J.A. Adams Mondello

Author of Pillars of Salt, J.A. Adams has been immersed in various cultures while living on the east, west, and gulf coasts. After completing a Ph.D. and a sixteen-year teaching career in English composition and literature at Louisiana State University, Adams is happily retired in Colorado to a full-time writing avocation.

Her second novel, Bomb Cyclone, is a historical novel about Ukraine from the dissolution of the Soviet Union to the present. It is also, and mainly, a love story about Mykola, a Ukrainian émigré in the U.S., and Oksana, the spy sent to get the coordinates from him for a lost bomb that he found near the Kerch Peninsula in Crimea.

My inspiration for writing this historical novel began with timely events occurring in Ukraine in 2014, when Russia simply ‘annexed’ Crimea, a part of Ukraine, after a sham election. The story continues to 2019, with an Afterword bringing it up to the present, as my writing of the book often coincided with actual events.

Award Category
Screenplay Award Category
Ukrainian-American, Mykola, finds lost nuke in Crimea. A beautiful spy, Oksana, is sent to recover the coordinates. They fall in love & she defects. Russia takes Crimea and poisons Oksana with Novichok. She survives. Story follows buildup of Russian troops from fall of USSR to present day.
Bomb Cyclone
My Submission

Bomb Cyclone

Chapter 1


How could anyone lose a nuke? Difficult as it may sound, Ukraine, with a little help from Mother Nature, accomplished just that. Three years after the Soviet Union’s fall in 1991, Ukraine, holding a third of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, agreed to return all the nukes to Russia and to destroy all their silos. Within the agreement were also assurances that Ukraine would maintain political independence from Russia and respect for its borders. Had Ukraine not agreed, they would have faced threats from Russia as well as from the U.S. and NATO allies. Under some pressure, Ukraine signed the Budapest Memorandum, the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, along with the U.S., Russia, and Britain. Ukrainians have long questioned the expedience of that decision. But what was done was done.

Some of the nukes were transferred to Russia via the Black Sea Fleet, the Soviet fleet that Presidents Yeltsin and Kravchuk had divided between Russia and Ukraine in 1992 shortly after the Soviet breakup. Twenty percent of the sailors took an oath of allegiance to Ukraine, Senior Lieutenant Bronislav Kravchenkos among them.

Soon after the partial transfer of nukes, reports arose that several nuclear weapons had disappeared, ripped from the ship by a sudden violent bomb cyclone out of North Africa. During investigations of the loss, the commission in charge of the search went silent, which had the desired effect, eventually, of a general amnesia among the population on both sides of the Atlantic. But according to Bronislav, neither the Russian nor the Ukrainian militaries suffered from that amnesia.

Nor did young Mykola Kravchenkos, Bronislav’s son, suffer from the general amnesia. He had overheard a few parts of the story from his father and his father’s comrade, Lieutenant Balanchuk, who had been on a small artillery ship based in Sevastopol, Crimea, tasked with transferring some of the smaller nukes from Ukraine to Russia.

Disillusioned by recent Russian hostilities, Ukrainian corruption, and a failed economy, Bronislav retired from the Ukrainian navy as soon as he became eligible and emigrated with his family to the US, along with thousands of other Ukrainian émigrés who scattered to various locales, including Russia and the West.

Bronislav’s navy comrade, Volodymyr Balanchuk, had also retired and immediately moved to the U.S., where his family settled in New Kensington, Pennsylvania, a small suburb of Pittsburgh. Naturally, Bronislav called him for advice.

“Why don’t you come here?” Volodymyr said, excited at the prospect of seeing his old comrade. “Come to New Ken, as the locals call it. Lots of Ukrainian families have settled in the area, so we’ve made friends to play Durak card games and share Stoli with us.”

“We also like to play cards. And to drink a little vodka, of course!”

“Yah! Always a little vodka, or maybe some cognac, eh, Bronislav? Good food, good cognac, good friends. What’s not to like? You must come.”

“Sounds tempting, Volodymyr. But what about jobs, my friend? I have to work, you know.”

