Historical museums, one way or another, are devoted to the past. At the same time, you rarely find a museum, opening the door of which, you are almost physically transported half a century ago. One of these museums is located in the town of Pereyaslav not far from Kyiv (Ukraine).
Pereyaslav (until 2019 — Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky, until October 25, 2020 – the district center of the Kyiv region of Ukraine) is an ancient town, the first mention of which in chronicles dates back to 907. There are many historical sites preserved here, and in terms of the number of museums, Pereyaslav is perhaps ahead of any other district center of Ukraine. There are places in the town that are interesting for a lover of military history of the twentieth century – the Museum-diorama “Battle for the Dnieper in the Pereyaslav region and the creation of the Bukryn bridgehead in autumn 1943” and the Memorial mound of glory.
At the end of September 1943, the troops of the Voronezh (from October 20, 1943 – the 1st Ukrainian) Front liberated Pereyaslav and seized bridgeheads on the right bank of the Dnieper south of Kyiv (near the Bukryn village). Twice they launched an offensive from the bridgehead with the aim of liberating Kyiv, but all attempts to break through to the city were unsuccessful, despite heavy losses. As a result, a new main attack in the Kyiv direction was delivered at the end of October from the Lyutizh bridgehead, located north of Kyiv. Troops on the Bukryn bridgehead on November 1 began active operations anew in order to divert enemy forces. On November 3, the main forces of the front began an offensive from the Lyutizh bridgehead, and by the morning of November 6, 1943, Kyiv was liberated from German troops.
During the battles for the Bukryn bridgehead, Pereyaslav was located in the rear of the Voronezh front – a strange place to house a diorama museum, dedicated to the crossing of the Dnieper. But the museum on the Bukryn bridgehead, which was proposed to be created back in the 1950s, opened only in 1985. And in Pereyaslav there were people, who were able to create such a museum ten years earlier.
The diorama museum owes its birth to the initiative and persistence of two people – than the director of the Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky Historical Museum Mikhail Sikorsky and the head of the department of this museum Mykola Palaguta. In all fairness, their names should be written in gold letters on the wall of the museum, but, alas, you can only learn about this thanks to the works of local historians and the memories of Palaguta, who was not too lazy to describe in detail the history of the diorama.
It all started with an accident. Looking through the popular Soviet photo magazine “Ogonyok”, Palaguta found out, that at the Museum of Missile Forces and Artillery in Leningrad the diorama “Battle for the Dnieper near Pereyaslav in the fall of 1943” was exhibited. He was able to convince his boss Sikorsky that it would be good to get this diorama for the exposition of the Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky Historical Museum, because the events, depicted on it, took place not far from their town. The museum actively collected and exhibited materials, related to the battles on the Bukryn bridgehead.
But the Leningrad Museum refused to release the diorama. Then Sikorsky turned to the creators of the diorama – the famous Grekov military art studio – with a request to make a copy of the diorama for the museum. Another refusal followed: the studio declared that it does not make copies of its works. But they can make a new diorama especially for the museum for the 50,000 rubles – a lot of money at that time (salary of 100 rubles per month was considered pretty good one). Fortunately, the 30th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War was approaching in 1975. On the occasion of this anniversary date, Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky Historical Museum was allocated 20,000 rubles for the purchase of exhibits. But to have a diorama it needed 50,000.
What ordeals did Sikorsky and Palaguta have to go through in order to get the missing funds! Starting from the banal unwillingness to give money under the pretext “we do not have enough money for farms and pigsties, but you ask money for some kind of diorama panting” and ending with the sacramental “and who allowed you to do this?” performed by a commission from the Kyiv Regional Committee of the Communist party. There was even talk of expelling Sikorsky from the party, but fortunately there were also people, who supported the idea of creating a diorama and helped to find the necessary money.
The diorama was created by two artists from the Grekov studio: Pyotr Maltsev (author of the famous diorama “Storming of Sapun Mountain on May 7, 1944” (during the re-capture of Sevastopol), created in 1959) and Nikolai Prisekin. Together with the workers of the Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky Historical Museum, they visited the right bank of the Dnieper river near Bukryn, made sketches, photographs, asked local residents for the information about this battle. The artists returned to Moscow and began to work on the diorama, and the Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky Museum collected the necessary historical information and materials: photographs, personal belongings of the participants in the battle for the Dnieper, memoirs.
The creation of the diorama took four and a half years. After the completion of the work, the diorama was exhibited in the Moscow Manege for two months, after which it was transported to Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky, where its grand opening took place on May 5, 1975.
The diorama was installed in the building of the former Ascension Cathedral, built in 1695-1700 with money from Ukrainian Cossack Hetman Ivan Mazepa. Unfortunately, the small size of the cathedral makes it impossible to admire the diorama from a proper distance. In addition, the building, almost square in shape, does not allow well positioning both the diorama and the museum exposition – there is simply no place for all the exhibits. This problem was partially solved by the installation of an elevated platform, which made it possible to place part of the exhibition in the second tier. The solution is far from ideal, but there was simply no money to build a special building for the diorama museum.
