Somewhere in Ukraine

Ezra Azra

Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
On a farm in Ukraine, somewhere between the Carpathian Mountains and the borders with Slovenia and Hungary, along the Dnister River. The time was about three o'clock in the morning. It was raining.

Rudy Haiduk, Hungarian, rowed his canoe across the Dnister River into Ukraine. He hauled the canoe to the river bank and left it on the bank. He was careful in choosing the spot where he left it. He was now in Ukraine, on the farm of octogenarians, Macey and Taras Bulba, his neighbours. Their farmer families were neighbours for generations.

The two guard dogs ran to meet him, and accompanied him to the front door of their home. He knocked on the door, calling their names, repeatedly, "Macey! Taras! It's me, Rudy!" The dogs joined in, fun-barking, and scratching the door. One of them suddenly paused to scratch itself; the other ran around dementedly, now-and-then jumping up to bite into drops of rain.

Macey opened the door, by the light of an oil lamp. "Rudy! Come in, come in." Rudy entered, and took off his raincoat. The dogs, followed him into the home.

"The generator not working again, Macey?" "No. What's the emergency, Rudy?" "We just got news. Soldiers heading your way from the mountains." "Only yesterday we said the war would take months to get this far west." "I know. That's why I lost no time getting here when we got the news. It's not official. Our pirate radio people detected it."

"How long you think they will take to get here?" "No idea, Macey. But if they are not regulars, they will be travelling faster. You and Taras will be safer with us across the border." There was silence, for seconds. Taras entered.

"Rudy." "Taras. You heard?" "Yes. Take the dogs with you, Rudy. They will attack. Those soldiers will kill them. Macey and I will have to stay. If they see us here, they might not destroy the home." "You came by canoe?" "Uh-huh." "The dogs won't fit." "They don't have to, Macey. They will swim after me. We play that game quite often."

"Didn't we use new parts to fix the generator?" "We did, Taras, but Macey did observe at the time, they were new when he bought and stored them six years ago. Don't worry. This time I will come here straight from the hardware store." "Thank you, Rudy. You're the best neighbour."

Rudy put on his raincoat, and left, calling the dogs to follow him. They did.

Macey put out the oil lamp. He and Taras sat in the dark. In silence, for awhile.

"So, it's not going well for the country." "Did Rudy say whose soldiers? We have not seen a soldier on this side of the mountains ever since this war began." "Ours would have no reason to come this far. The enemy would need to secure the river crossings into Hungary and Slovenia." "Just our luck that both crossings are on our farm." A long silence in the dark.

"Hope the generator is fixed by then, if they arrive at night, oil lamps might appear to be a ruse." "At our age, Taras, it's quite likely they won't shoot." "If we don't have electricity by then, Macey, they won't be able to see enough of us to not suspect we are planning a trap."

By the next midday the rain had stopped. Rudy and the young women had fixed the generator. Taras had made a sumptuous lunch. They discussed the advisability of some of the Hungarians staying until the foreign soldiers arrived. Eventually, it was decided it would risk dangerously complicating the situation. So far, Hungary was not in the war.

The Hungarians left, promising to be ready to cross the Dnister to help, at all hours of day and night.

On their way back to the river border, one of the Hungarians started a conversation. "Macey and Taras are Cossacks, right?" "Yeah. Twenty-four carat." "They keep alive the memory of their ancestors banished to die in Siberia, centuries ago." "Those foreign soldiers do not know what they're walking into." "You think the octogenarian Cossacks might see this as an opportunity?" The group paused.

"Perhaps we should go out there and 'accidentally' meet those soldiers to warn them?" "The pirate radio said those soldiers were on foot, crossing the mountains." "That's good for them because they will probably be too young to know about Cossack history in these parts." "When we 'accidentally' meet them, should we give them a quick history tour?"

The foreign soldiers arrived the next day, at mid-morning, on the Bulba farm. Pointedly, they carried no weapons, and were not in military uniforms, though they were uniformly dressed. There were hundreds of them. They were so well-trained that although Macey and Taras never let their guard down, those soldiers appeared to materialize out of nowhere; suddenly; all at once; all around the home. The officer in charge was pleasant.

He said his unit was an advance party to survey the banks of the Dnister on the Bulba farm on the Hungarian and Slovenia borders, in order to build to prevent unauthorized crossings from Ukraine into those countries.

He was careful to be extra friendly when he said he was asking permission of the Bulbas to conduct the survey, and that they were free to deny him access, in which case he and his men would have to wait on the farm while he contacted his superiors on how to proceed.

Macey and Taras graciously gave their permission, and noted that 'unauthorized' free and friendly and many family crossings both ways over the river in the three countries had been going on for centuries.

"You Ukrainian, sir?" "From birth, Mrs Bulba. Every one of us." "Why do you not show obvious designations, sir? This is Ukraine. You've noticed the flags we display everywhere." "There is a war going on, Mr Bulba. Not every Ukrainian-born is on Ukraine's side." "Sadly, so very true."

The soldiers left to begin their survey.

"They're friendly enough." "Even if he is Ukrainian-born and speaks Ukrainian perfectly, he is not fully Ukrainian, Taras." She stared at him, intently and steadily, for an explanation.

"Taras, dear, remember, I spent eleven years working with THEM in Novosibirsk, Capital of Siberia. I have a sixth sense about THEM."

They reached out in silence and held hands. She spoke softly. "Then I can stop feeling guilty I did not warn them about those ever-shifting fatal quicksand locations on the river banks." 

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