I am one of many British Council scholars sent to the USSR back in the days of the Cold War. Quite a number of us have remained connected with Russia professionally ever since (I am Professor of Russian at the University of Oxford and have authored many books and articles on the country). All of us found the experience completely transformed our life — exposure to a completely different culture and educational system, and the opportunity to live somewhere that it was very difficult to get to in ordinary circumstances. I also know that the British Council has done huge amounts to promote English and British culture in Russia (most recently under its latest director for Russia, Michael Bird, who was a British Council scholar in Voronezh in 1980-1981, along with me). It would be terrible if the Council’s international efforts (crucial to British prestige abroad) were to be restricted or wound up completely because of the Covid-19 crisis. I’m attaching a photograph of the British Council scholars outside our hostel in Voronezh in September 1980 — it was taken by Chris Cambray, who was another British Council scholar, and who recently got in touch and kindly sent a large number of photographs.

Catriona Kelly, Professor of Russian, University of Oxford

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