Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the author of 24 historical fiction and non-fiction works and the winner of more than 53 literary accolades. More than 34,000 copies of her books have been sold. For a complete list of her books and awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight into historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

BRIDGE TO TOMORROW: COLD PEACE -- MEET GALYNA AND MILA

 The Berlin Blockade was the attempt by the Soviet Union to force the Western Allies out of Berlin by cutting the civilian population off from food, electricity, medicine and other necessities of life. If followed three years of brutal, sanctioned rape involving hundreds of thousands of victims, the kidnapping of tens of thousands of workers, daily petty theft by individual Soviet soldiers and wholesale plunder on the part of the Soviet authorities in the guise of "reparations." In consequence, I found it hard to conceive of positive Russian characters and did not initially plan any. And then I changed my mind. 

Stalin was a brutal dictator, notorious for killing even his most loyal supporters. In Kangaroo trials he judicially murdered of the real heroes of the Russian Revolution. His forced labor camps swallowed hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. He caused widespread famine that cost the lives of millions. His means of waging war was to sacrifice millions of soldiers who fought without proper weapons, uniforms, food or medical care. In other words no one was more a victim of Stalin than his own subjects. I decided to make two victims of Stalin characters in "Cold Peace."

Excerpt 1:

It was almost seven pm before Priestman was able to depart the ACC.

 

Stan sat in the front beside the driver and Borisenko took the seat beside Priestman in the back. He turned to her, “You did an excellent job today, Borisenko. Thank you.”

 

Borisenko rewarded him with a grateful if modest smile. “Thank you, sir! Thank you for letting me come with you. It was very interesting.”

 

“It certainly was!” Priestman agreed. He paused and then asked, “I’m curious. As a former Soviet citizen, why do you think Sokolovsky was so sharp and aggressive? Suggesting the European Recovery Act would ‘enslave’ European workers is ridiculous. It will be good for the American economy, too, of course, but first and foremost it will kick-start European industry and create jobs. If there was ever a policy enlightened by the spirit of mutual benefit, this is it.”

 

“But it is a terrible threat to the Soviet Union, sir.” Borisenko declared, her eyes wide.

 

“How?”

 

“Because it shows how rich America is! Not to mention that if the Soviet Union were to become part of an economic free trade zone with the other European countries, Western goods might flood into the Soviet Union. Inevitably there would be more contact between Russians and Europeans. The Russian people might start to understand that they have been lied to.”

 

“About what?”

 

“About how terrible it is in the West.”

 

Priestman thought about that a moment and reluctantly nodded. “Is that why Sokolovsky ordered his staff and drivers to wait in the cars although Robertson explicitly invited them into his house?”

 

“No,” came the surprising answer, “That is because the marshal knew he would be having a friendly conversation with General Clay and wanted as few witnesses as possible.”

 

“Witnesses?”

 

“People who might report back to the NKVD that he was too friendly with the Imperialists.”

 

Priestman considered that. “Are you saying Marshal Sokolovsky is afraid?”

 

“Of course he is afraid!” Borisenko declared sounding genuinely astonished by her CO’s naivety. “The higher one is in the Soviet Union, the more one has to lose and the more rivals one has.”

 

“Rivals, I understand, but we’re talking about his drivers, stenographers and lower-ranking officers?” Priestman protested.

 

“A Soviet marshal or general is especially afraid of his drivers, his batmen and the maids in his house,” Borisenko told him solemnly. “Such people are most vulnerable to threats, and when you have almost nothing, the promise of only a little more — medicine for your sick parents or shoes for your growing children — makes you wax in the hands of those who want information against your boss."

 

Priestman stared at her. “Is it really that bad?”


“Bad?” She asked back. “No. It is not bad. It is hell.”

