Historical Fiction


he frightening news arrives that Lenin's dreaded secret police, the CheKa are in the area, searching for the Dyachenko family. For Bohdan Dyachenko to know that the CheKa is now hunting specifically for him, not just any bourgeois, is terrifying. It is equally worrying for the villagers, who realise that their risk is greater than before, as the CheKa must have information that the Dyachenko family is hidden close by. So far the villagers have avoided their village being trashed, by accepting the Red revolutionary demands. Now they realise they are harbouring a living, walking death-threat. 

There are murmurs, "Why should we get ourselves killed for hiding rich strangers?"

But the head of the village is firm. "We have a duty to save our Ukrainian countrymen, rich or poor."

He creates a hiding place, a small broom-store in his own house on the village square. He and two friends arrange a large, heavy cupboard so it can quickly be pushed into place to hide the door of the broom-store. To conceal the small window of the broom-store, he asks others to increase the height of the firewood pile stacked against the outside wall. Food, water and rugs are put inside, also a bucket. All is done very quickly. Bohdan is surprised and overwhelmed by the firmness of the headman in persuading the surprisingly few reluctant villagers, also to agree.

Look-outs are sent to warn of the approach of the CheKa search party. Already, in the middle of the following day, two boys of not more than ten or eleven years old, rush into the square, out of breath and seeking out the village head.

 "Kracnie idut,[1]" they gasp. 

The CheKa search party is already well on its way from Mayaki on the River Dniester to the north. Had the unit continued in their truck, they would have beaten the boy messengers to the village. Fortunately, when the boys saw them, the CheKa had halted under a tree to eat.

The refugee family is hustled into the cramped hiding place. It becomes totally dark as the door is shut. There are grunts as the large cupboard is dragged into place. Outside there is chattering and activity, and Bohdan works out that dust is being scattered over the floor to disguise the scrape marks that the cupboard has left.

The family settles. Bohdan sits in the dark on the rough wooden floorboards with wife, Katerina, who has daughter Lavra on her knees. On the other side, he places an arm around hi solder girl, Iona. The burden of responsibility for the care and future of his family weighs heavily. He is not comfortable having to wait for events to happen. He must do something. But what? He should be out fighting. But for whom? The Tsar is already assassinated. 

There is hushed intermittent whispering, mostly to comfort the children. But there is also a silence in the darkness with both parents and children sitting quietly with their thoughts. Then Lavra complains she can't wait any longer and wants to use the bucket. Bohdan lights a match to allow her to see the way and then kindly blows it out so she can perform without embarrassment. The expected tinkle-on-tin echoes around the confined space. The faint characteristic smell penetrates the air. Even in the dark, it remains a public performance. She has set the example, and Iona follows. They continue to wait, and as their eyes get accustomed to the dark, they can see the small splashes of daylight filtering through the outside woodpile onto the little high window. The normal sounds of the village continue, dogs barking, cows lowing, cockerels crowing, wood being chopped, and children playing.

Eventually, wife Katerina gives a nudge and somewhat embarrassingly indicates to Bohdan she too, needs to ’go,’ but just as he lights a match and she struggles to stand, there is a sharp bang on the cupboard door and a gruff whisper, 'Oni zdec’[2]'  

Katerina collapses down again, and her needs are forgotten. All listen. Then comes the sound of a truck drawing up. It becomes ominously silent. 

A small open troop carrier arrives and parks outside the headman's house. It is very similar to the one that had entered the last village where the family had hidden only a month before. The driver jumps out, runs around the front of the truck, and opens the door. The commissar steps out wearing a long black leather topcoat with a sabre at his side. As his men clamber out of the rear of the carrier, he stands tall and looks commandingly round the village square, his right hand placed, with elbow out, on the large pistol holster hanging at his front. His men are also in black leather with jackets strapped at the waist, black boots and motorbike jodhpurs. They too have pistols, no sabres but each carries a rifle with long bayonet attached. 

The commissar orders the headman to summon all villagers into the square. He waits impatiently for them to collect, pacing around his troop carrier and to and fro across the small village square. He is closely watched by the villagers. His men observe the villagers, content that they are subdued and appear suitably frightened. When the headman indicates that all except those working in the outer fields are present, the commissar demands, in a voice heard clearly by those in hiding,

 "Have you seen the capitalist and bourgeois land-owner Dyachenko and his family?" 

Both Bohdan and Katerina, draw a sharp breath as they hear the headman say, "Yes."

It seems he is about to expose them. They gasp together but immediately breathe more freely, when he goes on to explain that the villagers would not let the refugees stay, as they know it is not allowed to harbour bourgeoisie. He continues that the refugees had gone off downriver to look for a way to get across and escape to Romania.

The commissar refuses to believe this invention and orders his men to ransack the village and make a thorough search. The CheKa militia follow this instruction with perverse enthusiasm. They crash into the village houses, knocking over furniture, breaking open doors, smashing china and windows and shooting into the air; all to frighten the villagers. They search under beds, sometimes firing a shot or two into the covers. They thrust their bayonets deep into the straw bales being kept dry in the barns. Cupboard doors are slammed open, and as they do this to the cupboard that conceals the family, all jump and hug close, as it feels as if their refuge has been discovered. Katerina holds her hand softly over Lavra's mouth to make sure she does not cry out. But Lavra cannot breathe, pulls the hand slowly away, stretches up to her mother's ear, promising in a whisper that she will not cry. 

When his men find nothing, the commissar becomes angry and desperate. 

