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12 June 2019

HISTORIAN SERHII PLOKHY WINS 2019 PUSHKIN HOUSE RUSSIAN BOOK PRIZE FOR CHERNOBYL

Serhii Plohky, professor of Ukrainan history at Harvard University, has won the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize for a second time, with Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy. His work, published by Allen Lane, was selected by a panel of five distinguished judges from a shortlist of six strong and varied contenders covering history, culture and memoir.

The award, the seventh annual edition of the prize, is the first time that the same author has won twice, following Serhii Plokhy’s recognition for The Last Empire in 2015. It comes at a time of fresh interest in Chernobyl, including with the launch of a televised drama presently screening on HBO.

Serhii Plokhy receiving the Pushkin Prize 2019 award

Serhii Plokhy receiving the Pushkin Prize 2019 award

Chernobyl is the first book to comprehensively explore the origins of the 1986 nuclear power station disaster, the fatal blast, clean-up and aftermath, and the longer term consequences that helped lead to the collapse of the USSR. It draws on freshly revealed archives including of the KGB, highlights deep tensions and dysfunctionality within the Soviet political system, individual stories of bravery and courage, and lessons for the global nuclear industry today. It also indicates how central the explosion and its aftermath were to the collapse of the USSR.

Sergei Guriev, chair of the jury, said: “The jury has faced a challenging task of choosing the winner from a very impressive short list. Each book is an excellent read which promotes better understanding of both today’s Russia and of Russian and Soviet history. But Chernobyl stands out as a well-researched and well-written masterpiece on an event of momentous importance. The Chernobyl disaster is not just a historical episode. The main themes discussed in the book strongly resonate today - and not just in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine."

The prize, run by Pushkin House, the oldest arts charity in the UK exploring, celebrating and supporting the best of Russian culture, showcases, promotes and encourages the best accessible non-fiction writing in English about Russia and the Russian-speaking world. This year’s shortlist included work translated from German.

Serhii Plokhy received the £5,000 award at a dinner at Charterhouse in London this evening.

The panel of judges for the 2019 Pushkin House Russian Book Prize comprises: Sergei Guriev (chair), Chief Economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and Professor of Economics at Sciences Po Paris; Rachel Campbell-Johnston, Chief Art Critic, The Times; Alexander Drozdov, Executive Director of the Yeltsin Presidential Centre, Ekaterinberg; Alexis Peri, Assistant Professor at Boston University and winner of the 2018 Pushkin House Book Prize; and Andrei Zorin, Professor of Russian at Oxford University and a Fellow of New College.

Douglas Smith and Stephanie Ellis-Smith, co-funders of the prize, said: “We are thrilled to congratulate Serhii Plokhy as this year’s winner for his superb book. Chernobyl is a truly masterful combination of the finest scholarship and the best story telling. A model for all historians.”

Marc Polonsky, trustee of the Polonsky Foundation, which also funds the prize, said: "Once again, the Pushkin House Book Prize has demonstrated the calibre and variety of contemporary writing about Russia. Congratulations to the worthy winner selected from such a competitive field."

Andrew Jack, head of the prize advisory board, said: “The unprecedented but well merited award of the prize to a winner for the second time reflects Serhii Plokhy’s extraordinary achievements as a historian, whose deep analysis, fluent writing and original research align perfectly with Pushkin House’s mission to showcase the best writing on the Russian speaking world.”

The full 2019 shortlist (author interviews are available on the Pushkin House website)

  • 1983: The World at The Brink by Taylor Downing (Little, Brown)

  • The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia by Mark Galeotti (Yale University Press)

  • To See Paris and Die: The Soviet Lives of Western Culture by Eleonory Gilburd (Belknap Press at Harvard University Press)

  • The Spy and the Traitor by Ben Macintyre (Viking)

  • Maybe Esther by Katja Petrowskaja, translated from German by Shelley Frisch (4th Estate)

  • Chernobyl: History of a Tragedy by Serhii Plokhy (Penguin)

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About the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize

The annual prize of £5,000 is awarded to the author of the best book about Russia or the Russian-speaking world accessible to the general reader, and published in English for the first time during the previous calendar year. Translations from other languages are eligible and actively sought.

The award is made possible thanks to generous contributions from Douglas Smith and Stephanie Ellis-Smith, and The Polonsky Foundation and in 2019 the London Russian Book Club joined as an additional sponser.

Previous winners are: Douglas Smith for Former People: the Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy (Macmillan); Catherine Merridale for Red Fortress: The Secret Heart of Russia’s History (Allen Lane); Serhii Plokhii for The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (Oneworld); Dominic Lieven for Towards the Flame (Penguin); and Rosalind Blakesley for The Russian Canvas (Yale) and Alexis Peri for The War Within: Diaries From the Siege of Leningrad (Harvard).

The advisory board for the Pushkin House Russian Book Prize comprises:

·  Sir Rodric Braithwaite, former British ambassador to Moscow and author of Afgantsy

·  Andrew Jack (chair), chairman emeritus, Pushkin House, and journalist at the Financial Times

·  Bridget Kendall, Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge University

·  Andrew Nurnberg, managing director, Andrew Nurnberg Associates literary agency

·  Marc Polonsky, trustee, The Polonsky Foundation

·  Douglas Smith, historian, translator, author and winner of the 2013 Pushkin House Russian book prize

The information partners are the Moscow Times and the Yeltsin Centre.

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For further press information, author and jacket images, and interview requests please contact Rebecca Ostrovksy at rebecca.ostrovksy@pushkinhouse.org.uk  +44 20 7269 9770.