Flash fiction and poetry by Ukrainian writer Malvina Perova

Having refused to evacuate from Ukraine, writer and illustrator Malvina is allowing us to share some of her work with her fellow Scottish PEN members.

February 28, 2024

Malvina Perova is a Ukrainian writer and illustrator. Together with her younger sibling, she’s currently working as a video games digital art creator. 24th of February 2022 woke her up with loud blasts and phone calls from friends informing her about the break of the war with Russia. She and her family found a safer place in central Ukraine but refused to evacuate abroad. For two years now, through occasional blackouts and noisy skies, she’s lived in constant fear and uncertainty about their well-being and the future of her motherland.

Taking shelter in arts and creativity, she works on YA novels that would make a difference and writes flash fiction about what is happening in her country. Thus, she stands with her people in their fight for life and freedom. Her stories came out in Decomp Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine and 101 Words. Also, she is a constant contributor writer for Friday Flash Fiction.

Malvina is openly agender asexual. Through her works, she takes the duty to speak for marginalized and underrepresented voices of her kind and cast some light on the issues of asexuality.

Image credits: Malvina Perova


Olga’s never left home before the war thrusts her and her baby son into a forty-hour drive in a cramped, smelly train. It stops now and then for the missiles to try their luck as she lulls her kid to air sirens. Telling him that life is precious, knowing that now it hardly costs a broken penny.

Sheepishly, she follows the smiley volunteer to a new home, fearing about the price for their souls. In the kitchen, the woman opens the fridge and says in lame Ukrainian, “Pick anything. Free.” She repeats Free, and tears burn Olga’s eyes like chilli pepper.

Where Does All Go?

Clouds shaping into castles, pigs and ugly goblins, dreams about being rich and famous movie maker, and all that laugh about someone farting in the classroom. Where did it go? Where does all go? I doze off on a bus back home, thinking of the bills and laundry, and my hungry cat.

Some new projects, friendly meals and all the boring fun of Christmas parties. Where did it go? Where does all go? My flat lies in the ruins, steam and dust, and my cat is gone. I doze off on a chlorine-smelling bed, dreaming of my films to come.

Her Fifteen’s Birthday

Instead of a present, Masha got a shot in her back and fell flat on the damp asphalt at her house gates. She thought she’d faint from pain, but shock kept her awake and still as someone bent over her rag-doll body, searched her pockets, yanked at her clothes, then kicked her in the hip before leaving.

She bided her time, listening to his subsiding steps, and slowly crawled across the road. Every move gave her a jolt of pain, and she stopped to pant into the dust. “There are only a few meters left,” Masha told herself, “You scored ten out of twelve in PE last term, ten out of twelve.” Her Granddad’s car shimmered in the distance. She could see him crouching beside it and waving at her desperately.

She pushed once more and wormed her way along. Leaving a scarlet trace behind her, gasping for air, Masha couldn’t help feeling a little bit sorry for the Russian soldier. Because all he fought for was her smartphone and silver cross. All she fought for was life.

Not Gonna Be the Same Again

After the injury, I took a short leave and visited my friends in Nice. A change of scenery will do you good, the doctors said. I should rest my knee and stop thinking about war, at least for a moment.

In France, everything seemed the same. People smiled, played the ball, went shopping. It felt like going back in time and seeing the world unchanged. I wish they could hear the hiss of rockets over Kyiv, see my bros in the trenches’ mud and distant victory in the glass eye of my AK-47.

But then, I wish they never did.

Not Like Me

He saw me first and fumbled for his gun. I had my finger on the trigger. A few metres between our glaring, scared eyes—no chance to miss. Just a boy like me, he shook his head, and I shook mine. Nobody wanted to die. He points aside with his chin and I nod, letting him crabwalk away to the enemy position.

I didn’t fire in his back, just couldn’t.

As he vanished behind the corner of the street, I heard the Russians’ machine guns and screams. They must have taken him for me. They killed without even checking.

Behind the Wall of Smoke

We hide in the bathroom and hope for someone to get to us before the fire does. Stuffed between the sink and the washer, we count the series of blasts outside. The orange tongues are eating our backyard trees. They collapse at the wall and I order to bolt the window.

My fingers shake as I try to dial three digits on my phone. The boys are silent, big eyes filled with terror and absolute trust in me. I search for words of comfort, but the smoke steals my breath away.

It’s getting oven-hot, and the roof gives a deafening crack. I hold my boys close, and all words of comfort are now a half-forgotten prayer.

‘Over here!’ a voice comes from behind the wall of smoke. ‘Can you move?’

