Ukrainian-Canadian historical fiction author Marsha Skrypuch launched her 25th novel, Winter Kill, at the Brantford Public Library on Nov. 24.
Winter Kill is a historical fiction novel that takes place in Ukraine in the 1930s during the famine genocide. This book shows the destruction caused by the Soviet Union to the people in Ukraine when Stalin took control of their farms and led the Ukrainians to starvation.
The book’s main character, Alice, is tricked by the anti-Ukrainian propaganda Soviets were heavily exposed to.
“Alice is infused with a Canadian Communist spirit and thinks she’s doing the right thing,” Skrypuch said.
The other main character, Neil, tries to survive during this conflict. Alice later realizes she was brainwashed and begins to help Neil.
Skrypuch’s novel reminds readers of Ukrainians who suffered in the past due to conflicts between Ukraine and the Soviet Union. Skrypuch said she wants to bring awareness to historical events that are scarcely written about because she believes it is a social responsibility to tell the stories of people silenced by dictatorships.
Skrypuch explained that she was inspired to write Winter Kill after she could not find stories of Ukrainian heritage anywhere, which is partially because many Ukrainian writers were killed. The killing of these writers was part of the communist propaganda, which aimed to fill the Soviets with as much hate toward Ukrainians as possible.
However, she did not want to follow through with this project in the beginning because it disturbed Skyrpuch to dive into a topic that had vastly traumatized her and her family. This year marking the 90th anniversary of the famine that killed at least four million Ukrainians was one reason Skrypuch pushed past her hesitation.
“As a writer, you have to go to places you are fearful to go to,” Skrypuch said.
Skrypuch wrote Winter Kill and her other novels without sugar-coating or changing real life events. She aimed for a middle-grade audience because she did not want to “put an overlay of romance” on the story. Instead, Skrypuch wanted her novel to show the reality of the trauma the people of Ukraine faced as accurately as possible.
“I don’t want my reader to get joy out of someone’s suffering,” Skyrpuch said. “I want them to suffer with the character.”
There are certainly parallels between this story and today’s Russia-Ukraine war, but Skyrpuch said the timing of her novel’s publishing was coincidental. Nonetheless, Winter Kill is a stark example for readers of how history repeats itself.