“He was the son of the peasants and his noble spirit arose from the earth,” says Tamara Filatova, the niece of Yu Gagarin (1934-1968), the man who opened the window to the universe 60 years ago after taking the path of sacrifice. “He went from plowing to machinery, graduated from sheet metal and foundry work, then studied at the Flying Academy. His path to the universe was very difficult,” says this smiling 74-year-old woman in the village where Gagarin was born.
Filátova is a consultant for the Gagarin Museum, which has offices in Klúshino and
Gagarin, formerly known as Gzhatsk. Gagarin spent his childhood in this remote town in the Smolensk region – some 200 kilometers west of Moscow – and was marked by the horrors of the Nazi occupation that “shaped his character,” says his niece and daughter.
When the Germans captured Clichino in 1941, the family was evicted from their home, and forced to live a life of misery and trauma in a “Zemlyanka” (underground shelter) dug behind the confiscated house.
The house and shelter, which were rebuilt after Gagarin’s death in 1968, now house personal belongings and family photos. In front of the wooden house, Filatova tells that, after the family miraculously survived the war, they moved to the city of Gazazk, about twenty kilometers to the south, where Gagarin teenage and her school years passed. Months after the astronaut’s death, Gzhatsk was renamed Gagarin in his honor.
A window to the universe
Although Gagarin, which is considered with Cluchino the small home of the astronaut, currently has a population of more than 30,000, in 1961 – when it was still Gazzk – it was hardly inhabited by 9,000 people. It was founded more than three centuries ago by the Russian Emperor Peter the Great, who in turn set up Saint Petersburg to “open a window to Europe”.
“Following this tradition, Gagarin opened a window to the universe” on April 12, 1961 when he became the first man to fly into space, jokes Filatova. Filátova, who was born when Gagarin was thirteen years old, heard the news of her relative’s journey when she was 14.
“For me, even now, the universe is a hostile, uninhabitable and dangerous space. At that time, it was a kind of terrible black hole that my beloved godfather thought to fly. It scared me so much that I let myself fall into it. The office burst out in tears,” Remember.
He says it was an intense day. When he calms down, join the thousands of Gazans in celebrating his first flight into space. “It gave the impression that no one was studying or working,” he says, referring to that day, especially in the spring, as a testament to the popular jubilation.
After miraculously surviving the war, the family moved to the city of Gazazk, about twenty kilometers to the south, where Gagarin’s teenage and school years passed.
A family surprise
The reaction of the family, who did not doubt his preparations as an astronaut, let alone the flight, had nothing to do with the collective euphoria. His mother, Anna, managed to run to Moscow, where Valentina’s wife was
Gagarin with her two young daughters to help her while her son does “Who knows what the hell in space”.
His father, Alexei, thought it was a joke and “only believed it when the local authorities sent a car to take him” in Clichino, where he was working. Filatova says that although there were now none of those who knew him in life, the inhabitants of Gagarin and Clichino are proud of being the children of the first Soviet astronaut.
In Gagarin, the main street is named Yuri in his honor, although it is not distinguished by anything from any other street in “deep Russia”: narrow sidewalks and small houses. In the central square of the city stands a statue
Gagarin. This is how they see him in his home country: standing and smiling.
“He had a very beautiful smile. The smile, like the eyes, is the mirror of the soul. He was by nature a very charming and energetic person, and he liked people very much,” she adds, his love.
In the statue, he does not wear a diving suit like in other monuments, but he wears civilian clothes, only a jacket over his shoulder. Behind it stands the Soviet architecture dotted around the Vostok Hotel, the name of the ship in which Gagarin circled the Earth.
Vital to the end
The astronaut was very demanding, “with himself first and then with others,” and “no one promised anything they could not achieve,” says his niece. And the vitality that characterized him, which was not bitter until the war, accompanied him to the end, according to his niece, who also remembered his death, a tragedy that even today is shrouded in a fog of secrecy.
“I don’t want to talk about the circumstances of this, because I am completely convinced that it has not been properly investigated yet,” she said, referring to the plane crash that claimed the life of an astronaut in 1968, when the MiG-15UTI was piloting the plane that crashed in Russia’s Vladimir region. , Near Moscow. Filátova still did not understand how the family managed to cope with the pain, because “it was impossible to imagine him dead.”