“Of course! Jobs! You won’t be disappointed, Bronislav. There’s work here at PPG, just four miles away in Springdale. I work there, and you could go right to work too. Pay’s good if you don’t mind some overtime.”

“You make it sound inviting, Volodymyr. But my English is not so good as yours.”

“Don’t worry, my friend. We all translate for each other in the mills. I’ll put in a good word for you and maybe we can work side by side, so I can help you. A few of the foremen are even Ukrainian. They’re hiring Ukrainian immigrants now since the Soviet breakup, and the pay here is much better than in Ukrainian steel mills under the Russian oligarchs these days. You won’t be sorry, Bronislav.”

“It sounds tempting. But how are house prices there? I’m not a rich man.”

“Nor are we. Houses here are cheaper than you might think. The U.S. is just recovering from a recession, so housing prices have been dropping. The pay’s good, and interest rates have dropped, so if you sell your house in Sevastopol, you’ll have a good down payment. And what’s in Ukraine to keep you there now, my friend? The Ukrainian economy is failing and unrest among young Ukrainian separatists is growing. I read about it daily in the Post-Gazette. Who knows what might happen next?”

“You drive a hard bargain, Volodymyr. But what about churches? Aneta likes to get involved in a church.”

“Oh, no problem there, Bronislav! There’s a Ukrainian Orthodox church just up the street from PPG. Aneta will love it. New Ken is not exactly home, but I guarantee, Aneta and you will feel right at home here. Daryna and I will see to it.”

“Well, Bronislav, it’s a scary move, all the way to America. But we’ve got to go someplace. It’s probably no more daunting now than staying in Ukraine with the current unrest and economic woes. Of course, having good friends in the U.S. already is a huge plus. Let me talk to Aneta and see if she agrees. She and Daryna are good friends, and she’ll like the idea of having friends nearby, and of course a church she can get involved in.”

“Tell her your family is welcome to stay with us until you can find your own place. We Ukrainians need to stick together. It would be great to catch up and tell Navy lies, no? Remember when our Artemas got diphtheria in ’91? I was on a mission in the Black Sea then, and you came to my wife’s rescue. We’ll never be able to repay you, Bronislav.”

“Oh, Volodymyr, you’d gladly have done the same for me.”

That evening, Bronislav and his wife Aneta went online to look over available homes in New Kensington. “Bronislav, it looks like a nice town,” Aneta said, “but such a huge expense to move to the United States.”

“Ukraine’s economy is failing, and Russian oligarchs are buying it up, one steel mill at a time. I know you don’t want that for us, or especially for the children. The good thing is our little home here should sell quickly,” he assured her. “Plus, we’ll be moving into a small town with several Ukrainian families. And a Ukrainian church nearby, Aneta! We’ll stay with Volodymyr and Daryna at first, so Daryna can help you adjust.”

“I suppose you’re right. I won’t feel so homesick since we have friends there. And Ukraine’s future looks bleak right now. Oh, the boxes we’ll need! The packing! How will we ship all our things? Oh, the expense!”

“Don’t worry about all that now. We’ll get it all done, and I believe the U.S. will be a much safer place to raise our children. Think of our children.”

“Of course, you’re right, love. You’re always right.” She left the room, muttering to herself about all the work of moving.

The next evening, Bronislav called Volodymyr. “Well, old pal, we’ve decided to take you up on your generous offer, if you’re sure you and Daryna are both OK with putting us up for a while. That’ll give us time to become familiar with the area, and Aneta said she’ll feel much better with Daryna to help her acclimate. Aneta wants to find just the right house with just the right kitchen, of course.”

“Ah yes, the Ukrainian woman and her kitchen. I understand completely. And Daryna will enjoy having Aneta here. Just don’t wait too long, Bronislav. I’m reading that the Russians are getting more aggressive toward Ukraine!”

And so, it was settled. The Balanchuk children, Artemas and Galyna, would be heading back to the University of Pittsburgh in January, so the Kravchenkos would stay in their two bedrooms, one for Aneta and Mykola’s sister Anya, and the other for Bronislav and Mykola.

