In 1898, the 38-year-old playwright Anton Chekhov was forced to leave his home in Moscow for the warmer climes of of the seaside Ukranian resort of Yalta due to his worsening tuberculosis. Constructed to his own unusual design with stunning views of the Black Sea, the house is where Chekhov spent the last five years of his life and penned a series of his late masterpieces, including The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard.
It was here that he was visited by writer Maxim Gorky and entertained by Rachmaninov on the piano. And it was on the telephone in his study that he called Tolstoy and received telegrams about the Moscow premiere of his play Uncle Vanya. The house was also home to Chekhov’s mother, his actress-wife Olga Knipper, and his sister Masha, who preserved its interior just as it was when her brother left it for the last time and opened it as a museum after the Revolution.
But now, in a year when the 150th anniversary of Chekhov’s birth is being celebrated the world over, the museum lies in a state of chronic neglect. When the Soviet Union collapsed, so did the house’s funding, as it suddenly found itself marooned in a Ukraine which does not regard the financial support of a museum devoted to a Russian writer as a priority. The funds that the museum now receives from the local Crimean authority are not enough to stop the physical fabric of the house from steadily deteriorating, says Chekhov biographer, Rosamund Bartlett. With mold in Chekhov’s study, ominous cracks appearing in the walls, and the ever-present threat of damp, the house is in urgent need of restoration. Bartlett has led the charge in establishing a fund to preserve the playwright’s Yalta house: www.yaltachekhov.org/ and from May 26 -31, she leads a Chekhov Anniversary Tour to Yalta, details of which can be found at www.exeterinternational.co.uk/chekhov.html.