I barely see a firefighter squeezing through the cracked door, like a phantom in the puffs of grey fumes. ‘I’ll take the kids,’ he offers. ‘Hold on. And follow me.’

My boys are asleep. We carry them through the wreckage of our home, past the burning rooms and over the fallen beams. I wonder how smoke no longer stings my lungs, how well I can see. The firefighter’s suit is filthy and burnt, torn at the sleeves.

He looks back at me with his eyes shining. So bright it makes me smile in return.

The Wild Field

My feet flounder in the thick grass as I race, panting, by the wild field. The forbs’ heads whip at my hips and the hammer in my chest splits seconds. Soldiers stomp behind, whistling and whooping at me as the burst of a machine-gun pierces the air like a banshee cry.

I trip and topple down, crawl, hide my burning face in the soil, and pray. This is my land. Land of my past, land for my future, don’t take me in just now…
The grass rustles gently over my head, bending low. Minutes pass, and nobody can find me.

Rainbow Aid

The van’s interior is flooded. Blood covers the floor and paints the walls with smears and blots like in a low-rate zombie movie. I dump the blood-soaked vests and ammunition in the corner and apply tourniquets while trying to keep the patients conscious. It’s nauseating inside and hard to keep up, but I don’t mind it as long as it helps the wounded make it to the hospital.

They don’t mind a rainbow sticker on my phone, either. One asked me, “Are you gay?” and nodded when I said I was. After that, we only talked about things that matter.

Two Lives

I stand in the shambles of my parents’ flat and think of Mother, her growing dullness and inertia — soup dripping on the table as she ate, constant glitches with her gadgets, endless lists of doctors’ orders and receipts I had to handle like I lived two bloody lives.

This war made me an orphan and a killer. After the missile shelled Mom’s residential area, she was the only casualty. When everyone ran to safety, my mother couldn’t move. I forgot to buy the meds. I forgot that long before I learned to walk, she lived two lives for me.

Pilot’s Song

Mama, don’t cry,
I lived the best possible thirty-four:
I learnt how to fly,
And died on the land I was fighting for.
Mama, don’t cry,
Don’t say that I lost and exist no more.
You gave me this life
Not to cry for what must go,
Nor drown myself in senseless pity.
Mama, I’m fine,
I saved my soul and sleeping city,
The holy things, the beauty,
A million homes, a million hopes,
And every tear in the stream.
It was my duty.
Mama. It was my dream.

A Pebble in the Pond

We sat at the water in the city park, unusually empty for this time of the year.
“Do you think this war will change Ukraine?” I asked my friend after a minute of silence.
She took a pebble from the ground and threw it into the water. It plopped heavily, sending perfectly circular ripples that broke the gleaming reflection of the summer skies. “See what it does to the pond? War does this to us.”
“But you wait just a little, and the surface will be smooth again.”
?“It will,” she nodded. “But the pebble will stay on the bottom.”

Christmas Dinner

“What are you doing? Just leave that!” I cry at my sister and run to the basement under the loud hoot of the air alert. She lingers in the kitchen, potting about, hoarding stuff.

Some minutes before the blackout she comes down with two cluttering bundles. I lit three candles on our improvised table, and grumble, “They could have killed you with a bomb.”

She huffs and unpacks disposable plates and plastic containers with salads and fried chicken legs. The smell of homemade food turns my stomach up.
“My ass they will. I won’t let them spoil our Christmas!”

Merry Christmas

They boiled some water in the iron cups on handmade candles and drank tea with crumbled gingerbread. The explosions outside their trench rained bits of soil on top of their heads.
“That was closer,” one said, with his frosted moustache moving slowly over the steaming cup.
“Grads ran out, got to Kindjals,” the other replied matter-of-factly.
The blows and whistles from the other side started. Their deafening music sounded familiar to the bones.
“Our artillery.”
In silence, they counted the seconds between outs and ins.
“Go so smoothly today.”
“Like magic.”
“Yeah, Merry Christmas, morons. Santa sends you little gifts.”

Midnight Chat

“Just say you’re okay there.”
“I’m good, don’t worry. Better tell how things are at home.”
“Fine… I guess. Bombing now and then, but in the city centre. We have running water for four hours per day. All my flowers in the garden died. Sometimes, I wish I crossed the border along with you. I’m so tired, honey. I want to rest.”
“You will, I promise. But think about our kids. You can’t leave them to all this, can you?”
“No. Of course, not.”
“I’m not going back, Olga. You understand?”
She nodded, sobbing softly. The Ouija board went silent.

