14ymedio, Jorge Ferrer, Barcelona, 4 March 2022 — Lyudmila Ulitskaya, the living great lady of Russian literature, picks up the phone in her apartment at 27 Krasnoarmeiskaya Street, northeast of Moscow. Ulitskaya doesn’t live in just any building. It is one of the blocks of the The Soviet Writer complex , built in the early 1960s, when the thaw of Nikita Khrushchev promised happier years for Soviet arts.
Writers, translators and artists as notable as Mikhail Bakhtin or Vasili Aksionov, Bulat Okudzhava or Irina Ehrenburg, have lived in these apartments, from whose windows Liudmila Ulitskaya looks with a mixture of curiosity and resignation at the crows that walk through the courtyards.
Unlike the vital Liudmila with whom I have talked on other occasions, now I notice she is dejected. A despondency produced not so much by years (she celebrated her seventy-ninth birthday last week), but by days. The days we are living. The author of Sónechka and Yakov’s Ladder, an eternal Russian candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, is a moral reference for the opposition to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism.
The war unleashed at dawn on February 24 has plunged her into a fierce depression dominated by shame, a feeling shared by many Russians in the face of the fratricidal war launched by the Kremlin against a country so close, culturally, emotionally and idiosyncratically, like Ukraine.
José Ferrer, 14ymedio. I am sorry to have to call you at such a sad time, Lyudmila.
Ulítskaya. It’s a terrible, terrible moment.
Ferrer. I read right now that the Russian tanks are seven kilometers from Kiev. Could we imagine something like this a couple of weeks or months ago?
Ulítskaya. We could never imagine something like this. All this seems like a horrible dream, a nightmare. As if one were to wake up and all this terrible vision could suddenly disappear.
Ferrer. Your generation thought that they would never experience a war again…
Ulítskaya. I was born in the days of the previous conflict (in 1942). Those of us who were born then were certain that we would never know another war. But unfortunately, it has not been so.
Ferrer. Can you share with us your personal impression, your emotions now?
Ulítskaya. This is a war that, however it ends, will only bring defeat. A moral defeat. I think that in the end Ukraine will not be conquered, that it will offer some kind of resistance. But the immense moral failure that all this entails is undeniable.
Ferrer. Many Russian intellectuals, writers, theater people, music… are positioning themselves against the war…
Ulítskaya. The people around me are absolutely unanimous in their protest against the war. We are all overwhelmed by great shame and the feeling of witnessing a profound misfortune.
Ferrer. That feeling of shame I perceive everywhere, also among my Russian acquaintances…
Ulítskaya. It is that this is unthinkable. Putin has gone mad. All this is the act of a man who has lost his mind and must be admitted to a psychiatric hospital immediately.
Ferrer. What would you say to your readers, who are also in shock?
Ulítskaya. I want them to know that I am in a state of total, absolute drowning, and mired in pain and shame.
Ferrer. Do you think that something will change in Russia from now on, that we may be facing a point of no return in the attitude of the people of culture towards the government of Vladimir Putin?
Ulítskaya. That I do not know. Look, what we are experiencing now is such unprecedented shame… An entire country plunged into disgrace that will cost us a lot to overcome.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been published by the Spanish newspaper El Mundo . We reproduce it with the permission of its owners.
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