Traitors Among Us

Written by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch
Review by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Two Ukrainian sisters—16-year-old Krystia and 14-year-old Maria—think they’re safe once they’ve escaped to an American-run refugee camp in Germany at the end of World War II. They have papers to admit them to Canada so they can live with their aunt and uncle, the Nazis having executed their mother for helping the Ukrainian resistance. But immediately after their arrival, Soviet agents negotiate their way into the camp and kidnap the two girls after a former Hitler Youth Group member, Sophie, denounces them to save herself. All three girls (including Sophie, whose family enslaved Maria during the war) are deported to a Soviet interrogation center, where they meet other freedom fighters against both the Nazi and Communist regimes. All of them realize that to save themselves, they have to help each other, but Sophie once again fails to absorb that lesson, endangering them all.

The Ukrainian-Canadian author has based her story on family members who gave their lives to free Ukraine from tyrannies of the right and left in the 1940s. Told from the alternating points of view of Krystia and Maria, this novel for older middle grade is well-paced, with an economy of description that conveys setting without slowing down the action. The author shows characters enduring torture, including beatings, immersion in cold water, and mock executions in order to obtain information about others that will not save them in the end. The dynamics of the sisters’ relationship emerges as Maria takes a more active role rather than being protected by the older Krystia, but this is less a story of family than of survival in the face of injustice and violence.