soviet history

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April 12th 1961: Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space

On this day in 1961, the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into outer space. Gagarin, a fighter pilot, was the successful candidate for the mission, being selected by Russian space programme director Sergei Korolev. Russia already had a lead in the Space Race, having launched Sputnik 1 in 1957, which was the first satellite in space. On April 12th 1961, Gagarin left Earth aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft, famously declaring ‘Poyekhali!’ (which means ‘Let’s go!’ in Russian). He spent 108 minutes completing an orbit of the planet. Upon re-entering the atmosphere, Gagarin executed a successful ejection and landed by parachute in rural Russia, to the consternation of locals. Yuri Gagarin became famous worldwide and a Russian hero, being awarded the nation’s highest honour - Hero of the Soviet Union. Gagarin died in 1968 when the training plane he was piloting crashed; his ashes were buried in the walls of the Kremlin.

“Don’t be afraid, I am a Soviet citizen like you, who has descended from space and I must find a telephone to call Moscow!”
- Gagarin to some stunned farmers when he landed

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A very furry story from the history of the space race! Khrushchev’s move strikes me as brilliant: half, “we may be engaged in a cold war, but we’re still human!” and half, “the dogs we sent to space are already having babies. How’s NASA coming along?”

Apparently, Pushinka (which means “fluffy" in Russian) was examined before arriving at the White House to check for listening devices.

Images: Daniel Mogford/Flickr, Ralphdj/Wikimedia Commons, The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

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February 2nd 1943: Battle of Stalingrad ends

On this day in 19423 during the Second World War, German troops surrendered to the Soviet Red Army in Stalingrad, thus ending five months of fighting. The battle began in August 1942 during the Nazi invasion of Russia - codenamed Operation Barbarossa - and Adolf Hitler ordered an attack on the major city of Stalingrad. Stalingrad became a major playing field of the war, as Soviet leader Stalin was determined to save the city which bore his name. Under the leadership of General Paulus, German bombing destroyed much of the city and troops captured areas through hand-to-hand urban warfare. In November, Marshal Zhukov assembled six Russian armies to surround Stalingrad and trap the Germans in the city, barring provisions and troops from reaching them. Many German soldiers died of starvation and frostbite following the onset of the harsh Russian winter, with temperatures down to -30°C, but Hitler insisted they fight until the last man. After five months, the Russian Red Army claimed victory when the remaining German troops surrendered in February 1943. 91,000 Germans were taken prisoner, including twenty-two generals; this was all that remained of the 330,000 strong German force who arrived at Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad is among the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, causing nearly two million casualties. The disaster depleted the German army’s supply of men and equipment, allowing the Allies to gain the advantage, which enabled them to invade Germany and win the war.

“The God of war has gone over to the other side”
- Adolf Hitler upon hearing of the German surrender at Stalingrad

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March 27th 1958: Khrushchev becomes Soviet Premier

On this day in 1958, Nikita Khrushchev became head of the government of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev served as Premier of the world’s first Communist state from 1958 to 1964. He, along with Lenin and Stalin, are the only Premiers to also have been party leader simultaneously. Under Khrushchev, Russia was partially de-Stalinised, which was a core policy of the Premier who vociferously denounced his predecessor’s dangerous ‘cult of personality’. However, the accession of Khrushchev did not ease the tensions of the Cold War, and during his tenure Russia escalated its space program to compete with the United States in the ‘Space Race’. Russia had successfully launched the first satellite, Sputnik 1, in 1957, but now sought to put a man in space, which they did in 1961. It was also under Khrushchev that the Cold War came the closest to breaking out into fully fledged war, with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963. Khrushchev was deposed by party colleagues in 1964 and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary of the Communist Party and by Alexei Kosygin as Premier.

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Снежная королева (The Snow Queen)

69 in x of animated feature film history
Release: 1957
Country: Soviet Union
Director: Lev Atamanov

“The Snow Queen is based on a story of the same name by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1844.

The story begins with a little man, who says he is ‘Old Dreamy’ (’Ole Lukøje’), telling the tale of the Snow Queen. He starts with two children, Kay and Gerda, planting roses together.

On a winter night following, Gerda’s grandmother tells the two children the legend of the Snow Queen. The Snow Queen’s proud and frowning face is seen in Gerda’s frosted window to Gerda’s exclamation, ‘It’s the Snow Queen!’ Kay jokes, ‘Let her come in here, and I’ll put her on a hot stove!’ This angers the Snow Queen, who is watching the children from her mirror, which she smashes with her scepter, telling the ice splinters of the shattered mirror to go into the eyes and hearts of those who have offended her. Back at Gerda’s home the window bursts open, letting in ice splinters that get into Kay’s eyes and heart. His personality changes: he is hostile toward Gerda. The next day, Kay ties his sled to the sleigh of the Snow Queen, which has suddenly appeared.

Gerda goes out to look for Kay. She faces many adventures; a sorceress attempts to steal her memories; she painstakingly finds a boy who turns out not to be Kay; she’s captured by thieves; and whisked far to the North to save Kay.

In 1959, the film was dubbed into English and released by Universal Pictures. This version is introduced by a six-minute live-action Christmas prologue featuring TV personality Art Linkletter. The American version also contained an entirely rewritten musical score and had three new songs in English, two of which replaced the Russian songs.

Hayao Miyazaki has stated that this film is one of his inspirations to work in animation. When he started his career, Miyazaki had a rough start and was thinking of leaving animation already. When he saw The Snow Queen, he admired it and continued working in anime. In September 2007, it was announced that Studio Ghibli will be distributing this film through their Ghibli Museum Library label, and it was released in December 2007 (in the original Russian audio with Japanese subtitles).”

(source)

UPDATED 2/18/17: The Snow Queen is available on YouTube, in both its original subtitled version and its American 1959 release.