- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Russian literary giant Alexander Pushkin wrote nearly one-third of his works at Boldino, a country estate of such beauty it inspired some of his most famous prose.
Now, with Russia restructuring its economy in the wake of communism's collapse, estates such as Boldino face extinction without the government support that kept them operational.
Thursday's black-tie gala at the home of Russian Ambassador Yuri V. Ushakov and his wife, Svetlana, helped raise Russians' and Americans' awareness of the need to preserve Russia's rich past through its many estate homes.
The affair, held amidst the gold-leaf columns and sumptuous tapestries of the ambassador's 16th Street NW home, doubled as a fund-raiser for American Friends of the Russian Country Estate, or A-FORCE.
Ostensibly, the evening honored Russia's White Nights and Pushkin, whose cherished likeness is captured on a statue at 22nd and H streets NW, on the George Washington University campus. But the gala also brought out about 200 persons in support of A-FORCE, which helps preserve and raise awareness of Russia's historic country estates.
Those engaged by the cause included Prince and Princess David Chavchavadze, former U.S. Rep. James W. Symington, businessman Paul Rodzianko and Jay H. Hebert, whose Vinson & Elkins law firm conducts business in Russia.
Pushkin's work proved the evening's connecting thread.
A-FORCE Chairwoman Priscilla Roosevelt said Pushkin's prose "is a model of elegance and clarity."
"When I studied Russia, it was the first thing you were assigned to read," said Mrs. Roosevelt, who wrote "Life on the Russian Country Estate: A Social and Cultural History." "I just fell in love with it. I was hooked," she said of "The Snow Storm," a Pushkin piece written in 1830 at Boldino.
Those gathered for the cause gave testimony to the connection between Pushkin and Russia's past as they nibbled on offerings from the buffet and listened to music supplied by a group of gaily clad Gypsies.
Yuri A. Jouline, director of the Boldino Museum near Nizhny-Novgorod, said through an interpreter, "It's difficult to overestimate the significance of Pushkin to Russia" and, he added, the importance of country estates on the great writer's literature. "Boldino left a deep imprint on Pushkin's soul," he said.
Mr. Jouline also sounded an optimistic note concerning the estate cause. "The museums find themselves in a changed situation but we are adapting," he said.
As if Pushkin's spirit weren't present enough, bass vocalist Mikhail Svetlov sang a generous set of songs featuring the writer's timeless thoughts. Accompanist Mikhail Zeiger, one of Russia's foremost composers, joined Mr. Svetlov, whose rich baritone brought Pushkin's words to stirring life.
Before the performance, Mr. Symington, now chairman of the American-Russian Cultural Foundation, said Russians have always fought to preserve their heritage.
"All through the difficult period of communism, there still was a yearning that their great homes not crumble away," he said. "When the Germans came in [during World War II], they did everything they could to hide their things."
Mr. Ushakov, delighted that his country and the United States have adopted friendlier relations, said it behooves all of us "to help preserve these unique estates, which belong not only to Russia, but to Americans and the world."


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