The diorama is 28 m long and 7 m high. It depicts an episode of the battle of the Voronezh Front units for the Bukrynsky bridgehead near the village of Grigorivka on September 23, 1943 (one of the first crossing of the Dnieper river by the Soviet troops). In the foreground are painted the soldiers and commanders of the Red Army, who received the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for their heroism in the battles at the Bukryn bridgehead.
In addition to the diorama itself, the museum exhibits paintings and sculptures, a portrait gallery of Heroes of the Soviet Union, who participated in the crossing of the Dnieper (those portraits were also painted in the Grekov studio), letters, weapons, awards, newspapers, posters, documents and personal belongings of soldiers who participated in the battles for Dnieper. A separate showcase is dedicated to the life of Pereyaslav under the German occupation and the fates of local residents, who were sent to forced labor in Germany during the war.
An underground corridor (most likely leading from the former cathedral crypt) connects the main hall of the diorama museum and an underground memorial in memory of the inhabitants of Pereyaslav, who died during the war. Unfortunately, the underground part of the exposition is currently inaccessible to visitors.
The main drawback of the museum lies is its building, which is not suitable for either a diorama demonstration or a museum exposition. The question of transferring the Ascension Cathedral to believers arose back in the early 1990s. Fortunately, the local authorities decided didn’t force it, deciding to wait for the construction of a new museum building, move the diorama and exhibits there, and only then hand the cathedral over to believers. Alas, during all those years funds for the new building of the museum have not yet been found.
There is one pontoon section exhibited near the museum itself, and six cannons are located twenty meters away in a separate courtyard near the Memorial Museum of Grigory Skovoroda, the entrance to which is on Skovoroda Street. Among the cannons, one should pay attention to the classic “three-incher” (76.2-mm field gun model 1902) and the strange “hybrid” of the shield from model 1902 with the carriage and barrel of the 76.2-mm field gun model 1900. Unfortunately, it was not possible to find out the details about this gun, so it is not clear is this is a museum improvisation or a real “field modification” of such a weapon. At the entrance to the courtyard, no one checks the tickets.
The Memorial mound of glory is located ten minutes’ walk from the diorama on a small hill on the banks of the Trubizh River on the outskirts of Pereyaslav. If it were not for the cross crowning it, it would have been impossible to guess that the memorial was created in 2000, and not during the Soviet era – it’s style is so “Soviet” (a statue of a soldier with plaques with the names of the inhabitants of Pereyaslav, who died in the Great Patriotic War, behind). An unexpected solution can be called a Kalashnikov assault rifle on the shoulder of the statue instead of the weapon from the Second World War, usually spotted on such monuments.
There is an exhibition of military equipment next to the memorial. There are not many exhibits there, but among them there are three very interesting specimens: a BMK-130M motor boat (used in pontoon bridging parks), a 57-mm self-moving cannon SD-57 and a 203-mm howitzer B-4 with a «native» gun carriage Br-10. In addition, you can see the MiG-15 jet fighter, the IS-3 heavy tank, the ISU-152 152-mm self-propelled artillery mount, the BM-13 rocket artillery combat vehicle based on the ZIS vehicle, the ZIS-2, 57-mm anti-tank gun ZIS-3 and 100-mm anti-tank gun BS-3.
The town authorities are trying to maintain cleanliness and order around the mound, periodically they paint both the memorial and military equipment. The mound does not look neglected — but that is all. The MiG-15 lies on the ground with a broken chassis and a smashed cockpit, the BM-13 engine has disappeared, and the hood is rotted away, the IS-3’s hatch of the driver has been broken off. An additional disadvantage of the exposition is that the technique lacks any explanatory plates. Yes, and the inhabitants of Pereyaslav themselves, who died in the war, definitely deserve more information, than just their names.
Summing up, I must say that the diorama and the memorial evoke mixed feelings. On the one hand, they look like true relics from Soviet times, out of step with the times (even the Memorial Mound of Glory, built in 2000). On the other hand, are there many post-Soviet regional centers with such a set of military museums and exhibitions of military equipment? One cannot but respect the people who, in a small town, were able to create and to this day maintain a museum and a memorial in a neat condition, despite all the financial difficulties.
Museum-diorama “Battle for the Dnieper near Pereyaslav and the creation of the Bukryn bridgehead in the fall of 1943”: Ukraine, Kyiv region, the town of Pereyaslav, Skovoroda street, 54. Open from Wednesday to Sunday from 9:00 to 17:00. Closed for New Years, Christmas and Easter. Ticket price: 40 hryvnia (about 1.5 US dollars).
The space of military equipment of the Museum-diorama: Kyiv region, the town of Pereyaslav, Skovoroda street, 54. Open around the clock and free of charge.
Memorial mound of glory: Ukraine, Kyiv region, the town of Pereyaslav, Pokrovska street, across the street from house number 1. Open around the clock and free of charge.