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Life, Literature and the War in Ukraine with Ukraine’s best known novelist Andrey Kurkov

Andrey Kurkov explains the complexities of Ukrainian identity

‘Putin’s calculation is simple: a Ukraine with a permanent war in its eastern region will never be fully welcomed by Europe or the rest of the world’ ― Andrey Kurkov, Grey Bees

Andrey Kurkov is Ukraine’s most famous living novelist. Hailed as a latter-day Bulgakov and a Ukrainian Murakami, he imbues his work with an absurdist sense of the oddities of life. He is also an outspoken champion of Ukrainian independence, and no one is better placed to explain the complexities of Ukrainian identity. Born near Leningrad, raised in Kyiv, he is a native Russian speaker who writes in Russian, a fact that has long attracted criticism from Ukrainian nationalists.

In September 2022 he came to Intelligence Squared for a conversation with the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet. He talked in particular about his novel Grey Bees, acclaimed when it was first published in 2018 and now more pertinent than ever after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last February. The book tells the story of Sergey Sergeyich, an unsophisticated ethnic Russian who lives in a small village in the Donbas regions of eastern Ukraine. When his life is upended by the war between Moscow-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government that began in 2014, Sergeyich finds himself increasingly bewildered – alienated from Russia despite his heritage and an object of suspicion to people in Ukraine because of that very heritage.



Andrey Kurkov

Ukraine’s best known living novelist and author of Grey Bees

Ukraine’s best known living novelist. Born near Leningrad in 1961,  he was a journalist, prison warder, cameraman and screenplay-writer before he turned to writing novels. After being rejected by publishers, he was a pioneer of self-publishing, selling more than 75,000 copies of his books in a single year. His novel Death and the Penguin (translated by George Bird), his first in English translation, became an international bestseller, translated into more than thirty languages. As well as writing fiction for adults and children, he has become known as a commentator and journalist on Ukraine for the international media. His work of reportage, Ukraine Diaries: Dispatches from Kiev, translated by Sam Taylor, was published in 2014, followed by the novel The Bickford Fuse in 2016 and Grey Bees in 2018, both translated by Boris Dralyuk. He lives in Kiev.

Lyse Doucet

The BBC's chief international correspondent

The BBC’s Chief International Correspondent, who played a key role in the BBC's coverage of the wars in Syria and Yemen and has covered all the major stories in the region for the past 20 years.