OBITUARY: Oles Gonchar

Your obituary [by Jeanne Vronskaya, 2 August] for Oles Gonchar (Honchar in Ukrainian) misses one important aspect of his career as a writer, writes Peter Yakimiuk.

Despite his adhering to the socialist realist canon in most of his writings, cultural policies in Ukraine did manage to prick his conscience and this resulted in his allegorical novel Sobor ("The Cathedral", 1968). The eponymous cathedral, due to be demolished, was seen as a symbol of Ukrainian culture being dismantled by the Russificatory policies of the Soviet regime.

Initially very favourably received, the novel was later violently attacked in the press and Gonchar was accused of fanning nationalist passions. Journalist and writers who sprang to his defence were subsequently reprimanded or dismissed from the Communist Party. Because of his stature as an establishment writer, however, Gonchar survived.

During the 1960s and 1970s when the Soviet regime cracked down on dissent, many more unpleasant situations were avoided because the authorities did not want to antagonise Gonchar. At his state funeral (organised, of course, by the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and not by the former President Leonid Kravchuk), the Ukrainian intelligentsia testified to this.