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By Scott Bury
Across Ukraine, November, 1941
“Why do you look so unhappy?”
Maurice did not know what to say to the woman in from of him on the train platform. He barely had the strength to say anything.
He knew he and his dozen men looked out of place. Everyone else there was either female, old or a child. It seemed the war had taken every young man. And there they were, twelve men of service age, all looking hungry and desperate.
“Why are you so unhappy?” she said again. “You must be hungry.” She stepped closer, into the light that spilled thorough the station window, shielded from above in an effort to thwart German bombers. He saw she was older than he thought at first, in her forties, but tired and worn many years beyond that. She was thin and grey with deep lines down her face. Her clothes were threadbare, even the kerchief over her hair. He wondered if he looked as weary as she did.
“I am,” he said.
“My son is your age. I don’t know whether he is alive or dead.” She took some banknotes out of her purse. “Here is five rubles. Go get some porridge in the canteen.”
Maurice hesitated and the woman pushed the money into his hand. Over her head, a sign swung in the wind, squeaking. Wynyca. Maurice had never heard of the town or village or whatever it was. How far are we from Kharkiv? he wondered. How much farther to go to Ternopyl?
“Dyakuyu,” he said, and turned to his men. He led his boys into the canteen. Five rubles would buy enough porridge for all twelve of them. Compared to what they had got at the POW camp, it was a feast.
The boys sat at little white-painted tables or stood, gobbling porridge as fast as they could. No one spilled a drop. Soon their spirits lifted, their voices rose and a couple even laughed. Maurice did not know how to thank the woman enough, but when he looked at the platform, she was gone.
A Canadian is drafted into the Soviet Red Army during World War 2, just in time to be thrown against Nazi Germany’s invasion in Operation Barbarossa. Caught in the vise of the Nazi and Communist forces, Maurice Bury concentrates on keeping his men alive as they retreat across Ukraine from the German juggernaut. Now the question is: will they escape from the hell of the POW camp before they starve to death?
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