January 10, 2018

Don't Tell the Enemy

Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Scholastic Canada
184 pp.
Ages 10-14
January 2018

The Soviets have oppressed the Ukrainian homeland of twelve-year-old Krystia Fediuk for centuries but their occupation since 1939 has been a reign of terror for the Ukrainians, Poles and Jews in the town of Viteretz with appropriation of homes, imposed hunger, deportation to slave camps and execution.  With the Germans marching into Ukraine in 1941 and the Soviets fleeing, there are initial hopes and even proclamations of Ukrainian independence.  But the good spirits that come with the egress of their oppressors and the bestowing of food, as well as the opening of the church, are soon suspended as the Nazis begin to show their true objectives.

Krystia, her younger sister Maria and their mother Kateryna live amongst a diverse neighbourhood of Jewish, Ukrainian and Polish families of both modest and wealthier means and a Catholic church with resident priest, surrounded by farms.  Some residents are already gone, whether deported to Siberian slave camps, executed by trigger-happy Soviets or in hiding from the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, like Krystia's Uncle Ivan.  Regardless of atrocities, life must go on, and that includes taking their cow Krasa to pasture daily, tending to the garden, feeding the chickens and fetching water, always keeping their heads down to avoid suffering the wrath of the Soviets.  But when the Germans roll in, their community begins to change in different ways.  In addition to the Nazis, refugees from Germany as well as Volksdeutsche–ethnic Germans from Slav countries–begin to flood the area and force the displacement of residents.  Then the summons from Commandant Hermann begin, first naming a hundred Jewish men and declaring them to be murderers of those imprisoned by Soviets. The community is stunned when the men are shot and amassed in a single grave. 

The terror of the Nazis escalates with their acceptance of Aryan, German and Volksdeutsche as The Master Race and all others as subhuman, with particular targetting of the Jewish people, both in mass executions and then segregation into a Jewish Ghetto.  After her Auntie Iryna goes to live with the insurgents in their forest encampment, Krystia takes on the role of courier of photos and falsified documentation.  With food rationed to starvation levels, fines imposed for random acts and their Jewish friends in danger of imminent death, Krystia and her mother take increasing risks to survive and help their friends and family. 
...that the way to honor our family and friends was to be strong and to live and to tell their stories. (pg. 177)
Based on the true story of Kateryna Sikorska and her daughter Krystia Korpan, Don't Tell the Enemy reveals the often overlooked position of Ukraine during World War II when the terrorism historically imposed by the Soviets escalated to horrors which many believed would be appeased by the Germans.  But invasion is invasion and oppression is still that.  The shift from the Soviets persecuting all in their community to the brutality levelled by the Nazis against the Jewish people and those who might help them is especially tragic.  A simple life of family and work now becomes an exercise in survival and even more perilous with the pitting of groups of people.  No one should have to choose.  While some appear to do so easily and heartlessly, there are others like Krystia and her family who demonstrate incredible courage and resilience in the face of death and fear.  Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch in her author's notes mentions that she almost wrote this as a piece of non-fiction but chose to tell it as a fictionalized account to do the story justice.  She chose well and admirably tells a story that needs to be read to appreciate the circumstances of those living in western Ukraine during World War II when enemies were plentiful, dangers ubiquitous, survival precarious and a few good people could make all the difference.


Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch launches Don't Tell the Enemy next week in Brantford Ontario.  The author is a passionate speaker and sure to captivate attendees with her reading and sharing of writing this new book.  Details about the launch are provided here.


  1. Dear Helen,
    Thank you for this wonderful review. This was such a difficult book to write. We need more people like Krystia and her mother.

    1. I think your story demonstrates that there are compassionate and brave souls like Krystia and her mother out there and their stories need to be told. It's reassuring in a world of strife, then and now, to know they are out there, don't you think?

  2. Everything Marsha writes is excellent and this book sounds like yet another amazing story.

    1. I couldn't agree more, Darlene. I always look forward to Marsha's new books. I learn so much and in such a heartfelt way. (I have to admit I often shed a tear while reading her stories.)