A few Months Later

After declaring its independence from Russia in 1991, Ukraine began recognizing private ownership of houses, even though the land was still owned by the government. After completing all the government’s new red tape, it didn’t take long for Bronislav to sell their modest home in Sevastopol, the beautiful port city on the Black Sea where he’d been stationed. Volodymyr was able to find an American sponsor for Bronislav’s immigration visa, and the Kravenchokos embarked on the long, tedious voyage to the US.

With Volodymyr’s help, Bronislav landed a job at PPG Industries as Volodymyr’s apprentice for six months. Soon Aneta located a modest bungalow just down the street from the Balanchuks, with ‘just the right kitchen.’ The whole family approved of her choice, and by the beginning of 1995, they had settled into their ‘new to them’ home in their ‘new to them’ country. Bronislav worked alongside Volodymyr at PPG, so language wasn’t a problem, and Bronislav was a quick study. The Kravchenkos and Balanchuks remained close friends, visiting each other for drinks, dinner, and Durak card games nearly every Saturday night. Bronislav never forgot his debt to Volodymyr Balanchuk.

Mykola was seventeen at the time, a senior at Valley High in New Ken. His sister Anya was fifteen. Like other young Ukrainians, Mykola and Anya had studied English in Ukraine, so they were able to catch up quickly in their new school.

A personable and handsome young man, with a wide, sincere smile, wavy black hair, fair skin, and translucent blue eyes, Mykola was popular among Valley’s students, especially the girls, who began affectionately calling him Mickey. The school served American and some Ukrainian students, so there was competition for ‘the new boy’s’ attention among those two groups.

“Mickey, please come to a party Saturday at my house. My parents will be away,” Marie entreated with a sly wink.

“Hey, Mickey,” Tatayana followed, “I’m having a little party at my house on Saturday. We have Vodka.”

While the girls glared daggers at each other across the hall, Mykola, not wanting to insult either girl, simply answered, “I’m sorry, but I’ve already promised to attend a dinner party with my family at the Balanchuks’ on Saturday. But thanks for asking.”

The competition for his friendship made it virtually impossible for Mykola to establish lasting relationships, but no matter: As an expat, he continued to follow the latest news from back home, not allowing himself any time for socializing. Mykola was a deep thinker, who never lost his love and concern for Ukraine, as troubled as it was, what with Russian oligarch’s buying it up, factory by factory. He also listened anxiously to his father, who often discussed with Volodymyr the lost nuke and the danger it posed if it were found by the wrong people. One night when Bronislav saw Mykola listening to their conversation, he said, “Come over here, son. You remember when my crew was transporting the nuclear weapons through the Kerch Strait?”

“Of course, Tato. I remember.” Mykola didn’t reveal all that he had overheard.

“I think you’re old enough to hear the whole story. Come and sit with Volodymyr and me, and I’ll tell you about it.”

Mykola found a seat on the couch next to his father.

“When that surprise bomb cyclone out of North Africa battered our ship with gale-force winds, it tossed the crew around like toy soldiers. We grabbed for anything within reach. We were lucky our ship wasn’t capsized. All of us could have drowned that night.”

“Oh, Tato! I never realized it was that dangerous! Thank God you were OK. What would we have done without you?”

“Don’t think of that now. We’re safe here, son. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you more.”

“No, please. I need to learn the truth.”

“OK, you’re nearly a man now, old enough to know everything. Once through the strait, the storm blew our ship north and west. We finally made it to the north shore of Kerch Peninsula, slightly more protected from the gale force winds, where we ran ashore. The cyclone had ripped apart the cables lashing the suitcase nukes to the deck and rolled some of the bombs into the sea just north of the peninsula. You remember where we used to fish?”

“Of course, I remember. I still miss our fishing trips with you and Vlad.”

