Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702
Alexei Vasilyevich Turbin
Alexei Vasilyevich Turbin (ah-lehk-SAY vah-SIH-lyeh-vihch TEWR-bihn), an artillery colonel in the Russian army. He is serving a Ukrainian hetman in Kiev and collaborates with the Germans against other Ukrainian nationalists and the Bolsheviks. Alexei understands the precariousness of his position, as he is neither a dedicated nationalist nor a friend of the Germans; he only wants to do what he is trained for: to serve as an officer with honor and dignity. When his honor and dignity are threatened, he refuses to continue fighting for a cause that has lost its rationale, preferring to pay for his mistake with his life—not before, however, he absolves everyone serving under him of any obligation to fight to the last along with him. Alexei is a gentleman officer and an idealist, contrary to the official Soviet view of any opponents of the Bolsheviks as morally bankrupt hirelings.
Nikolai Turbin (nih-koh-LAY), his brother, a cadet. Nikolai worships his older brother and, like him, has a high sense of duty. These two sentiments compel him to refuse his brother’s command to leave before the final attack, during which he is badly crippled. In this sense, he is an extension of Alexei, with one difference: Alexei is adamantly anti-Bolshevik, whereas Nikolai’s reaction to the coming of the Bolsheviks is not as clear.
Yelena Vasilyevna Talberg
Yelena Vasilyevna Talberg (yeh-LEH-nah vah-SIH-lyehv-nah TAHL-buhrg), their sister. Yelena is an intelligent woman of excellent upbringing, married to a high officer in the hetman’s army. A red-haired beauty with whom everyone seems to fall in love, she shows the dignity of her brothers, never losing moral decorum. She handles the advances of her many suitors with benign firmness and never allows any relationship to sink below the proper level. Consequently, she firmly dissolves her marriage when her husband fails to uphold the standards of moral decency.
Vladimir Robertovich Talberg
Vladimir Robertovich Talberg (vlah-DIH-mihr roh-BEHR-toh-vihch), a General Staff colonel and Yelena’s husband. Talberg, also an active officer, is the direct opposite of Alexei: selfish, unscrupulous, insincere in his marriage, vain, jealous, and ready to go to any length in furthering his own cause. He has no qualms in leaving Yelena behind to face complete uncertainty when he flees to Berlin. For this striking conglomeration of negative traits, he “looks like a rat” in the eyes of at least two of his companions.
Viktor Viktorovich Myshlaevsky
Viktor Viktorovich Myshlaevsky (VIHK-tohr vihk-TOH-roh-vihch mi-SHLAH-yehv-skee), a captain in the artillery. A good-hearted, loud, and, at times, rowdy officer, as well as a heavy drinker but faithful friend, Myshlaevsky serves his country loyally but only to a point. Once he realizes that the cause he has been serving is falling apart, he changes without much soul-searching and without really knowing to what he is changing.
Leonid Yuryevich Shervinsky
Leonid Yuryevich Shervinsky (lee-oh-NIHD YUHR-yeh-vihch shehr-VIHN-skee), a lieutenant, the hetman’s personal aide-de-camp. Shervinsky’s driving force in life is his love for Yelena, for whom he is ready to sacrifice everything. His loyalty to the side for which he is fighting is weak; he does not betray it because of his preoccupation with Yelena and his lack of strong beliefs. He has little difficulty adapting to the Bolsheviks, thanks to his beautiful singing voice and to an uncanny ability to stay afloat in every situation.
Alexander Bronislavovich Studzinsky
Alexander Bronislavovich Studzinsky (broh-nih-SLAH-voh-vihch stew-DZIHN-skee), a captain in the hetman’s army. Of all the officers except Alexei, Studzinsky is the most loyal to the struggle against the Bolsheviks, even when it seems hopeless. In this aspect, he shows a remarkable strength of character.
Lariosik (lah-rih-OH-sihk), a cousin of the Turbins, from Zhitomir. A young man who comes to the Turbins to study in Kiev at the time of street fighting, Lariosik adapts quickly to the new situation, perhaps as a result of his falling in love with Yelena. Painfully polite, bashful, and awkward (he always breaks something), often managing to say the wrong thing, he is still liked by all and seems to fit into the chaotic scene into which he has stumbled. His naïveté is refreshing during the period of somber mood and mortal danger for the Turbins.