Galyna Boresenko is the daughter of ideological revolutionaries who embrace the Soviet State with heart and soul. Her father, Nicolas, the son of humble parents who scratched and clawed his way to an education in the days before the First World War, joins the revolutionaries in 1917. He is a proud member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He enthusiastically takes up his duties as a teacher in Kharkov. Galyna's mother, Lyudmyla, in contrast, is the daughter of intellectuals. She is privileged and goes to exclusive girls' boarding schools, with a emphasis on 'the arts.' While her parents are "liberal" and have sympathy for the "masses," Lyudmyla is more daring and intellectually toys with Socialism in private. Her real ambition, however, is to be a great artist. The war comes, fortunes are up-ended. Her father sides with the Whites in the Civil War and is killed. Her mother flees to Finland just before the border closes. Lyudmyla does not go with her; she remains behind with the man she loves, Nicolas. Soon she is making a spectacular career as an official painter doing massive murals in the new "Soviet Realism" style, decorating public buildings all across Kharkov and even Kyiv.

But suddenly in 1935, when Galyna is 12 years old, her father Nicolas is accused of treason. He is too closely associated with the "Trotskites" -- or maybe he simply expressed criticism or doubt about the policy of collectivization that is causing millions to kill their own livestock and take their own lives and causing widespread famine? Whatever the cause, he is arrested, tried, convicted of treason, and presumably killed. Lyudmyla loses her job. Her paintings are plastered over. Galyna is sent to a school for delinquents and subjected to cruel discipline. Her mother's re-marriage two years later brings her release but her step-father soon finds a way to send her to her grandmother in exile and Galyna finds herself in Finland and then Great Britain. She becomes a UK citizen. She joins the WAAF. Works her way up from supply clerk to radio technician and finally to translator. In the latter capacity she finds herself assigned to RAF Gatow in 1948, surrounded by a Soviet sea. 

Mila is also Ukrainian and she has fought through out the Second World War as a partisan. She an exceptional marksman and is used as a sharpshooter, who ends the lives of many senior German officers. Her successes eventually gain the notice of the Red Army. She seems a perfect propaganda tool -- a 'ordinary' Soviet girl with blond hair who has spent the entire war fighting the enemy effectively. She is awarded the Soviet's highest military honour: She is made a "Hero of the Soviet Union." She is assigned to the HQ of the Russian Occupation authorities in Germany (SMAD - Soviet Military Administration in Deutschland/Germany) as a symbol of the suffering of Soviet womanhood. Her duties are nebulous, mostly to trail behind the Soviet Governor General at events and to pose for photos, although sometimes she is tasked with specific guard duties or to bring game to the Marshal and the like. 

What no one in the SMAD bothers to find out is that Mila is completely disillusioned with the Soviet Union. Her grandfather was a "Kulak" -- an independent farmer. She has seen how merciless the Soviet regime is. She has seen through the lies. She knows that there is no "workers' and farmers' paradise." She trusts no one  -- although she feels drawn to some of the honest and hard-working young officers around her. Yet none of them will be honest with her. They all spew the "party line" when questioned about any topic. She feels increasingly isolated, and exposure to the West only further solidifies her mistrust, disgust and growing disloyalty to the Soviet Union. When she meets Galyna, they suddenly both have someone they can talk to.

Excerpt 2:

The windows were boarded up making it dark, and it was crowded with German men of all ages. Galyna’s instinct was to flee; she did not feel safe among a crowd of rough men like these regardless of nationality. Mila, however, shouldered her way to a table and then turned back to face the men, all of whom were staring at them. Mila shrugged her pack back off her shoulders, put it on the seat of the chair beside her, yanked her mittens off and dropped them on the table. Then, still standing, she thrust her hand inside her double-breasted men’s jacket. When she removed her hand it held a revolver which she pointed calmly at the gaping men. Her hand swept slowly from one side of the room to the other and back. “Verstanden?” (Have you understood?)

The men looked away, and Mila sat down. She put her pistol on the table with her hand still holding the handle. Galyna sank into the chair opposite unsure whether to be shocked or amused.

“Men,” Mila said to her with a charming, almost childish smile, “generally understand guns better than words.”

“Yes, I suppose,” Galyna agreed, feeling both uncomfortable and safer.

An old man wearing an apron shuffled over and asked Mila a question in German. She checked if Galyna wanted tea or something else and Galyna confirmed tea. The man shuffled away.

