Valentin Bulgakov was Leo Tolstoy’s last secretary (in 1910) and friend. He was born in 1886 in the town of Kuznetsk (now Novokuznetsk). He studied at the History and Philology Faculty of Moscow University; in 1910 he left the University and went to Yasnaya Polyana to work as Tolstoy’s assistant. Bulgakov spent the last months of the writer’s life alongside Tolstoy and became a witness to the complicated relations of those living at Yasnaya Polyana in what was a very tense situation for all of them. His diary of that time was later published as the book Leo Tolstoy In the Last Year of His Life.
After Tolstoy’s death Bulgakov stayed at Yasnaya Polyana for several years, preparing his diary for publication; he also began the work on the bibliographical description of Tolstoy’s personal library. Moreover, he took an active part in publishing Tolstoy’s works and in creating the Tolstoy Museum in Moscow and the so-called “steel room” for keeping the writer’s manuscripts.
In the early 1920s, Valentin Bulgakov took part in the activities of the National Committee for Famine Relief whose members later were accused of counter-revolutionary activities and arrested. After he was discharged, Bulgakov was deported from Russia in February 1923, on the “Philosophers’ Ship.” From 1923 to 1945 he lived in Prague; he delivered lectures in European countries and was in touch with outstanding cultural figures. At that time he was in correspondence with Romain Rolland, Rabindranath Tagore, and Albert Einstein.
In Zbraslav (near Prague) Bulgakov established the Russian Cultural and Historical Museum; in that museum he managed to accumulate rich collections of Russian art objects scattered in many countries of the world. After the war those collections were sent to the Soviet Union.
As soon as Prague was occupied by Nazi troops in 1939, Bulgakov was arrested on suspicion of communist activities, and later he was sent to a concentration camp in Bavaria. In the camp he wrote his memoirs about Tolstoy and his family.
In 1948 Bulgakov returned to Yasnaya Polyana, and he was the Curator of the Tolstoy House for nearly 20 years. He died in September 1966, at the age of 80, and was buried in Kochaki (at the Tolstoy family cemetery). Valentin Bulgakov left a rich literary heritage.