Yuri Gagarin in Ukraine: A story of a Man and a Tracking Ship… To the International Day of Human Space Flight

April 12, 2021, marked the 60th anniversary of the first human flight into space. The name of Yuri Gagarin became known throughout the world. Almost everything has been told about him and his space flight. Even information previously secret has become public. Only the investigation of his tragic death in the last flight on March 27, 1968, remains a secret. 

There are still little-known facts that connect Yuri Gagarin with Ukraine, yet you can find some of them at the State Polytechnic Museum of Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.

Yuri Gagarin's first and only visit to Kyiv took place in April 1966. He came to take part in the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Aleksandra Pakhmutova, a famous composer, accompanied him in Kyiv. They arrived by train on the Kyiv Central Railway Station platform (now the Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi Railway Station) on April 24. The same day, he had a meeting with students in the recently built Kyiv Palace of Pioneers and Schoolchildren (now the Kyiv Palace of Children and Youth). In his speech, Yuri Gagarin said, ’My friend Pavel Popovich told me a lot about the beauty of Kyiv, but what I’ve seen with my eyes is incomparable to what I’ve heard!’

Besides participating in the congress, Yuri Gagarin visited the Kyianka knitwear factory and Antonov serial production plant (AVIANT), where he met with Chief Designer Oleg Antonov. The famous cosmonaut also visited Kyiv school №94 (our newspaper has already written about the visit in the KP №14 on April 11, 2013). Students and teachers gladly greeted him. Yuri Gagarin walked around the city, including Pushkin Park near Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute. 

In Ukraine, the first cosmonaut on Earth was immortalized in the name of the Soviet space control monitoring ship Kosmonavt Yuriy Gagarin assigned to the port of Odessa. It was based on the tanker project 1552 and was completed in December 1971 at the OJSC Baltic Shipyard in Leningrad. The ship is huge: length - 232 m, width - 31 m, maximum water replacement - 45,000 tons. It looked especially impressive when two extremely large and two smaller parabolics "dish" antennas were placed on top of the hull. The crew consisted of more than 200 people, the area of ​​navigation was almost unlimited. This ship was the world's largest communications ship and was the flagship of a fleet of communications ships. Kosmonavt Yuriy Gagarin was part of the command and measurement complex of the USSR and was designed to provide various types of communication with spacecraft. Onboard was the Task Force of the Space Flight Control Center able to fully assume the functions of the Center. By 1991, Kosmonavt Yuriy Gagarin had made 20 expeditionary flights in the Atlantic Ocean and performed spacecraft control tasks.

While the ship was at home port in Odessa, many high-ranking guests, for instance, astronauts, scientists, industrialists, foreigners visited it. The ship had a book of reviews on board that gathered the impressions of visitors. This book is stored at the Department of Aviation History and Astronautics of the State Polytechnic Museum. Among the many records especially memorable are those written by Yuri Gagarin's wife, Valentina Gagarina (1935-2020), and his mother, Anna Gagarina (1903-1984). 

After the break-up of the Soviet Union, the ship transferred to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine. Unfortunately, it was not used for its intended purpose. On its last voyage, Kosmonavt Yuriy Gagarin departed from the port of Illichivsk on June 24, 1996, to the Indian cemetery of the Alanga ships, where it was sold for scrap.

Head of the Department of Aviation History and Astronautics of 
the State Polytechnic Museum Serhii Hrachov

На сцені Київського палацу піонерів і школярівЮ.Гагарін та О. Антонов на Київському авіазаводіЮ.Гагаріна зустрічають вихованці Київського палацу піонерів і школярівЮ.Гагарін та О.Пахмутова (праворуч) у школі №94 м. КиєваЗапис В. Гагаріної у книзі відгуків на судніСудно Космонавт Юрій Гагарін