Memories of Yuri Gagarin

Sunday 12 June: Day 3 of the 2011 Russia trip


On our way from Sergiev Posad to our next overnight destination we stopped in the small town of Kirzhach. We were taken into a tiny museum, celebrating the features and achievements of the Kirzhach region in the space of one room.  It was full of interest, including a display about a famous son of Kirzhach, the pioneer of colour photography, Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii. (More about him in a future blogpost…). We were shown round by the delightful and dedicated curator, Liudmila Georgievna, who had come to open the museum especially for us on a day when it should have been closed, being Sunday and the big Russia Day public holiday weekend.

We spent some time looking at a space suit worn by Yuri Gagarin, and information about him. This year, 2011, is the 50th anniversary of his momentous space flight, which took place on 12 April 1961. In 1968 he was working as a test-pilot at the Chkalovsky air-base near Kirzhach when he was killed in a plane crash, together with his co-pilot, Vladimir Seryogin.

From the museum we drove some way through the countryside to a peaceful wooded area, the site of the fatal crash.  It was a beautiful sunny day, the breeze rustling the trees, wild flowers everywhere in the grass.  We walked the short distance from the entrance point to the memorial obelisk, rising dramatically in a clearing in the woods.

Back in London after the trip, I was pleased to find out that the British Council was holding an exhibition about Gagarin‘s visit to Britain which took place in July 1961, just three months after his journey into space. Last month a statue of Gagarin was unveiled by his daughter Elena (who is incidentally director of the Kremlin Museums). It stands outside the Council’s offices on The Mall, immediately opposite the statue of another great explorer, Captain James Cook. I enjoyed the exhibition, especially as it took me into the building where I had worked years ago when I was a member of British Council staff.


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