Central Museum of the Armed Forces of Ukraine/
Центральный Музей Вооруженных Сил Украины in Kyiv
31 Grushevskogo Street/31 Грушевского Улица
10:00 – 18:00 daily (closed on Mondays)
The grandly named Центральный Музей Вооруженных Сил Украины, or Central Museum of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, offers visitors an engaging and comprehensive trip through the long and storied military history of Ukraine. Far from a mere collection of dates and names, the museum’s exhibits provide a holistic look at how conflict has shaped the unique history of Ukraine—key to fully understanding the country’s current dynamics and role in the post-Soviet space. And with its low entry fee and location only a short walk from Arsenalna metro station, the museum is a conveniently located and inexpensive attraction that students can visit to expand their knowledge of Ukraine.
When the first exhibit turned out to be a big, carved “скала,” or rock, I wasn’t really sure what to think initially. But the opening section about the pre-historic peoples of Ukraine is merely the prelude to the large collection of historical artifacts, which become increasingly more interesting as they guide visitors from the Cimmerian-Scythian-Sarmat period, through the Greek and Roman era, to the emergence of Киевская Русь (Kievan Rus) in the 9th century. An amazingly life-like wax figure of a Kievan Rus warrior—half-Viking, half-future-Cossack—stoically stares back from behind his glass case, standing guard over a collection of information panels detailing the emergence of Kyiv as a place of power in the early medieval world.
Unfortunately, in the next exhibit, Mongol horse-archers invade and destroy most of Kievan Rus, leading into the Cossack period of the museum and of Ukraine’s history. Unsurprisingly, this is perhaps the most extensive section of the museum in terms of information, providing visitors with detailed Cossack coats of arms and many more wax figures of famous “гетманы” or hetmans, who led the Ukrainian people in a series of struggles for independence between the 16th and 18th centuries.
The Cossacks give way to more modern exhibits on Ukraine’s role in the two World Wars, which are worth seeing mainly for the collection of military weaponry. Also, many visitors may not be aware of the unique role that Ukraine played in the Russian Civil War—the post-WWI struggle between the Red and White Russian factions would see the triumph of communism and the solidification of the USSR. As for the World War II exhibits at the National Museum of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, while interesting, they are simply dwarfed in size and quality by the exhibits at the nearby Museum of the Great Patriotic War.
In terms of a comprehensive overview of Ukrainian military history, however, the National Museum of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is unparalleled. Visitors can spend an hour or two in the museum and leave with a greater understanding of the country’s seemingly unending struggle for independence, from ancient times through the Cossacks and World Wars and into the 21st century—the final exhibit, on the third floor, covers the modern armed forces of Ukraine. With a huge collection of weaponry and displays about the role of Ukraine’s military during the post-Soviet independence process, the last section of the museum illustrates that the military continues to play a vital role in the Ukrainian state.
Before leaving, visitors should make sure to stop by the information kiosk near the entrance, and peruse their small-but-interesting collection of history books about Ukraine. I found a very interesting book about the Cossacks, titled “Українська Звитяга: Козацька Доба” in Ukrainian, “Украинская Победа: Козацкий Период” in Russian, or “The Ukrainian Victory: The Cossack Period” in English. The book will not only make for great coffee-table reading—providing plenty of information and illustrations in a tri-lingual format—but will also serve to remind me how a history of conflict has shaped modern Ukraine.
For group trips or faculty-led tours, the Central Museum of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is highly recommended. The size of the museum and layout of the exhibits are ideal for group tours, and the military history of Ukraine is great subject matter for practicing and learning Russian!
Alexander Wilson is a senior at Indiana University-Bloomington. He is studying History, Business Management, Investment Banking, and—of course—Russian. In order to improve his Russian language skills and learn more about business in Eastern Europe, Alex decided to travel to Ukraine. He spent most of the summer of 2013 in Kiev (Kyiv), where he took classes through The School of Russian and Asian Studies at NovaMova International Language School and interned at UniCredit Bank. After graduating in Spring 2014, Alex will start a career in investment banking and eventually wants to go into international business, hopefully in Ukraine and Russia.