Basement Boy

A little boy playing with the rubble wasn’t what we expected to find in the deserted city, ruined almost to the ground by Russian artillery. Yet here he was, shabby, wild, and curious about my rifle. He said his name was Sashko, and he lived in a basement.
“Come with us. We’ll take you to a safer place,” I promised.
Sashko shook his head as he chewed on the energy bar from my ration. “I can’t leave Mom.”
“We’ll take your mom, too. Is there anyone else?”
“No-one. But she can’t go. She’s asleep and I can’t wake her up.”

Lucid Dreams

Is it real or just another lucid dream my mind creates to distract me from the pain? I see shadows giving me commands to crawl west. I drink from puddles on the road, thinking that my broken arm will kill me faster than some diarrhea.

Then soldiers come, pointing guns at me and asking questions. Never thought that I would cry, seeing yellow stripes on their khaki. In a car, under a drip, I call my wife to tell her that I lost my arm. In her trembling voice, there is something real, of course, but more from lucid dreams.

Nothing Is Left

Black-and-white photos lie scattered on the ground, gliding and dancing in the air like fallen autumn leaves. Someone’s cherished memories from long-forgotten seventies and eighties with smiling children’s faces, parties and events… Frozen timeframes of happy, lazy days against the cold and terror of today.

I want to gather them all and return them to their owner, but there is no time for that. There is probably no owner either. The nearby houses stand in ruins; sooty crumbled windows watch the road in silent dismay, like broken backbones of hope.

Nothing is left, only these photos, flying in the wind.

Spring Cleaning

I seal myself in the bathroom every time “Russian saviors” open fire in the street. The air sirens and explosions shudder through my windows and pepper the floor with ceiling plaster. Fifth day on potato diet and garbage flung over the balcony. Can’t recall the world out of screen frames, music in major keys, jokes tasting funny…

The sound of beating carpets comes as a blast.

I peek out and see my eighty-year-old neighbor in the backyard, shaking his rugs. Before I know it, my chest flutter with convulsive giggles. War is war, but you can’t help spring coming.

Bang! Bang!

Remember how we used to play, clicking plastic triggers at each other? How summer burnt our shoulders, how mowed meadows hurt our feet… BANG! BANG! And you were dead. I shot you twice, at least. You laughed at that and banged me in return, you bastard.

It’s real now: the guns, the heat, the pain. BANG! BANG! Someone yells, “Get down!” I drag you by the muddy road into overgrown fields, and the trail of our blood mixes with the dirt. It’s just another stupid game, I realise with a sudden shudder. You play it just too well this time.

The Rusty Bullet

Minutes before they jumped into my trench with fully loaded rifles. No more bullets left in my cartridge, but I picked the rusty one we cast away in the fight and loaded my gun. Better die fast and painless than get captured and tortured till I lose my human face.

Then, I see my son. People hand him our flag with my medals and words that bring no consolation. I see Marina crying and my dog refusing to eat. And I take the gun away from my chin.

I will live, no matter what. Not for my face. For them.


My little daughter and I wander by the ruins of our house, looking for the remnants of our lives. A lucky toy under the bed survived the deadly blast, a cupboard in the kitchen claws into the wall, burnt but proud.
“Mom, why is the night dark?” she starts her favourite game.
“Because the day closes its eyes to sleep,” I reply patiently.
“Why do we sleep?”
“To rest before a new day.” I was getting good at this.
?“Why do Russians do this to us?” she then asks, fingering her dusty toy. And I can’t find words to answer.


I am buried in the woods, with hundreds of tortured men and women, kids. Don’t look for me, don’t shed your precious tears. I did not die, not yet.

As one family with numbers, not our names, on crosses, we breathe into the plastic sacks and keep our secrets to the soil. We’ll never sleep and never rest. We’ll sit behind you in the tank, walk with you into the fire, hold the cat you rescued from the ruined home…

Silly Russian soldiers, they buried not people in Ukrainian humus; they buried the seeds.

If Not Me

“But you’re just a child. How could you do this?” the journalist asked.
Liza gazed at her bandages, remembering the excruciating pain in her calves when the shots flashed through the car side and made her mother silent. Stiff and hot, she pressed the pedal, peeping over the wheel on the wrecked road, turning left and right, as uncle Slava instructed her in a voice trailing gradually away. Mother’s face, shaking in the rear-view mirror, grew almost snow-white pale, and baby Dima couldn’t stop sobbing.
“If not me,” Liza said in her new, calm and adult voice, “then who?”


