Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger’s collection of short stories, Souvenirs from Ukraine, which are based on true events, shows the turmoil of the Ukrainian people during the Second World War. It is heart-breaking and captivating to read.
The first story tells the tale of a seamstress, Larissa, whose husband and other male family members have been sent off to fight for the Germany Army, while she is left at home attempting to survive on very few rations. When a high-ranking Nazi officer comes into her shop to have an outfit embroidered, as Larissa is said to be the best at her job, she become nervous but accepts. The tale which unfolds is tragic but compelling.
Story two involves a Ukrainian soldier, Mykhailo, who is returning to Ukraine on leave from the front. He encounters the poverty and hopelessness of the Ukrainian people as he ventures into Kyiv. Mykhailo previously believed in the German war effort but seeing his homeland destitute and his people thrust into ghettos, Mykhailo begins to question his involvement in the war and whether Germany will help to give Ukraine the independence they crave from Russia. The narrative provides both a character study and a lesson from history.
The final instalment explores Lida and Stephan’s story, and their experience in a German concentration camp. The writing portrays not only the fear they endured – but the legacy of their experience. Lida is a shell-shocked girl who was torn away from her father and thrown with her mother into a death pit; they escape, and we see her adjustment into life as she struggles to come to terms with what has happened.
Each narrative is honest and open and reveals the trauma Ukraine endured during the Second World War. Lucyk-Berger’s writing is accessible and insightful. Not only is her research beautifully interwoven but her sense of pride for Ukraine imbues every story. Recent events make this collection resonate all the more, but the book is greater than the sum of its parts and should not just be read because of its relevance.