Nikolai Gubenko

Nikolai Nikolaevich Gubenko (Russian: Николай Николаевич Губенко) (born 17 August 1941) is a Soviet and Russian actor, film and theatre director, screenwriter, founder of the Community of Taganka Actors theatre. His movie Wounded Game was entered into the 1977 Cannes Film Festival.[1] He was named People's Artist of the RSFSR in 1985.[2]

Nikolai Gubenko
Minister of Culture
In office
21 November 1989  14 November 1991
PremierNikolai Ryzhkov
Valentin Pavlov
Ivan Silayev
Preceded byVasily Zakharov
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Personal details
Born (1941-08-17) 17 August 1941
Odessa, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
Political partyCommunist Party of the Russian Federation
Spouse(s)Zhanna Bolotova
ProfessionActor, film and theatre director, screenwriter, politician

Gubenko has been also active in politics. He served as the last Minister of Culture of the USSR (1989—1991) and as the Russian State Duma deputy between 1995 and 2003. From 2005 on he acts as the Moscow City Duma deputy.[3][4]

Early life

Nikolai Gubenko was born in the Odessa Catacombs during the Defence of Odessa, the youngest of five children.[5] His mother was Russian and his father – a native Ukrainian; both of them died in 1942 during the Great Patriotic War.[6][7] His father joined the Soviet Air Forces before Nikolai was born and was killed in action near Voroshilovgrad. His mother, a chief designer at one of the local plants, was interrogated during the Nazi-Romanian occupation of Odessa and killed after she refused to collaborate; her body was returned to Nikolai's grandfather "with traces of hanging".[8]

All of Gubenko's siblings were adopted, while he was left with his grandparents who sent him to the Odessa orphanage after the war.[5] Then he joined a special boarding school with a focus on English language. Upon graduation he was supposed to enter the Military Institute of Foreign Languages, but it was closed in 1955 following Nikita Khrushchev's war reform.[8] After that he joined the Odessa Young Spectator's Theatre to work as a stagehand and an extra.[9]


Around 1960 Gubenko arrived to Moscow and passed the entering exams for the acting department of VGIK, the course led by Sergei Gerasimov and Tamara Makarova which he finished in 1964.[2] During the studies he met his future wife, an actress Zhanna Bolotova.[9] As a student he performed in one of the leading roles in the cult Soviet movie I Am Twenty (originally titled Ilyich's Gate) directed by Marlen Khutsiev. It had a long, troubled production history. Finished in 1962, it was screened at the Moscow Kremlin and greatly angered Nikita Khrushchev who compared it to an ideological diversion and criticized for "ideas and norms of public and private life that are entirely unacceptable and alien to Soviet people".[10]

The final cut was released only in 1965, when Gubenko had already graduated. He played Adolf Hitler in his diploma play based on Bertolt Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.[8] As Gubenko later recalled, he invested all his hate towards the man responsible for the deaths of his parents into the role. His performance turned so powerful that Yuri Lyubimov who visited the play immediately offered him to join the Taganka Theatre, even though Gubenko studied for a film actor.[9] He served there from 1964 till the end of the 1960s when he decided to dedicate himself to cinema and entered director's courses at VGIK (also led by Gerasimov and Makarova) which he finished in 1970.[2]

Between 1971 and 1988 Gubenko directed six movies. The first, A Soldier Returns from the Front, was awarded the Vasilyev Brothers State Prize of the RSFSR.[2] His 1976 Wounded Game (or Podranki) was based on his own original screenplay. The story covered the lives of orphans in the post-war Odessa. According to Gubenko, it was 50/50 autobiographical and included many personal details.[8] Fifteen leading roles were performed by real orphans — he had watched thousands of children from orphanages and boarding schools all over the country.[9] The film was seen by 20.3 million people and was entered into the 1977 Cannes Film Festival.[1][11] It was also awarded the bronze Hugo prize at the 1977 Chicago International Film Festival.[3]

In 1987 Gubenko returned to the Taganka Theatre following the death of Anatoly Efros. He headed it, started resurrecting old plays and at the same time used all his influence to help Yuri Lyubimov return to the USSR.[12][13] As soon as Lyubimov's citizenship was restored, he left the director's chair, but remained in the theatre as an actor. He was also offered the seat of the Minister of Culture of the USSR, becoming the first Soviet arts professional to hold a similar post since Anatoly Lunacharsky in 1917.[3] He served from 1989 to 1991 when the dissolution of the Soviet Union occurred, eventually becoming the last Soviet Minister of Culture.

