National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945/Национальный Музей Истории Великой Отечественной Воины 1941-1945 Годов
Main exhibition 10:00 to 17:00 Tuesday through Sunday
5 UAH students / 15 UAH adults (guided tour included in SRAS fees for NovaMova)
As a student of Russian and East European history, one of the most interesting excursions I took during my time in Kyiv was to the National Museum of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, or “Великой Отечественной Воины 1941-1945 Годов.” A challenging phrase for beginning Russian speakers to pronounce – and a difficult one for a history student from America to remember, in place of the simpler Western version “Second World War” – the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 touched the lives of everyone in the Soviet Union, and Ukraine was especially hard-hit. In order to commemorate the titanic struggle between the USSR and Nazi Germany, the museum was opened in 1981, along with the accompanying “Rodina Mat” or “Mother Motherland” statue that towers above the Dnieper River. Today, some 30 years later, the museum’s 300,000+ exhibits serve as an informative reminder of the immensity and intensity of the fight for the Motherland.
The approach to the museum leaves visitors in awe even before they enter. The path down to the museum from downtown Kyiv is accompanied by inspiring Russian military music and the impressive sight of the mighty Rodina Mat statue – taller than the Statue of Liberty by a full 16 meters, or 42 feet. After passing a military vehicle park and monuments to each “hero city” of the Soviet Union, one finally reaches the entrance to the museum, where the full name is spelled out in bronze characters. Bags must be checked and photography passes purchased for a minimal fee (if you want to take pictures) before proceeding through the museum’s main exhibits.
My group from NovaMova had reserved a guided tour, in Russian, the fee for which was included in my SRAS program costs for Kyiv. Our guide proved to be very knowledgeable and very talkative, and while he spoke rather quickly, most of us with at least intermediate Russian proficiency were able to understand the vast majority of what he said. Considering the vast number of historical artifacts and exhibits in the museum – the scope of which is staggering, even for someone with a passion for the subject matter – our guide did not touch upon every display, but rather walked us through the course of the war. The key events of each stage of the conflict were explained to us, starting with Operation Barbarossa and the Nazi invasion in June 1941, continuing through the struggles for Kyiv in 1943 and 1944, and ending with the fall of Berlin to Soviet forces 1945.
Along the way, our museum guide made sure to discuss some of the lesser-known and lesser-appreciated aspects of the war, including the Ukrainian partisan movement, female snipers, and the vital contributions of Ukrainian mothers and factory workers to the Soviet victory. No aspect of the Great Patriotic War is left untouched by the museum – fitting given the fact that the conflict claimed the lives of more than 20 million people in the Soviet Union, and forever changed the lives of millions more. The sacrifices and heroism of the war were commemorated at the end of our tour, underneath the base of the Rodina Mat statue, where the names of every Hero of the Soviet Union are inscribed on the walls.
With such an expansive collection of exhibits, the National Museum of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 can feel a bit overwhelming at times, so a guided tour and photography pass are both recommended as ways to help make the experience more manageable and memorable. Also, since the tour was only in Russian, beginning students may find themselves a bit lost at times, but usually someone else on the tour is more than happy to help with translation. And if you decide to visit the museum on your own, make sure to give yourself adequate time to proceed through the exhibits. Two hours would be a recommended minimum; anything less is not only impractical, but almost disrespectful to the lives and memories of those who fought and died in the Great Patriotic War.
For groups and faculty-led tours, the size, low admission rates, and amount of Russian language exposure offered by the National Museum of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 make it an ideal destination.