“I know you do, son. We all do. Anyway, most of the lost bombs were found, but one is still missing. Now that the pro-Russian separatists hope to reunite with Russia, my fear is that they could find the bomb and make dirty bombs to use against our people. Some of our sailors were Russian sympathizers and moved to Russia, and they know the general area the bomb might be in. I fear our country may be heading toward war.”

“War!? Oh no, Tato.”

“Not right away, Myko. But we must consider that possibility in the future. Russia is rattling its sabers, and I’m afraid the pro-Russian separatists are listening.”

When Mykola was a child in Ukraine, his family had often vacationed on Kerch Peninsula, at the far eastern edge of Crimea, protruding into the Sea of Azov and forming the strait. Mykola’s fondest childhood memories were of family times at the beach, building sandcastles, swimming, and fishing in the sea with his father and Anya. Sometimes his best friend Vlad was allowed to come with them. Now, Myko dreamed of returning one day to search for the lost bomb. Of course, he didn’t dare tell his father of his decision.

To call his dream an obsession might be a stretch, but he knew about the tensions within Ukraine, and about the Ukrainian pro-Russian separatists who, his father and Volodymyr had said, were also interested in finding the bomb. Mykola would learn as much as he could about the tenuous independence of Ukraine, as well as the deepening tensions with Russia since the dissolution and the failing economy that had resulted in his family’s emigration. Of course, he was too young now to attempt such an undertaking as finding the bomb, and he knew his father would never agree to it, dangerous as it might be. He would have to plan on a trip as soon as he was old enough to support himself. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be too late by then.

During this, his senior year at Valley High, Mykola worked hard and got accepted into Ohio State University, majoring in political science, an obvious choice considering his deep interest in politics and humanities in his homeland. He went on to earn a Master’s and a PhD in political science at the University of Michigan. Grad school dragged on, as it does, until finally, during his last semester of finalizing and defending his dissertation, which he named, “Crisis in Ukraine: The Impact of Ivan Ilyin on Putin’s Russia,” and after three week-long interviews at colleges that showed an interest in him, Mykola was offered and accepted an assistant professorship in political science at Youngstown State University, a mid-sized university in Ohio, just over an hour from his family in the Pittsburgh suburb.

He wasn’t in Youngstown long before he was beguiled by Sarah Beekman, a professor of International Relations who introduced herself immediately to the handsome new PoliSci professor. Until now, his studies had been his first and only priority. Only now did he allow himself limited time for socializing, soon realizing how inexperienced and awkward he was at dating, especially dating an American with entirely different customs.

“Do you mean to tell me you’ve never even had a girlfriend?” Sarah asked incredulously on their first dinner date.

“Sarah, I’ve been so concerned with research, getting my degree, and becoming gainfully employed that I never had the time or inclination to meet someone. I have to say, I’m enjoying my first date immensely.”

“But do you mean to tell me that you’re a . . . VIRGIN?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so,” he said, chuckling awkwardly. “Not scared off yet, I hope?”

“Well, it sounds like quite a challenge for some young lady. But, no, of course I’m not scared off.”

After that awkward discussion, they moved to other topics and realized they might have a good deal in common.

Sarah told him, “I’ve also been teaching about the crisis in Ukraine in my International Relations class. Quite a few Ukrainian immigrants moved to Youngstown after World War II, and others joined families here after the Soviet dissolution. A few of my students are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Naturally, they’re concerned over current tensions in Ukraine. Some of them still have friends or grandparents there.”

Having such a common interest, Mykola and Sarah discussed events in Ukraine long into many nights. Naturally, it didn’t take long for Mykola to acclimate to not just having a friend but having a kindred spirit in his life. Their discussions contributed to their classroom teaching, and Mykola was quite taken with Sarah. Their relationship progressed naturally and rapidly from sharing meals and political discussions to sharing Mykola’s apartment.

Mykola’s career in teaching was perfectly suited to his interests, his love-life was thriving, and the years seemed to fly by. He felt that he had finally found true contentment. But he’d had no news of the lost nuke, and the desire to find it still burned in his heart.

He only hoped Sarah would understand.

Chapter 2

Odesa, Ukraine, 1994