History of the “Yalta Chekhov Campaign” 2008-2010

HISTORY OF THE DETERIORATION

Before 1991, the museum was funded centrally by the Soviet government. Since Ukraine became independent, the only funding for the museum has come from the Ministry of Culture and Arts of the Autonomous Crimean Republic (MCAACR), which provides salaries for half the museum staff in accordance with the approved list of posts, security, and the museum’s utility bills. The Ukrainian government insists that it has no responsibility for the museum since Chekhov was a Russian writer. The Russian government believes the museum should now be funded by Ukraine, since it is located in Ukraine. In 2006 no provision was made for funding the museum by MCAACR at all, and in 2007 it only provided €1,360/ 10,000 UAH. Income from ticket sales is minimal, with entrance for adults costing less than €1.3/ 10 UAH, and so barely compensates the unpaid half of the museum staff.

In August 2004, the old electrical wiring system caught fire, and it proved very difficult to find an electrician. After emergency repairs it was established that the wiring system was so obsolete it was a grave fire hazard, and should not be used. The fire-detection system is in need of complete overhauling. In 2005 it the heating system failed permanently. Alla Khanilo, who has worked at the museum since 1946, when Chekhov’s sister was still alive, cannot remember the situation ever being as bad, noting, for example, that the temperature in the house during the winter of 2005 was -6° C, while during Chekhov’s lifetime it was always 16-17°. The interior temperature was as low or even lower than the outside temperature. The new instruments acquired by the museum for measuring temperature and humidity, meanwhile, only start registering at 15°. The ensuing winters have also been very cold, and the damp has caused the appearance of mould in the walls, and the subsequent deterioration of the wallpaper.

In 2006, the new private owner of the next-door building, previously a sanatorium, began extensive construction work, digging a foundation pit next to the wall of the Chekhov museum’s garden, for example, and removing the excavated gravel by heavy trucks. This has led to cracks appearing in the walls of Chekhov’s house. Letters were sent to ecological organisations such as ‘Ekozemproekt’, subsidence experts, and the Ukrainian Ministry of Culture, which confirmed the legitimacy of the museum’s objections to this construction work – but by this time it was too late. Consequently it was established by the “UkrNIIproektrestovratsiya” survey that accumulation of soil waters on the Museum’s territory will continue to pose threat until a water diversion system is installed higher up the hill from the Museum and the territory around the Dacha is drained.

ACTION IN YALTA

The 2003 appeal to the Presidents of Russia and Ukraine (see extract from Chekhov: Scenes from a Life) went unanswered.

Since becoming the Chekhov House Museum director three years ago, Alla Golavacheva has been tirelessly campaigning in a bid to find sponsorship to restore this unique museum and secure its future survival. She has appealed to prominent Russian and Ukrainian politicians and businessmen. Contributions have been small:

In March 2006 the former director of the museum appealed for financial help to the Russian banker Alexander Lebedev, who has undertaken the restoration of the Yalta Theatre. This is where the Moscow Art Theatre performed Uncle Vanya for Chekhov in 1900. In May 2008, Mr Lebedev provided funding for some of the most urgent repairs at the Chekhov House. These repairs were carried out according to the extensive survey carried out by the Ukrainian organisation “UkrNIIproektrestavratsiya”, which was paid for in 2006 by the mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov. Apart from work carried out on the roof, the repairs, while welcome, are mainly cosmetic. Unless the heating and drainage problems are attended to, the problems faced by the museum will reoccur.

In October 2006, the head of the Russian political party “Spravedlivaya Rossia”, Sergei Mironov, donated €20,475/ 150,494 UAH to the museum. The funds were immediately used to fix the defective electrical wiring system and set up a modern alarm system.

In February 2007, the Yalta branch of the Ukrainian political party “Partiya regionov”, following an appeal by MP Dmitry Belyaev, made an indirect donation by contriubting €10,000/ 75,000 UAH to the municipal heating service in Yalta. This resulted in the installation of a modern central heating system in the Chekhov House in March 2007. It has unfortunately proven to be ineffective. The diameter of the upgraded pipeline connecting the new gas boiler-house to the museum building two times as narrow as it should be, and also now runs overground, thus losing nearly all its heat on the way.

Other minor donations have been received, including 2000 bulbs, rare rose bushes and other flowers for Chekhov’s garden, collected as a part of a campaign launched by Elena Illesh, editor of the Moscow magazine Vestnik tsvetovoda [Flower Grower’s News]. Chekhov’s garden is also in need of extensive renovation and many of the trees he planted require urgent surgery.

THE ANTON CHEKHOV FOUNDATION’S “YALTA CHEKHOV CAMPAIGN” (2008 – 2010)

[extract from the campaign’s press release 26 October 2010]

In November 2008, the British charity the ‘Anton Chekhov Foundation’ was established, with the specific objective of securing the preservation of the White Dacha for future generations. The long-term goal was to encourage either the Ukrainian government or the Russian government to provide funds for the restoration and upkeep of this cultural site of international importance.  The Foundation has three directors, two British, one Russian, and counts as its patrons Michael Frayn, Tom Stoppard, Ralph Fiennes, Kenneth Branagh, Prunella Scales and Evgeny Lebedev.  The Foundation’s immediate goal of publicising the White Dacha’s plight to a wider audience was extremely successful: articles in the British national press were picked up by the Russian and Ukrainian media and interviews followed with news outlets in those countries, including with Ukraine’s main TV station, Inter.

In January 2010, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth, the Anton Chekhov Foundation, with the assistance of Michael Pennington, organised a week of high profile fund-raising events at the Hampstead Theatre in London. Numerous well-known writers, actors and directors generously gave their time to help to raise awareness and raise funds to reverse the plight of this most important of historical monuments, amongst them Richard Eyre, David Hare, Michael Frayn, William Boyd, Lynne Truss, Dame Eileen Atkins, Miriam Margolyes, Harriet Walter, Rosamund Pike and Simon Russell Beale. At the close of the week-long sell-out programme, the Campaign had raised over £60,000 (including a major donation from Evgeny Lebedev), and the story of the White Dacha and its potential loss for posterity became more widely known throughout the world.  When the literary exhibition and archive building next to the White Dacha was damaged in a hurricane in February, the Anton Chekhov Foundation was able to pay for emergency repairs, and so to guarantee the safety of thousands of precious manuscripts and documents.

The 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth has been a cause for true celebration.  Following the lead of the Anton Chekhov Foundation, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (since January under a new President, Viktor Yanukovych), the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the US Ambassadors Fund have now come forward to provide financial support for the full renovation of the White Dacha. A grant of two million Ukrainian hryvna (around £160,000) from the Cabinet of Ministers and the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is being used to pay for major structural repairs and restoration of the house, the garden and outlying buildings. The US Ambassadors’ Fund, meanwhile, has donated $40,000 for the restoration of the Chekhov family’s original fabrics and furnishings. Directors from the Anton Chekhov Foundation have been active in discussing the restoration programme with the Ukrainian government and the US Embassy. They have also maintained close contact with the museum director and have regularly visited the museum to monitor the progress of the restoration work.