In the quiet hour, when the guns rest and the trench’s walls envelop you gently in the dark, like a mother’s loving embrace, you chase your sleep away with a sip of lukewarm coffee and talk.
“What will you do next rotation?” You ask your war-twinned brother, noticing the smears of dirt and clotted blood across his drained face, like marks of honour.
The reply is ever the same. “Sleep first, then take my family out.”
“Where?” you ask to keep hearing a human voice.
“Just shopping. Buy Alisa an ice cream cone and that awfully overpriced doll house she cried all night for. Hell with the money, just want her to have it.” He smiles his lopsided grin and shakes ash from the stub. It falls on his boot like charnel dust.
Tomorrow the enemy’s missile will put your best friend to sleep, as he wanted, but he’ll never take his daughter out.

In the quiet hour, when the guns rest and someone asks you what you’ll do next rotation, you don’t say, Sleep. You can’t sleep now, not until the last shot finishes its murderous fly. The pain-twisted faces of your battle brothers cross your mind every coming twilight. As a prayer, you mumble a promise to survive. Someone has to buy the doll house for Alisa.


As any girl of nineteen, you dreamt of likes and followers, of being cool and fab, someone people would turn their heads at and stop in the streets to say, “Are you that girl who…”

You didn’t expect it would come true, did you? Your photo is all over the web, retweeted by the world’s leaders, kindly. People bring flowers, send money to your card and everyone seems to love the colour of your pajamas.

But you are in a hospital, your house is in the rubble, and your auntie brought the dreadful news you can’t hear behind her crying.


We’d only sold a few handmade bracelets and an oil painting before the charity fair called it a day. I counted how many med supplies we could buy for the front when an elderly couple approached our stand.
“We don’t have money,” the woman with elegantly combed hair said and handed me a silver brooch, “sell this and send money to the army.”
The dancing silver flower with rubies and a tiny malachite looked antique and costly. “It’s beautiful,” I couldn’t help gasping.
The woman smiled and nodded. “My husband gave it to me on our silver wedding anniversary.” They exchanged proud gazes, and the man stroked her white, fragile fingers in the corner of his elbow.
“Wow. It must be so precious to you…” I felt its sudden weight on my palm.
?“So is our daughter at the front line,” said the old man. Still smiling, they turned to walk away.


You look into my eyes, smiling. I look into yours and smile in return, reassuringly.
Nine months in one unit, digging, shooting, bleeding, cursing early hours and catching mice in the sleeping bags in our free time. We communicate on a different level now, don’t we?
You say silently that everything will be fine and we’ll see each other tomorrow, smoke Kent, video call our families and talk about rain and dirty roads. I nod in agreement, knowing that you know that I know it’s a lie.
There will be no more talks. Like no tomorrow for one of us.

A Secret

Two days old, I lie in a shoe-box-coffin with my eyes wide shut at the gray November skies, an express parcel from Mommy’s bosom back to Mother of us all. People lean over me crying, people feel sorry for my life being so brief and tragic. And I am too stiff to dry their tears, cannot say how happy I am to know the most important thing they might not get in a million years.

Silently, I take my secret to the grave, thinking it over and over: the sunlight is so beautiful. No bombs and blackouts can change that.


You grin through the bitter frown and talk about home, the taste of cherry buns your mother used to bake on Sunday mornings. I hold my tears back and say one day you’ll clasp her in your arms again. Even though I know, you know, the loss of blood is reaching lethal limits.

You’ll die, my bro, but you won’t die alone. Under shelling, yells, and rain of dirt, I’ll stay, I’ll pray and sing the silly song you loved the most before the war. In caring arms and talks about buns, you’ll go freely where all the heroes go.

A Sneaker in a Puddle

He stood beside me but miles away, smoking, talking to the empty space between us in a voice like an echo of someone else’s.
About a bloodied sneaker in a puddle, thrown off with the blast wave. Just one sneaker.
About the bodies on the asphalt, slowly rotting in the drizzle.
“I couldn’t bury them, too little time, the shelling… God, I couldn’t even cover them with something,” he whined. “Every time I close my eyes, I see it. Even now, even here. Hands tied with a tape. Blood on the bricks. Bullet holes. The lonely sneaker in a puddle.”


When the war puts against the wall
Your hopes and dreams
And shoots them in cold blood,
You stop taking colours of the world
From ordinary mud.
You think,
What is the point of joy or glooming
And doing all that you do?
What is the point of flowers blooming?
But hey,
They bloom


They don’t know you, strangers in the soldiers’ armour, but the yellow strips on your shoulders rip their chest apart with joy. Flurried, they rush by the wrecked village road, past the ruins of the next-door houses, and crosses in the fields, clenching asters from their wounded gardens.

“Thank you! Thank you!” rings in the cool September air. You turn, smiling sheepishly like you did nothing, and spread your arms to hug the crying grannies.

They don’t know you, weary boys in khaki, but they’ve made you coffee in a thermos and kiss you like their own sons.