January 2006


Chornobyl and Great Patriotic War Museums

My time in Kyiv was severely impacted by the New Year’s Eve holiday, which extended into New Year’s Day. I spent much of New Year’s Day sleeping off the effects of vodka and staying up until 4am.

Accordingly, my visits to Kyiv’s museums were limited to only the ones that I was most interested in visiting. This entry concerns the Chornobyl Museum and the Great Patriotic War Museum—both of which remember some of the worst moments in Ukrainian history, while at the same time demonstrating the how the Ukrainian character dealt with adversity at its worst.

Chornobyl Children's Memorial
I’m of two minds as to how to approach this discussion: I could choose to address it in terms of going from the past to the present or I can address it in the order which Katya and I visited the museums. I choose the later.

At the top of my personal priority list was visiting the Chornobyl Museum (Chornobyl in Ukrainian, you are probably more familiar with the Russian spelling, Chernobyl) in Kyiv—short of spending $300 to visit the actual site, this was as close as I could get to experiencing the Ukraine’s worst disaster of all time. I classify this as the worst because although in raw numbers the number of people killed does not close to the ravages of the Great Patriotic War, it has resulted in a substantial area being permanently closed to public access and living—the “Chornobyl Exclusion Zone.”

Aside: For those of you who are not familiar with the Chornobyl disaster, On April 26, 1986 (almost 20 years ago), during a foolish test, reactor #4 suffered an explosion that ultimately resulted in a nuclear meltdown. The Soviet Union did not announce the meltdown until after Sweden observed an increase in radiation that could not be locally explained. For an overview, see the Chernobyl Accident on Wikipedia.

Katya was unfamiliar with the museum and we had to ask directions from a couple of people in order to locate the non-descript building. Upon entering the hall and paying our 5 hryvnia entrance fee (less than a €uro), we climbed the stairs and caught up with an English language tour. I hung close to the tour while Katya wandered around.

Honestly, it was creepy—and that was before we got to the last room, the Memorial Room. There were badges and equipment from the front line firefighters who gave their lives fighting something that they were inadequately prepared to fight and did not completely understand. I don’t really remember the first two rooms too well because the third room, the Memorial Room really hit me hard.

The back wall of the room (see the photo) had several collages of children affected by the resulting radiation. There were also images showing the affects of radiation on children and animals. The memorial was thought-provoking and humbling.

Ever since I investigated Wagon Wheel, the nuclear bomb program to get natural gas out of the ground in Wyoming (and its sister programs in New Mexico and Colorado–Part of Project Plowshare), nuclear power and nuclear technology has fascinated me. Generally speaking I’m against nuclear power – not because it isn’t relatively clean, because it is, but because the nuclear waste sticks around for a very long time, and when you look at the history of the human race, I can only think of one human organization that has survived 2,000 years: the Catholic Church, and even they have had their schisms. So if the Church cannot keep its act together for 2,000 years, which nuclear waste disposal organization will be able to do the same?

Rodina Mat
The second museum to attract my attention in Kyiv was the Great Patriotic War Museum. The museum’s location is hard to miss because there’s a gigantic memorial over it, the Memorial to the Motherland. The Great Patriotic War is what people to the east of Germany called World War II, so it is a war we are familiar with—just by a different name.

Clearly Stalin’s Soviet Union suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis loosing upwards of 17 million soldiers and civilians.

The Nazis were especially cruel to the Slavic peoples, generally assuming that they were less than human, in addition to their typical approach to gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, and other undesirables. This behavior helps explain why so many Germans fought to surrender to soldiers from the United Kingdom and the United States over soldiers from the Soviet Union.

Although I don’t speak or read Ukrainian, the museum was incredibly moving, both in its presentation about occupation, resistance, and ultimate victory over the Nazis.

However, that was not the most moving aspect of the museum, for they had a Holocaust segment much like any museum about World War II would have.

From my first encounter with the holocaust in elementary school, throughout my high school experience, inclusive of a holocaust traveling exhibit that visited Denver, as well as my trips through the Anne Frank House and a smattering of other Holocaust Museums and displays the cruelty of the Nazis has typically only included photographs and descriptions of everything. In Kyiv, it had the expected photographs of concentration camps, as well as actual products of said camps on display.

I had to leave the room once Katya confirmed what something was to me.

3 comments to Chornobyl and Great Patriotic War Museums

  • Ed

    There are many people who don’t believe the Holocaust really happened but I certainly do. It is another example of man’s inhumanity to man like capitol punishment. I have heard that Chernobyl means bad water or bitter water. I think the water probably is bad there from the effects of radiation. I was thinking of getting the Blackberry I am glad to hear it is a good one. 🙂

  • I did a research Report on Chernobyl. It was quite depressing to see the destruction the fallout causes to humans. I would love to someday make it over to the museum. Until then I will just have to read abotu it on your blog!

  • Ed: The most interesting person discussing the holocaust of late has been the president of Iran who one day said it never happened, and then a week or so later defacto admitted that it had… quite the switcharoo!

    Scotty: The Chornobyl Museum was something else. It’s impossible to convey the horrors of it here–some of the photos they had on display were just as disturbing and horrifying as what they actually showed in the War Museum. My goal is to actually visit the power plant one day — however the admission price is a bit steep at $275 or so for one person ($300ish for two).