He warns slowly and deliberately, "I will order my men to shoot the lot of you, one by one, starting with the children, then the women and then the rest, unless you tell me where you have hidden those filthy bourgeoisie. And each of you, do not forget there is a generous reward of 40,000[3] roubles for any individual who provides information leading to the capture of this blood-sucking Dyachenko. I give you three minutes"

Listening in the dark to these words Bohdan is convinced they will now be exposed. Who can stand up to such an awful threat? The commissar goes further. He orders three of his men to raise their guns and to aim them at a four-year-old standing at the front of the village group. The little girl shrinks in fear and clasps her arms around her mother's legs. The mother lets out a muffled scream and bends to protect her. There is a dumb silence both inside the cramped storeroom and among the huddle of villagers outside. Only the scrape of the commissar's boot, as he impatiently taps it on the ground, deciding when to give the order, breaks the silence. He looks at his watch. The villagers huddle closer together. The militia become very tense and alert.

A young farmer moves out of the group, nudging his little boy in front with hands on the youngsters’ shoulders. Ignoring the commissar, he steps towards the three gunmen, so his boy is less than a metre away from the points of their bayonets.

"Go on then, shoot us if you must," His little boy looks back and up at him in fear and disbelief, "but do not call yourselves our comrade revolutionaries and the makers of a new Russia. You are no comrades of ours if you do this terrible thing. You are no revolutionaries if you murder your own kind. Our masters may have underpaid and overworked us, or worse, but they would never shoot us." 

The three men become confused and look questioningly at each other and at their other comrades. They slowly lower their weapons and turn sheepishly towards the commissar for guidance. He is raging inside but dare not give an order that will very probably be disobeyed. 

After a pause, the commissar says to the headman, while pointedly ignoring the brave young farmer, "Alright, we will go and search in the direction you have indicated but if we don’t find them and come back to discover you are sheltering these enemies of the state, we will burn down the whole village and shoot the lot of you." 

The commissar then marches to the troop-carrier and, before his driver can assist, gets in, pulling the door closed loudly behind him. 

He shouts, "Move-on" in a high-pitched tone of anger. 

His men must throw in their weapons and scramble into the back of the moving vehicle.

The family has survived yet again. But sitting on the floor in that small dark storeroom with his family around him, Bohdan has lost all heart. He feels the noose closing. Until now, in their flight, the danger has been general. They were just one among many sad, frightened members of the bourgeoisie that the Reds were hunting down. But now the CheKa is searching specifically for him, and they know he is somewhere close. How long before someone, either by mistake, or intentionally and naturally to save their own life, reveals where he is?

There are voices and a scraping sound as the headman and friends push the cupboard away. They edge the narrow store-room door open, and inside the light expands from a strip up the wall to a beam of bright sunlight, revealing scattered bags, blankets and eating utensils. The girls are already half-standing, trying not to trip over these obstacles. They rub their eyes against the light and look around as if newly woken and not quite sure where they are. Their parents grunt and complain stiff-jointedly as they rise. Bohdan is closest to the door and stoops under its low lintel as he leaves, accompanied by his impatient daughters trying to exit past his legs. Bohdan effusively thanks the headman and the two other villagers who had pushed the cupboard aside. 

The four emerge from their cell and then from the house into the square. The villagers are gathered there, watching. There is no big cheer at the success of the subterfuge. Most seem happy that their guests have survived and there are many relieved but sad smiles. But there are some, one can tell from their faces, who realising how very close they had been to sharing death with their unwelcome visitors, are thinking, "What do we do when the CheKa returns?"

Bohdan and Katerina, freed from their hiding place, go into the square and thank anyone who will listen - mostly man to man and woman to woman. No one is openly hostile, and the villagers receive the gratitude quietly. Bohdan seeks out the brave young farmer who had risked everything with his inspired speech. His modest reply is that he could have done nothing else. The girls go to their village friends and are quickly chatting and comparing their inside and outside experiences. Bohdan is impressed by how they have adapted to the situation. They are every bit as competent as their elders in playing this macabre game of hide-and-seek with the CheKa. He then goes and sits dejectedly on a bench at the edge of the square, with elbows on knees and hands ruffling through his hair. How will this all end? He worries. 

   Katerina settles beside him, places an arm around his shoulders and whispers for them both, “Thank you, God. Thanks an awful lot.” 

2128 words

[1] The Reds are coming

[2] They’re here.

[3] About a year's wages for a farm worker

February 07, 2022 16:49

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Grace Lo Porto
22:45 Feb 18, 2022

A couple of small typos, in paragraph 9: "around hi solder girl, Iona." I'm guessing that should be "around his older girl, Iona"? Also, I do not think that the parents in hiding would complain as they get up. I think they would be too grateful that they weren't caught to think of complaining. In addition, you do not mention them eating in their hiding place, but you mention eating utensils...or were those there from before they hid there? Might want to clarify. Other than that, it seems like quite a good story. Many realistic detail...


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Graham Kinross
22:18 Feb 15, 2022

As Alice Richardson said, everything seems to come back around again. I’m reminded of Anne Frank’s diary but of course there have been purges all over the world throughout history and people hiding in secret rooms or attics to escape them. After all of these conflicts people say they will never forget. Only film franchises have more frequent sequels than wars.


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Alice Richardson
00:20 Feb 13, 2022

A very good story Ron. Descriptions of the atmosphere of the situation are strong and I can't help but wonder what eventually happened. When you look at what's happening in Ukraine at the moment, you realise that politics don't really change.


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