The space exposition at the Pochaiv History and Art Museum dates back to the time when the Soviet communist regime did its utmost to bar public access to the internationally known Holy Dormition Lavra (Monastery) of Pochaiv. Persecution of pilgrims, arrests of monks, and pogroms gained momentum in the 1960s. There are eyewitness accounts of the miraculous appearance of the Mother of God in 1958, clad in black, holding an omophorion, as though wishing to warn people of the coming plight. After repeated futile attempts to close the monastery, the totalitarian authorities decided to concentrate on atheistic propaganda. Part of the monastic premises was sequestered to accommodate a museum of atheism and the authorities spared no funds for it. However, the project didn’t work. People were “persuaded” to take part in guided tours, but afterward attended services at the monastery. In fact, the history and art museum was organized on the basis of the museum of atheism, but it was meant to serve the opposite purpose. The old exposition remained, although the museum is located in a different place. There are 40,000 items on display, including large collections of religious relics. Part of them were salvaged by the museum staff when it came time to open the new museum. Among other items are incunabula, paintings, documents, and household items. The exposition “Man and Outer Space” is made up of some 700 items, including models of space stations, the life-sized first sputnik, lunar rover, genuine spacesuits, special clothing, astronauts’ personal effects, and photos signed by Tereshkova, Beregovoy, and Popov.
“Tourists aren’t the only visitors. School students also visit to attend workshop seminars,” says Alla ALIMOVA, curator of the Pochaiv History and Art Museum, lighting up a model Earth, “as there is a difference between what the teacher says in class and what the student can see with his own eyes.” The model globe is complete with mountains, plains, showing the planet’s inner structure, indicating the speed of winds and the cosmic waves moving toward the Earth. “This is a very useful teaching aid and children enjoy watching it. They ask many questions.”
Look but don’t touch is a strict rule at the museum, but sometimes the staff make exceptions for the young visitors. “Children love to take pictures and pose for cameras. How can they take a picture with cosmonaut Volodymyr Liakhovy (his spacesuit is on display) without holding his hand or just touching the suit? Also, there was a visitor from France. The man was very impressed by what he saw. We explained the house rules through his interpreter, but he so wanted to pose for the camera sitting in the ejection seat, we placed him there, secured him, and took pictures. He was on cloud nine,” adds Ms. Alimova.
The models of the first sputnik and lunar rover Lunokhod 2 were made in Moscow. The lunar rover cost 9,500 Soviet rubles, the price of a car at the time. There are interesting models of the orbital stations Mir and Salyut 6, the first in the history of space exploration to be supported by the Progress spacecraft and the world’s first manned Vostok spacecraft.
I was handed a cosmonaut’s lead-lined suit. It was rather heavy. Ms. Alimova explained that it was worn under the spacesuit before stepping into outer space, and that it protected from radiation. You can learn a lot about space exploration and how man operates in outer space, being thousands of miles away from the nearest space center, I told myself.
Next we walked up to that ejection seat, the real one from the manned Soyuz spacecraft. “You can see that the astronaut was in a recumbent position, the most optimal one during takeoff and landing to prevent inner body injury. Each such seat was custom made,” commented Ms. Alimova
The exposition includes a large number of pins and badges, and portraits of cosmonauts. “Ternopil and Sliven in Bulgaria were twin cities at one time. When Bulgarian and Soviet cosmonauts Georgy Ivanov and Nikolai Rukavishnikov carried out a joint space mission, it made headlines in Bulgaria, so when a Bulgarian delegation visited Pochaiv in the 1980s, they brought a hand-woven carpet with the cosmonauts’ portraits as a present for the museum of atheism,” continues Ms. Alimova, adding that Valentyna Simashchuk, an artist of Pochaiv, recently added to the collection her portrait of Leonid Kadeniuk. The museum staff was getting prepared to welcome independent Ukraine’s first cosmonaut. He planned to visit in May. “Working on his portrait was very easy, especially during that period when he died,” recalls Ms. Simashchuk, “and I started on it when he was alive. I’d read his biography and examined all his photos. The man interested me as a personality. Too bad we never met. He was a good man.”
The museum staff still hopes to meet with Leonid Kadeniuk’s team and add his personal effects to the exposition. They have a signed copy of his book “Mission: Outer Space.” Says Ms. Alimova: “Things that we hardly seem to notice in our daily life start playing a certain role in outer space. You’re likely to fail up there unless you undergo good training on earth. You have to fully concentrate on your work and do everything meticulously in outer space, and Leonid Kadeniuk describes this very well in his book. I started reading it and couldn’t stop until I turned the last page.”
Every effort is being made to add to the space exposition by collaborating with other museums. The guidebook being prepared for publication by the Korolyov Astronautics Museum in Zhytomyr invites visitors to explore the museum in Pochaiv. A visit to this museum is a trip not only to outer space (owing to the apt interior design), but also to the past of the Holy Dormition Lavra with its saints. You will be told about the brilliant Ukrainian poet, Taras Shevchenko, who spent some time there, and about the people who created the history of their small town in Volyn oblast which is known across the world today. Ryta Kvach, the museum’s research fellow, is the author of an almost 600-page monograph entitled “The Luminaries of Pochaiv.”