Ali Velshi continues his reporting from Kyiv on the first anniversary of the War in Ukraine with prolific Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov. Kurkov speaks to Velshi from Los Angeles about his latest novel — banned in Russia — Grey Bees. This is the latest in the #VelshiBannedBookClub series.
Although Kurkov writes in his native Russian, he considers all he publishes — including 13 novels, five children’s books and more than 20 scripts for feature films and documentaries — as products of Ukraine, where he’s spent most of his life. He explains that Ukraine is incredibly diverse linguistically and geographically. Up until the war, at least 40 percent of Ukrainians considered themselves to be Russian speakers. Now, says Kurkov, that number is closer to 23 percent. “This war is killing Russian language culture in Ukraine,” he says.
When Russia first invaded Ukraine, Kurkov learned that he and other prominent Ukrainian writers were on a Russian blacklist, considered “pro-Ukrainian activists” by the Russian government. Being banned — and threatened — inspired Grey Bees, a satirical story of a beekeeper living in Ukraine’s “grey zone,” a 430 km long and 300 km to several kilometers wide liminal stretch that has since been destroyed and overtaken by Russian troops.
Grey Bees also elaborates on the Ukrainian concept of home. “Home is a sacred thing for every Ukrainian,” says Kurkov, who notes that the cultural importance of home has made it especially difficult both to stay and to leave during the Russian onslaught. “To most Ukrainians, the concept of home is more than a castle.”
LISTEN: ALI VELSHI AND ANDREY KURKOV ON GREY BEES
WATCH: ALI AND ANDREY DISCUSS GREY BEES
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