‘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.