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Sudbury author’s novel focuses on Ukraine-Russia war

The protagonist in Michael Kelly’s book is a Russian mother who travels to war-torn Ukraine to reunite with her soldier son

An offer at the beginning of the Ukraine-Russia war to the mothers of captured Russian soldiers was the inspiration of a new self-published novel by Sudbury author Michael Kelly.

The Ukrainian military said Russian prisoners-of-war would be released to their mothers if the women personally travelled to Kyiv to pick them up.

Kelly said he was speaking to another local author about this news story in early 2022, and “that was the conversation that sort of sparked the idea” for his new novel.

That novel, entitled “Nina,” is about a fictional Russian mother, named Nina, who receives a phone call saying her son is being held prisoner in Ukraine. He is free to go home but only on one condition. She has to retrieve him.

Having already lost her husband to war in Syria, Nina risks the chance this could be a cruel hoax, and jumps in her vehicle to retrieve her son. 

After experiencing war-torn Ukraine, Nina is finally reunited with her son, only to find that he’s fallen in love with a Ukrainian woman. The three of them finally escape together into Poland.

Kelly said he made the protagonist a Russian mother to show that there are people of every nationality who only want peace, “that family is stronger than nationalism.”

Given Kelly published “Nina” in June, Kelly figures it’s one of the first novels published about the Ukraine-Russia war, which only began last February.

He said he’s not of Ukrainian heritage himself, and has no connection to the country, other than growing up with friends of Ukrainian descent here in Sudbury, and experiencing some of their traditions, such as Orthodox Christmas.

“I wanted to write about (the war), first of all, because it is a current event right now,” he said.

“No. 2, I wanted to write about it because I wanted to underscore the fact that other than megalomaniacs like Putin, I don't think there are too many people that are interested in this war, whether they're Russians or Ukrainians.”

Kelly said he took up writing as a hobby after his retirement in 2010 from Cambrian College, where he was a business professor, teaching courses in project management to the corporate sector.

His first novel, “Exireas,” is about a planet that’s under environmental stress, and humans who travel there to help the people of Exireas repair their environmental issues.

Kelly said the book’s “biggest problem is that the action doesn't really start until the second chapter. So there’s kind of a slow start to it. That's the main criticism I get from people who have read it.”

While writing “Exireas” took him a decade, Kelly said he churned out “Nina” in about a month. “‘Nina’ had some very good editors who understood that there was an imperative for getting it out on time, because it was a timely subject,” he said.

If you’re interested in purchasing “Nina” (which is available in both physical and digital formats) you can do so through Kelly’s website, or by emailing him at [email protected].

Heidi Ulrichsen is’s associate content editor. She also covers education and the arts scene.