The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Sunday, August 16

Cold War in a Museum

It was not high on my "must-do" list, but Anton is eager to take me to the museum. All week long we traded text messages.

If you have never done it, texting takes time to learn. First you must adjust to typing with your thumbs. I have chubby thumbs. Then you have to find the letters that are imbedded in the keys of the cell phone. Remember the old letters on the rotary phones and how they use to be used in reaching your phone exchange? I still recall mine from childhood - Pilgrim 5.

Now these letters are used for texting. For example, to get a "B" on the screen, you have to click quickly two times on the # 2 key. If not quickly enough, you get two "As" instead. And of course this only works in text mode. Fortunately there is a delete key. I use it a lot.

Finally we agree on a day and time. Although it takes a couple of phone calls just to confirm details, we are off to the Konotop Aviation Museum.

Apparently, Konotop was a center of Soviet aviation. A military installation developed and built some fighter jets and a lot of helicopters. An air base nearby trained pilots. Throughout the Cold War, many people were employed at this military center. Konotop was a hub for the Soviet military industrial complex. Now-a-days it has been downsized to an aviation repair plant specializing, of course, in helicopters. The museum is comprised of a small office and five helicopters spread across a field.
"Do you want to take pictures?" asks the attendant. "Do you want to sit in one of the helicopters?" Our admission charge depends on the answers. It is common practice to charge according to functions. I noticed this practice at the art museum in Chernigov. Pictures were prohibited unless you paid an extra fee.

We opt for everything and pay less than a dollar US for admission. Now you can take a look at military readiness circa 1960 in the Soviet Union.

I find it fascinating to read about these helicopters. The tonage they can carry, Their range of travel and so forth. I get to thinking about the troops and bombs they were designed to carry.

It's 1960. The Cold War builds to a cerscendo and then wanes only to build to another cerscendo. John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev are our leaders. Propaganda from both sides fills our minds. American children hide under school desks cradling our heads against the unthinkable. I wonder what they do?

The attendant turns out to be the Director of the Museum. We get to talking. Nickolai explains, "I am the director, planner, worker, everything. There is no budget for more." He takes us on a bit of a personal tour. We get to climb into an old World War II bunker that is off to the side of the field. Two men are repairing it. They are volunteers. It should be open to the public next year. That's how this museum works. Nicholai makes friends and people volunteer. He is an engaging personality. I like him.

Nickolai invites us into his office. He shows me uniforms from the Soviet and Ukrainian Military. A picture frame holds photos of American Astronauts. He is proud to tell me that these pictures were taken in Space on the International Space Station.

Nickolai and asks me to sign the guest book. Many important people, like Ambassadors, Kiev officials and military leaders, have left comments. Here is what I wrote:

I am a Peace Corps volunteer and find your museum very interesting. I see that the helicopters were developed and built during the height of the Cold War. In 1961 President Kennedy had another idea. He started an organization called the Peace Corps to promote cross cultural understanding and peace. Maybe one day, the need for planes and helicopters will cease and they will only exist in museums like this one. Thank you for allowing me to catch a glimpse of the Cold War from the other side. Peace and goodwill...

Jud Dolphin
Konotop 2009

Anton offers to translate my comments into Russian. It's a strange feeling to be at a former Soviet military base surrounded by attack helicopters and talking about peace. But then again, that's one of the reasons I joined the Peace Corps.

The next day they are having a commemorative gathering of men who once worked and flew the planes and helicopters at his facility. Nickolai encourage us to attend. So Anton and I return.

Nickolai is holding the Ukrainian flag up front before about 250 people. He is very pleased to see us and gives us a nod and wink. Later he comes over and gives me a warm greeting with the traditional Ukrainian handshake and an embrace.

The program is a series of speeches and a moment of silence for those who have died this year. Each name is spoken in a solemn tribute. There are seven. I could easily be at a VFW gathering in America. We all honor those who have served.

Anton translates so that I have an idea of what is going on. I am struck by the comment of one older man. He says, "Military people have to do some awful bad things...." He pauses and then adds, "But remember...we are still good on the inside."

As I leave the Aviation Museum, my mind is filled with thoughts of the Cold War, Soviets, and Americans. I think about good people who sometimes have to do bad things. It's sad when people are haunted by the past. And this past was beyond individual will or control. "We are still good on the inside...." I have a lot to think about. Maybe we all do.

No comments:

Post a Comment