50 years have passed since the first men's flight in space, but the "cosmonaut" remains the first thing that comes to mind when asked what you want to do as adult. Everybody remembers the deed of Yuri Gagarin, but not everybody knows and remembers the names of the first Ukrainian cosmonauts. Pavel Popovych, our fellow citizen, was one of the first cosmonauts who made the first team flight with his partner Andrian Nikolayev on August 12-15, 1962. In 1974, he executed a secret order of USSR military command.
"What difficult steps they had to take - Yuri Gagarin, Herman Titov, Andrian Nikolayev, Pavel Popovych. It is nice to have a fellow citizen, Ukrainian Pavel Romanovich Popovich among this star team. He and his partner Andrian Nikolayev conducted the first duel flight. Nikolayev started first and the next day was the launch of Popovich. It was the first time that more than one manned spacecraft were in orbit at the same time. He even played a song from the space and congratulated "Shakhter" football team on winning USSR cup," deputy director of the National space agency Eduard Kuznetsov told.

Back then, cosmonauts were national heroes. People threw flowers on them, every pupil knew their names and faces. Cosmonauts were national pride, says Valentyan Shevchenko, chairman of the Office of Supreme Council of Ukrainian soviet republic from 1985 to 1990.

"I remember on April 12, 1962 I was at a party meeting in Dnipropetrovsk. The first secretary of the regional party department was about to deliver a speech when the doors opened and someone cried out 'A man in the space'. The hall was empty within seconds. When Pavel Romanovich went to space it was a double holiday for Ukraine, as he was our fellow citizen. There used to be a huge interest in cosmonautics. Everybody followed the flights and lives of cosmonauts. All boys and girls wanted to become cosmonauts," she says.

All boys and girls of the Soviet Union wanted to become cosmonauts, except for the daughters of the very Popovich. The younger daughter Natalia says their childhood was hardly happy despite the high-status father. "We saw our father very rarely, as well as mum, actually. She was a test pilot. I grew up at my grannies house, while Oksana, the elder sister, grew up living in a boarding school. We remember only fragments about dad. He did not talk much and never told us anything about flights, though he told something to mum.

He used to say the main enemy in space is zero gravity. He said it was like to hang upside down for two months: head swells, eyes hurt, even thinking is difficult. They used to undergo all kinds of training. Cosmonauts were put in compression chamber and in rotating machine. Nobody knew what cosmonauts might face in space, thus they tried everything. Not everyone could survive the training. They took only those, who according to medical showings had enough health to live 150 years.  However, cosmonauts lived only 80 maximum, I believe the space reduced their life term. Dad suffered severe pain in joints in his old age," Natalia tells.

The elder daughter Oksana was meeting her father after his first  flight.  "I was six and I was afraid he forgot me for three days in space. There were so many people and flowers. I remember he kissed me and then put aside, proceeding to accept congratulations from other people. Then I thought he did forget me and I felt so sorry for myself. After several years, he told me the moment he heard me asking this question - whether he remembered me - he had hard time not to cry. He said he had to put me aside and distract his attention, as he could not afford to cry when there were some many cameras and party leaders. Dad was missing the flights. After the crash of Gagarin, they were prohibited even think about other flights," Oksana recalls.

In 21st century, the interest in cosmonautics has been replaced with admiration of Internet and other inventions. However, every time, looking in the sky, a famous phrase from an iconic soviet movie about deep space drifters comes to mind.

Tetyan Hryhorieva, photos by Maxim Trebukhov


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