I know Kyiv from the writings of Mikhail Bulgakov. Well, I don’t know it. I have an image of it, what it looks like, what it smells like, what it the air feels like, as clear in my mind as the image of Paris imprinted from Breathless and The 400 Blows. Clear and outdated. I know Kyiv as a city on the verge of a violent conflict–an invasion or a Civil War, depending on your point. (And Bulgakov showed both of them.)
This is Bulgakov’s city. The one he was born in, where he was educated, first fell in love, became a doctor, and learned to write. His parents were Russian, deeply religious, highly educated. But Mikhail was from Kyiv, which conferred a distinct identity.
Kyiv was its own place, 800 years older than Moscow. Older than Russia itself. And yet in many ways it was newer, too, open a vast array of influences. Kyiv was a crossroads, a meeting point on the ancient routes where goods and ideas were traded, not only between east and west, but from Scandinavia and the Ottomans.