Nine and a half years ago, I set out on quite the adventure to make my dream of writing a book about World War II Ukraine come true.
I had a publisher lined up at the time for what was supposed to be a non-fiction book entitled Letters to Kelli. For roughly three years, Ukrainian World War II vets had been sending me letters with their stories of the war. I met a school teacher when I studied in Kiev in college who believed in my love for the culture and history of her country and she began this Letters to Kelli series in her school newspaper.
I was five months pregnant and figured it was as good a time as any to take off for Ukraine for a month. I had planned on going alone, as Lee had to work, but my husband and parents put their foot down and insisted my mom accompany me.
Sometimes I’m a little too adventurous for my own good.
I arrived in Kiev, Ukraine on March 16, 2003, days before we went to war with Iraq and the very same day SARS became an international epidemic. In other words, I had perfect timing.
Want to build your husband’s faith? Take your pregnant body overseas during a time of international upheaval and call him the day after you arrive with a deep, chesty cough. He’ll thank you for it.
Bless his heart.
While on the trip, my Mom took perhaps the most epic pregnancy picture ever. You’re welcome for this:
For one month, Mom and I travelled the Ukrainian countryside interviewing veterans, walking on land ripe with history (did you know Hitler had an underground bunker in Ukraine and an assassination attempt was made on his life in that country?!) and falling more in love with my home away from home.
It was a hard trip, but it was also beautiful. I heard story after story of survival as aged men and women shared with me their wisdom from years lived under Soviet Rule and the days spent fighting Nazi brutality. I spoke with soldiers who shared their stories with such passion and emotion. As they spoke, I could see them reliving the moments.
“We were more than just soldiers,” one man said to me. “We were people.”
To me, these were just stories, but to them they were memories – experiences come to life.
I spoke with women who fought. I spoke with those who joined the partisan army, performing underground maneuvers to thwart the Nazi’s quest for domination. I spoke with Christians who fought to protect the persectued Jews and who were gravely punished for their protection.
Did you know that Ukraine had the greatest loss of life per capita than any other country in the world during World War II? Ukraine’s population was largely Jewish and the Jews were being attacked and persecuted by both the Nazis and Soviets. In addition, Ukraine was known for its rich soil and land ripe for harvest and Hitler made it a point to focus on that region of the Soviet Union.
I heard these stories from the men and women that lived them and I came home with a new vision. Just translating their stories wasn’t enough, and I couldn’t get legal permission to use the stories verbatim anyway.
So my book is based on their stories. My novel compiles their tales together into four characters and my deepest desire is that it honors them the way they deserve to be honored.
Why has it taken me so long to finish the book? When it’s all said and done, I will have been working on this for a decade.
Why couldn’t I finish it sooner?
I didn’t want to let them down. I love those people fiercely. Most of the men and women I spoke with have passed away at this point, but I want their stories to live on in a way that honors their memories.
It’s taken so long because I can’t afford to mess it up.
I wrote 1,500 words this morning bringing my total word count to just over 86,000. I’m getting so close. I’m going to do this!
Day 8 of 31: I am one step closer to accomplishing this dream.
Join me and the hundreds of others who are participating in Nester’s 31 Day challenge.
Oh, and if you are interested in donating to our adoption fund, we would really love to hit the $1,000 mark this week. I plan to share more about our heart for adoption soon, but for now we would love for you to join us on the journey. There are miracles happening, friends…