Built inside a century-old church, a space museum pays homage to Soviet feats. But the Orthodox Churches would like to reopen the building to worship.
From the outside, it is a small orthodox church in white and blue wood. But inside the building, in the suburbs of Pereyaslav-Khmelnytsky, the icons were pushed to make way for a space suit, a Gagarin helmet or a slender launcher.
A centenary church become museum
80 kilometers southeast of Kiev, the building houses since the 1970s hundreds of exhibits. Integrated in a set of ethnographic museums on the daily life of the beginning of the century and the Soviet progress, the centenary church of Sainte-Parasveve was transformed into an exhibition hall under the antireligious policies of the USSR.
"Space flights were wildly popular and every little boy dreamed of becoming a cosmonaut"adds Sergui Volkodav, a young scientist. According to him, the choice was primarily practical: the church allows to expose voluminous pieces, like a model of rocket several meters long or the parachute – deployed – of the hero of the Soviet space, Gagarin.
Gagarin, pioneer of space
A call to Elon Musk
A funny reconversion that saved the church from destruction. Originally, the building built in 1891 was in a nearby village. But the construction of a water reservoir on the Dnieper, a river that runs through Ukraine, has caused the flooding of the village. Scheduled to become a place to the glory of the Soviets, the religious building was moved and spared water. Born in this striped village on the map, Borys Stoliarenko, a 60-year-old mechanic, does not keep any photos or paintings. "All I have left is this church. The creation of the museum saved her », he confides.
But today, the building is falling apart. Peeling paint, heating is non-existent and guides struggle to mobilize tourists. To save his collection, Sergio Volkodav plans to write to the eccentric Elon Musk, head of the American space company SpaceX.
Symbol of tensions between Orthodox Churches
For their part, the two Orthodox Churches competing for Ukraine hope to get their hands on the building. "At a time when it is no longer forbidden to pray and believe in God, the church must be used as a place of worship", says the priest Mykhailo Yurtchenko, affiliated to the newly created Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church attached to the rival Moscow Patriarchate shares this view. "Of course it's not good"answered Father Feodosi of the local monastery, while acknowledging his helplessness: "It's the property of the state and we are not in a position to change that". And for him, " better a museum than schismatics " of the Independent Church.
The Ukrainian question fractures the Orthodox world
► The Orthodox Churches in Ukraine
Since the unification council of December 2018, two Orthodox Churches have merged to give birth to the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church recognized by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The other Ukrainian Orthodox Church is attached to the Moscow Patriarchate.
Ukraine has about 30 million Orthodox believers.
The Cross (with AFP)