Mila leaned back against the wall, sideways to the table, and propped one foot on the chair with her knapsack. She surveyed the room very carefully: like a policeman, Galyna thought. At last, satisfied, she turned and smiled at Galyna. “Do you know what I feel?” Mila asked. Galyna shook her head. “I feel free — free for the first time since the Red Army took over the control of the region where we partisans had fought for two years.” She paused, considered Galyna and added softly. “You cannot understand that can you?”

“I don’t know…” Galyna replied cautiously. She remembered feeling terrified after her father’s arrest — afraid of a knock on the door, afraid of the ringing of the telephone, afraid of the people on the street. She remembered how she stopped talking to everyone and stopped looking people in the eye. She had not been brave. She had never stood up for her father, never defended him. She had condemned him publicly like they wanted her do. She had called him a traitor and said that he deserved to die. And even when the stranger who said she was her grandmother collected her at the train station in Helsinki, she had not trusted her for a long time. She had thought they would find her somehow, take her back, and send her to Siberia. Not until they got to England did she start to feel free, but only gradually.

“You don’t have to tell me anything,” Mila said into her thoughts. “Just let me talk. Please. I am so alone in Karlshorst. There is no one there I can talk to. Grisha… sometimes I think he understands. He’s a good man. An honest and brave man. Yet, when I try to talk to him, he just says ‘Don’t talk like that, Milushka.’ Or, ‘You know better than to say such things.’ He never tells me what he thinks. For a while, I thought we could be happy together. But how could I spend my whole life with a man who will not tell me what he truly thinks? Who will not let me say what is in my heart and mind?”

Galyna looked at Mila and they knew that they did understand each other, yet Galyna was still afraid to speak. She had learned her lessons too well and at too tender an age. Besides, she had not been a partisan who had learned to kill her enemies. She looked down at the revolver still held casually in Mila’s hand.

“Two days before the meeting of the ACC where we met,” Mila spoke so softly Galyna had to strain to hear her. “I received a message from my grandfather. It did not come by mail. He’d scribbled it on pages torn from a book and sent it with a conscript from our village who’d been assigned to the battalion guarding Karlshort. The boy found me and gave me the message, telling me in a whisper that what he wrote was true — before running away without telling me his name. Do you want to know what my grandfather wrote?”

Galyna nodded vigorously; she was hardly breathing.

Mila continued in her almost inaudible voice, “He wrote to tell me that my niece, my sister’s three-month-old baby, had starved to death. She was not the only one in the village. They are all starving, he said. It is worse than during collectivization. He said there are no cattle left alive. He said they have no bread. They eat only potatoes and roots….” She fell silent, her hand stroking the pistol. “When Marshal Sokolovsky hosts dinners, he serves mountains of caviar, paté, game, turkey, lobsters and oysters….”

The waiter arrived with tall glasses of tea in metal holders. It was steaming hot. The two women held the glasses under their noses, breathing in the scent of the tea and letting the hot moisture stick to their faces. Mila started speaking again. “My sister weighs less than 70 lbs, my grandfather says. He says she is always cold because they have nothing but rags to wear. They don’t live in Moscow, you see, or Kyiv or even Kharkiv. They are just peasants. Former Kulaks.”

A shiver went down Galyna’s spine despite the hot tea she clutched in her hands.

Mila looked over at her. “You understand?”

Galyna nodded. She almost gasped out that her father had been a teacher near Kharkiv, that he had spoken out against collectivization. For that, he had been arrested for treason and disappeared into a gulag. She wanted to tell Mila, but she couldn’t overcome twelve years of silence. All she managed was to whisper, “You are Ukrainian, too.”

Mila nodded.

Cold Peace is Book I of the Bridge to Tomorrow Series was named "Runner-up" for the BOOK OF THE YEAR 2023 by the Historical Fiction Company, and won GOLD in the category "Wartime Fiction." In addition, Reader's Favorite awarded Cold Peace SILVER in the Category "Political Thriller." Cold Peace is a Indie BRAG medallion and Mediacrest Award recipient.


Find out more at: https://www.helenapschrader.com/bridge-to-tomorrow.html

View a video teaser at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTuE7m5InZM&t=5s


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