On the morning of April 12, 1961, the Vostok spacecraft was launched into orbit carrying the world’s first cosmonaut, Yury Gagarin, a citizen of the Soviet Union. YouReporter users and bloggers share recollections of that historic day and what it meant for the Soviet people.
The first good news since the end of the war
Each and every Soviet citizen felt like they were part of the great event. “My mother rushed out to find out what happened, fearing that it was something bad. But the neighbor told her about the radio announcement on Yury Gagarin’s flight. Mom turned on the TV and we watched the news,” recalls Vladimir Vladimirov.
“My mother was 12 at the time, and today she wept as she was telling me about April 12, 1961. I also read in Yury Levitan’s memoirs that he had to hold back tears only twice during his career as a radio announcer: when he reported Germany’s unconditional surrender on May 9, 1945, and when Gagarin made his flight,” shares anichchka.
People were extremely proud. The flight opened up new horizons. It was probably the first good news since the end of the war. At that time, Olga Khayenko was a little girl living in Magnitogorsk. She was terrified of war: “I was very scared of war, but nobody knew about my secret fear. When I heard Levitan’s solemn and slightly worried voice (everyone recognized it immediately), I ran outside, without waiting for him to go on, because I was sure he would say that a new war has begun. My heart was beating wildly and my eyes were opened wide. The courtyard was rapidly filling up with smiling neighbors who had heard the announcement about Gagarin’s flight. This is how I learned the news, and it made me happy.”
An instant holiday
“Our neighbor, a kindergarten teacher by the name of Yevgeniya Alekseyevna Serebryakova, was filled with noble feelings. She was so taken with Gagarin’s flight that she decided to start collecting information about space. We affectionately called her ‘Our Cosmonaut.’ She was never offended and told us boldly that if she were younger she would have challenged Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space,” writes Vladimir Bayatov from Rostov-on-Don.
Iskander recalls: “I was impacted by space at a young age. On April 12, 1961, my granddad was so overwhelmed by Gagarin’s flight that he forgot to pick me up from kindergarten.”
According to the mother of Timofei Dyakonov, “the first manned space flight left no one unmoved. People gathered together in impromptu festivals with balloons and flags. The euphoria spread like wildfire. It felt like it was a huge holiday.”
“Everyone in the courtyard heard the announcement about the first man in space. The boys were especially jubilant,” recalls blogger sukie_rudgemont.
“My mother told me that on that day people ran out into the street, weeping, and embraced each other. Tables were brought out into courtyards and people brought whatever they had at home for a feast to mark the incredible event,” vodani4_ey writes on LiveJournal.
As in many other cities, people in Brest did not leave the central square until late at night. Tatyana Mukhorovskaya shared a quote from a local newspaper printed in 1961: “When people heard about Gagarin’s flight, they gathered in the square. Most of them were students from the Brest Teacher Training University. They shouted joyously, and everyone was happy and excited. Sparklers were lit. Later some of the adults said that one of the lights fell on a girl’s white coat and either burned a hole in it or got ash on it. When it got dark out, a film projector was rolled onto the square. They put up the screen on a pole and showed films about Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, a pioneer of rocketry and astronautic theory.”
Deeds big and small
Although it was a work day, people ran out into streets. They celebrated as if it was a national holiday. Dmitry Yasenkov’s grandmother recalls: “The managers of the Mosfilm studios announced that this wonderful day is very important for the country. A larger bonus than usual was given to those who met and surpassed their work quota on April 12, 1961.”
Georgy Andreyev from Vologda writes that some people did surpass their usual work quota that day: “On April 12, after hearing about Gagarin’s flight, senior engine driver Mikhail Shmargunov, assistant engine driver Sergei Vorobyov and stoker Yury Tsvetkov decided to mark the event by driving a freight train that was 400 tons heavier than the norm ahead of schedule … Fitter Sergei Kurkov phoned the editorial board of the newspaper Krasny Sever at 10:30 in the morning: ‘I am deeply impressed by our scientific achievements! It makes you want to do something heroic too!’ … A spontaneous demonstration was held at the main administration building of a ship repair plant. ‘We will work ten times harder now to reach our targets ahead of schedule,’ the workers said. ‘We will do our utmost to emulate the heroism of cosmonauts.'”
“After hearing the news on the radio, a medical student named Yury Sitsilo registered the frequency of the spacecraft and transmitted the happy news to the Stalingrad Region, to a friend in Bulgaria and an acquaintance in Hungary, and heard the word ‘moon.’ Congratulations came in from foreign ham radios, and many said the Soviet Union would soon make a moon landing,” Georgy Andreyev writes.
“I was six at the time and was living in Kuibyshev. My mom came to pick me up from the kindergarten. She was brimming with happiness. She told me about Gagarin’s flight and said on our way back home that I should do something equally heroic today. So on that day I lit the gas stove with a match for the first time,” writes 4may.
The news even disrupted classes, writes Vladimir Sokolov: “After the announcement, the radio broadcast was switched to Red Square where people flocked with banners that read ‘Yury is a hero’ and ‘Everyone into space!’ Of course, classes were disrupted, and the teachers did their best to answer our questions. We were dismissed an hour earlier than usual. It was surreal. We felt like we were in a dream and that we’d wake up any minute.”
Blogger jkl_jkl was in school when the announcement was made: “The radio was turned on full blast during class and we heard a bouncy, youthful voice say: ‘Dear compatriots.’ We liked the voice and we thought Major Gagarin must be very handsome. And then the principal said classes were over for the day and that everyone can go home to watch the news on TV.”
Vladimir Sychev’s father Vyacheslav was in the library when the announcement was made: “On the morning of April 12, 1961, I went to the science hall of the Lenin Library to work on my dissertation. Suddenly we heard strange noises outside. We looked out and saw a large group of people, about a hundred, walking in Mokhovaya Street from the Moskva River by the Kremlin. They were probably medical students because they were in white coats on which they painted: ‘Hooray, we are in space!’ One man had a large piece of Whatman paper that said ‘Hooray for Belka, Strelka and Gagarin!’ We had no idea what it all meant. We ran outside and everything became clear: one of ours flew into outer space.”
Yury becomes a popular name
Songs were written and films made about Gagarin, and young parents named their sons Yury. “I was born on April 12, two years after the first manned flight. That’s why I was named Yury. We had an album with pictures of Gagarin. As a boy I liked all his photos – I think my mom collected them, although she was not fanatical about it. When Gagarin died, we went to our neighbors to watch his funeral, because we didn’t have a TV at the time,” writes Nevtemu.
“My parents got married on April 12, 1961. When the ceremony was over, they said that their child would be a cosmonaut. But three years later they had me, a girl,” writes orang_m.
Sergei Volkov writes: “I can tell you about the first man in space only by what my family told me. It was an important day in the history of the Soviet Union. The world was eagerly following the news about the spacecraft with a man on board. It lasted an hour and a half, and all the while people waited for the news about its landing. Some did not believe that you can fly in space and return safely. Today the phrase ‘Let’s go!’ is famous across the world. After Gagarin’s flight, many newborns in the Soviet Union were named Yury, and streets and squares were named after him too.”
Fifty years later
On April 5, 2011, a rocket carrying the Soyuz TMA-21 “Gagarin” spacecraft was launched from the Baikonur space center. It was named in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first man in space.
The crew of the spacecraft was given a film, Yury Gagarin’s 108 Minutes, made by students of the Moscow Aviation Institute and the youth team of the Russian Aerospace Initiative NGO, recalls Arseny Ustinov.