MeIn his novel The White Guard, Mikhail Bulgakov paints a provocative portrait of his childhood home. Inside was a blazing Dutch stove, a piano and library, and cream curtains.His first-floor apartment in the family was in “his two-story house of a very unusual design.” was. In winter, the snow covering the roofs resembled a “white general’s fur hat.” This is a reference to the anti-Bolshevik white movement.
However, Bulgakov’s house in Kyiv is now at the center of intense public controversy. In Soviet times it was turned into a literary museum. The National Union of Writers of Ukraine called for the closure of the museum at 13A Andreevsky Descent, a historic cobblestone street that connects the Podil district on the banks of the Dnipro River with the upper town.
It cites Ukrainian nationalism and Bulgakov’s well-known antipathy to the “terror, death and destruction” that Russia is currently inflicting on Ukraine. According to the union, Bulgakov “hated” the idea of a Ukrainian state and “glamorized” the Russian tsar and monarchy. He also “slandered” Ukrainian nationalists, including Simon Petliura, whose troops entered Kyiv in 1918, it said.
In the tumultuous events of that year, the White Guard describes how Petliura’s forces laid siege to the capital. Defending it was a disorganized group of white officers, including the fictional Turbine brothers. Turbines is loosely based on Bulgakov and his family. He wrote the novel in his early 1920s. It was published in full in 1966 after his death.
The debate over Bulgakov’s cultural legacy began in 2015, when Moscow annexed Crimea and launched a bloody war in the East Donbas region. ” was expressed. She suggested renaming the museum after Bulgakov’s downstairs neighbor Vasil Listovnic, who owned her house.
The Bolsheviks executed Listvnic when they invaded Kyiv. Bulgakov describes his landlord in The White Guard as an “unpleasant” stingy and “cowardly engineer”. “You should at least know the Ukrainian culture. Do not confuse the owner with the tenant,” Zabuzhko wrote. She added:
The February invasion caused a widespread reappraisal of Russian monuments and street names. Some have been removed, such as the monument to Bulgakov outside Kyiv University, where the writer studied medicine. Culture Minister Oleksandr Tkachenko said the process was not “de-Russia”. Instead, he argues, it is about “overcoming the consequences of Russia’s totalitarianism” and that it will be decided after consultation.
The minister pointed out how the Kremlin used Russian culture as a “weapon of war”. A banner celebrating the They banned the Ukrainian language, removed Ukrainian-language books from schools and libraries, and used explosives to destroy a bust of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko.
In September, Prime Minister Tkachenko rejected calls to close the Bulgakov Museum. He pointed out that the anti-Ukrainian rhetoric that angered the Writers Guild was a “dialogue” spoken by fictional characters in what he called a “liberation struggle” in the early 20th century. I think you should never touch it.”
The museum’s director, Lyudmila Gubianuri, also responded to the criticism, calling Bulgakov “a person of his time.” “He was born and lived in the Russian Empire. Bulgakov had an imperialistic mindset, but neither he nor his family were Ukrainianphobic,” she stressed. “Bulgakov, like many people of his time, did not believe in the reality of an independent Ukraine.”
She continued: But Bulgakov’s work is definitely part of the Ukrainian cultural space. Her sympathy for the White Guard and his novel The Master and Margarita was “metaphysical” rather than “political,” she said.
Bulgakov’s English translator, Roger Cockrell, described Bulgakov as “a Russian writer trapped in Soviet space”. The Soviet leader admired the writer’s plays such as “Turbine Days” based on White’s Guard. However, he refused to allow Bulgakov to travel abroad to Rome and Paris, and stopped him from publishing prose after 1925. “Bulgakov certainly did not like Stalin.” said Cockrell.
The White Guard is neither autobiography nor history, he added. “This is a visionary novel born of a very original and creative imagination,” he suggested, adding that it would be “a shame” if the museum were forced to close. He said he has devoted much of his life to Russian literature. He recognized that greatness and Vladimir Putin’s “horror horror” coexist. “There are two Russias,” he insisted.
Other observers argue that there is no meaningful distinction. Olesya Kromechuk, director of the Ukrainian Institute in London, said Russian writers traditionally portray Ukrainians as “cunning, stupid and uncultured”. “There is constant discrimination between them and other non-Russians,” she said, adding, “I want to encourage people to read Russian literature critically.”
Khromeychuk, author of a memoir about her brother killed in 2017 fighting Ukrainian forces, said Moscow has repeatedly tried to wipe out Ukrainian culture. He named members of the Ukrainian avant-garde, who died two generations later in 1985, the poet and dissident Vassil Stouss, who died in a Soviet labor camp.
“There is a lot of anti-imperialist Ukrainian literature that people do not know about. You can start with Shevchenko and Lesha Ukrainka [the feminist writer and poet],” she said.
Invasion: Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival by Luke Harding is published by Guardian Faber and available from Guardian Bookstores.