Without a doubt, one of the most iconic landmarks of Kyiv and Ukraine is the 62-meter-tall, titanium “Motherland” («Мати-Батькiвщина» in Ukrainian) statue, which prominently stands amidst the hills of the Dnieper River’s right-bank, and it is a must-see for all Kyiv visitors. “Mother Motherland” holds a 16-meter-long, 9-ton sword vertically in the sky with her right hand and clutches a 13×8-meter shield bearing the Soviet coat of arms in her left. But as spectacular and impressive as the statue is in itself, it is only part of a grand memorial complex which commemorates the German-Soviet War of 1941-1945.
Located in the southern outskirts of Kyiv’s Perchersk district (Печерський район), this memorial complex spans approximately 25 acres of a hill overlooking the Dnieper River. I had the opportunity to tour the complex with a native Ukrainian through an arrangement made by the NovaMova International Language School (where SRAS classes are held). After spending a couple of hours sight-seeing, practicing Russian, and enjoying мороженое (ice cream) in the nearby Park of Eternal Glory (which also contains a number of prominent museums and memorials), we walked towards the grandiose statue of Mother Motherland.
As we approached the monument, we walked through the memorial’s main square and “Valley of Hero-Cities,” a title the Soviets gave to those cities where major battles were fought. We then encountered the giant “Fire of Glory” bowl (a huge concrete cup that occasionally cradles a tongue of fire), and massive bronze and stone sculptural compositions (named “Fording the Dnipro,” “Transfer of Weapons,” and “Heroes of the Front and Rear”). My experience of viewing these larger-than-life depictions of Soviet strength, courage, and sacrifice was enhanced by Russian military music, which echoed from speakers between the sculptured open-air walls. My guide commented to me in Russian that you just can’t get the full Soviet effect without Soviet military march music!
We also passed the “Exposition of Fighting Vehicles and Weaponry,” which displayed tanks, helicopters, and a jet fighter, but since it was starting to rain, we did not spend much time there. When we reached the base of the Motherland monument, we entered the National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. We passed through the museum doors with a group of Ukrainian troops who happened to be touring the museum at the same time, and our coincidental meeting seemed to make the museum-going experience even more authentically Ukrainian for me, which I appreciated.
The museum is a three-story building that functions both as a pedestal for the Motherland statue and as a home for over 300,000 exhibits, making it one of the largest museums in Ukraine. Upon entering the museum, guests have the option of purchasing a staff-led tour along with an admission ticket. My friend and I decided to forego this option and simply read the complimentary placards and exhibit captions, as well as momentarily listened-in on some group tours that were taking place near us in the exhibition rooms.
I was thoroughly impressed by the size, scope, and design of the museum and its contents. The main lobby is an open area of polished stone with a staircase leading up to the second and third exhibition floors as well as down to the basement, where museum guests can rest at a café modeled after traditional Soviet-style pubs.
All three exhibition floors are circular. On the first and second floors, visitors progress through a series of connected rooms and wind up back at the main lobby. Each room is filled with carefully-placed relics, documents, models, and photographs which tell of the horrors and heroes who witnessed and took part in the German-Soviet war. The entrance of each room also offers placards in English, Ukrainian, Russian, and German, providing a general description of the historical realities. The exhibitions range from an old Nazi airplane and automobile, to weapons, to official documents, to clothing and other personal items. Not only do displays line the walls, but they hang from the ceilings and rest on the floor, filling the centers of all the rooms!
The third floor is smaller in circumference than the others. Atop it is the Motherland statue. It is lined with marble walls on which names are carved and painted in gold – names of more than 11,600 soldiers and over 200 workers of the home-front who were given the titles of “Hero of the Soviet Union” and “Hero of Socialist Labor.” For a small cost, visitors may step out onto the third-floor balcony to view Kyiv City and the Dnieper River. For a greater cost, guests may ascend the Motherland statue and lookout from various view-points. My friend and I agreed that we were satisfied with the view from within the third-floor windows and from the “Fire of Glory” look-out, so we briefly visited the basement’s café and headed home.
Although my couple of hours at the museum were largely spent struggling to comprehend the quickly-spoken, information-packed discourse of my friend and guide, I was heavily impacted by the visual displays and written descriptions in the museum. I came away with greater knowledge and insight into a monumental piece of Soviet history that still greatly affects Ukrainians today. To date, over 21 million visitors have attended the museum, and I don’t think a trip to Kyiv, whether brief or extended, can be complete without a visit to this grandiose memorial complex.
For groups and faculty-led tours, the National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 is a wonderful venue to view Kyiv City and partake in an educational, insightful experience of Ukrainian history and culture. The museum and outdoor memorial sites comfortably hold large numbers of people, and the memorial complex’s location next to the Park of Eternal Glory provides a full day (or multiple days) of sight-seeing and activities within close walking distance!
The National Museum of History of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945
Національний музей історії Великої Вітчизняної Війни 1941-1945
Kyiv, 01015, Lavrska St., 24
Open Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00-17:00
(Usually closed on Mondays)
Admission: Adults: 10грн (~$1.50) /
Students: 5грн (~$0.75)
Staff -led tour: 40грн for the group (~$5) in Ukrainian/Russian
Photo permit: 10грн (~$1.50)
Marie Forney is a Master of Public Affairs student in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, Bloomington. She holds M.M. and B.A. degrees in music theory and flute performance from Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame, respectively, with special emphasis on Russian ballet. Her artistic studies are serving well as a gateway into policy analysis and international development, and she is in Ukraine on an internship program arranged by The School of Russian and Asian Studies, studying Russian at NovaMova International Language School while interning at the Institute of World Policy in Kyiv, Ukraine.