wednesday as one of five nominees for the $25,000 Kobzar Literary Award for Making Bombs for Hitler. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to Canadian literary arts by an author who develops a Ukrainian Canadian theme with literary merit in one of several genres, including literary non-fiction, fiction, poetry, young readers’ literature, plays, screenplays and musicals.

Although Skrypuch said she has written more on Ukraine than anyone else in Canada, this is her first nomination for the biennial Kobzar.

Most of Skrypuch’s works are fiction but she bases all of her stories on detailed research. Of great help on Underground Soldier, she said, was Peter J. Potichnyj, professor emeritus at McMaster University who was a teen soldier in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and has written extensively about it.

Skrypuch said she is closely following the ongoing demonstrations and revolution in Ukraine.

“I’m so proud of the people. It’s a very civil revolution. All they want is freedom. It’s a wave of democracy. In the long run, it’s the most beautiful thing that could possibly have happened to Ukraine.”

In the meantime, acclaim for Skrypuch’s books continues. The non-fiction One Step at a Time, which is based on Brantford resident Tuyet Yurczyszyn, is shortlisted for the Silver Birch award with winners to be announced in May.

She also has a new young adult novel scheduled for release in August to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. Dance of the Banished is partly set in Brantford.

Colette on Winnipeg Public Library wrote:

MYRCA and Marsha

October 2, 2014
By Colette

On September 26th 2014,the MANITOBA YOUNG READER’S CHOICE AWARD was presented to Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch for her novel Making Bombs for Hitler. The award was presented at a special ceremony held at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People, with hundreds of kids in attendnace. Marsha was selected by Manitoban tweens who had read at least 5 books from the nominated list.
Students and fans gathered to hear Marsha read from her novels. Making Bombs for Hitler is part of trilogy, brilliantly written since you don’t have to read them in any particular order. Each book follows the story of a Ukrainian child caught up in the events of World War II. Marsha was thrilled to be in Winnipeg, and she shared the story of how her first nomination ever was a MYRCA nomination for Hope’s War, which incidentally is the inspiration for her WWII trilogy. Manitoba clearly loved having her back, judging by the enthusiastic responses from the assembled crowd.

Making Bombs for Hitler is about Lida who was captured by the Nazis and sent to a work camp. There, she struggles to survive under horrific conditions. Although she is only 8, she lies about her age to appear older since she has heard from Luka that the Nazis shoot anyone who isn’t useful. Because her hands are very small, she is recruited first to do the mending, then to make bombs. This is a job the Nazis would only give to slave labourers since the bomb factories were a prime target of the Allies. Marsha’s biggest worry about this book was that her character was too young, but during her research, she discovered that children as young as 5 were found in the work camps. Sadly, Lida’s story really could have happened.

Lida’s friend Luka is the subject of the book Underground Soldier. Luka manages to escape the work camp by hiding in a train car full of the corpses of his friends who died in the camp. Luka decides to walk back to Kiev and attempt to find his father, his last remaining relative. Unfortunately the war is directly in his path and the walk to Kiev is far more distant than he could ever imagine. He meets up with the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and wants to join but cannot give up the journey to find his missing family. Will Luka ever realize that everything he loves is gone?

Stolen Child is the story of Lida’s younger sister Larisa, both abducted at the same time. Larisa doesn’t remember anything of her older life, except for hazy snippets of memories in different languages. When the children at school begin to tease her about being a Nazi, Larisa secretly believes they are right. Why can she speak German? Why can she speak Ukrainian and who are these people pretending to be her parents? Marsha told the crowd that this was her favorite book since she considers it the best written. She said that it has the shape of an onion; the reader slowly peels back the layers of Larisa’s memory to discover what really happened to her. The truth will shock you!

After the formal Award Ceremony, the atmosphere was electric as everyone lined up to have their books signed by Marsha. She was nice enough to bring 350 signed bookmarks to give to each one of the students who attended the ceremony! Although her books are about dark times, she is quickly becoming a guiding light of truth. Without books like hers, we would never know about some of the atrocities faced by the Ukrainian people in World War II.

 

Author: Marsha

I write historical fiction, mostly from the perspective of young people who are thrust in the midst of war.