In 1992 a split happened at Taganka following Lyubimov's contract sent to the Moscow mayor Gavrill Popov for signature where he basically suggested to privatize the theatre by attracting "foreign colleagues" and move to the contract system which would've allowed him to hire or fire actors at any time, while all the inner conflicts were meant to be resolved at the International Court.[12][13][14]

Lyubimov himself spent most of his time abroad and refused to talk with the actors. At one point he attended a meeting and got into an argument with Gubenko who took the side of the protesters and was fired.[13][14] Yet he continued acting in the play Vladimir Vysotsky based around Vladimir Vysotsky's songs. Lyubimov then seek the help from OMON to ban him from entering and canceled the play.[12][15] After that Gubenko left along with 35 other actors and founded his own non-state theatre – the Community of Taganka Actors which he manages up to this day, taking part as an actor, stage director and playwright.[9][13] In 2008 it received a state status.[16]

Selected filmography

Year Title Original title
Director Screenwriter Actor
1965 I Am Twenty Мне двадцать лет Nikolai Fokin
1966 The Last Conman Последний жулик Petya Dachnikov/vocals
1967 No Password Necessary Пароль не нужен Vasily Blyukher
1969 Director Директор Aleksey Zvorykin
Home of the Gentry Дворянское гнездо Sitnikov
1971 A Soldier Returns from the Front Пришёл солдат с фронта
Nikolai Yegorov
1974 If You Want to Be Happy Если хочешь быть счастливым
Andrei Rodionov
1975 They Fought for Their Country Они сражались за Родину lieutenant Goloshyokov
I Want the Floor Прошу слова Sergei Uvarov
1976 Wounded Game Подранки
Grigoriy Albertovich/Aleksey Bartenev (voice)
1977 In the Zone of Special Attention В зоне особого внимания Aleksandr Volentir (voice)
1980 Life on Holidays Из жизни отдыхающих
Aleksey Pavlishchev (voice)
A Few Days from the Life of I. I. Oblomov Несколько дней из жизни И. И. Обломова Stoltz's father (voice)
1983 Life, Tears and Love И жизнь, и слёзы, и любовь
1988 Forbidden Zone Запретная зона
episode (uncredited)
2001 Isaуev Исаев narrator (voice)
2013 Ku! Kin-dza-dza Ку! Кин-дза-дза Vladimir Chizhov (voice)


  • Nikolai Gubenko (2014). Theatre of the Absurd. Plays on the Political Scene. — Moscow: Algorythm, 256 pages ISBN 978-5-4438-0696-9
  • Evgeny Gromov (2012). Nikolai Gubenko. Director and Actor. — Moscow: Algorythm, 288 pages ISBN 5-9265-0067-2


  1. "Festival de Cannes: Wounded Game". Retrieved 11 May 2009.
  2. Cinema: Encyclopedia Dictionary, main ed. Sergei Yutkevich (1987). — Moscow: Soviet Encyclopedia, p. 108
  3. Anna Kisselgoff. The New Minister Of Soviet Culture Takes Truth as Task article at The New York Times, 27 December 1989
  4. Nikolai Gubenko at the Moscow City Duma website
  5. Islands. Nikolai Gubenko documentary by Russia-K, 2011 (in Russian)
  6. Nikolai Gubenko: Fear enslaved the Ukrainian people interview at Vechernyaya Moskva, 16 September 2014 (in Russian)
  7. Olga Shablinskaya. Labour, there's no other way around interview at Argumenty i Fakty, 11 July 2015 (in Russian)
  8. Nikolai Gubenko. Life Line talk show at Russia-K, 2009 (in Russian)
  9. Nikolai Gubenko documentary by Russia-1, 2011 (in Russian)
  10. Josephine Woll. Being 20, 40 years later
  11. Wounded Games at KinoPoisk
  12. Leonid Filatov (2007). Direct Speech. — Moscow: AST, pp. 180—187 ISBN 978-5-17-045464-8
  13. Maria Sedykh. The Taganka dead end article at Itogy magazine №14, 8 April 2013 (in Russian)
  14. Sergei Samoshin. Taganka Theatre decided to abolish Yuri Lyubimov article at Kommersant, 20 January 1992 (in Russian)
  15. Sergei Samoshin. Yuri Lyubimov continues to quarrel with Nikolai Gubenko article at Kommersant, 6 March 1992 (in Russian)
  16. Resolution № 947-ПП from 14 October 2008 at the Moscow Portal (in Russian)
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