I first encountered Elena Gagarina, Yuri Gagarin’s elder daughter on discovering that she was and remains the director of the Kremlin Museum. Later, my wife would develop a friendship that endures to this day. Elena’s father was the famous Soviet cosmonaut and she grew up in “Star City” the closed city where Russian space explorers lived and trained. Elena remembers when her dad became a worldwide celebrity as the first human to journey into outer space, when his Vostok (восток means “east”) spacecraft completed an orbit of the Earth on 12 April 1961. Yuri Gagarin died during a training mission in 1968. He was 34.
Today there is a town bearing his name, Gagarin (Гагарин). Formerly called Gzhatsk (Гжатск), in 1968 the town was renamed Gagarin in honor of the first cosmonaut who was born in 1934 in the nearby village of Klushino. Gagarin is near Smolensk (150 miles) and just a 90 minute electric train ride from Moscow. In March’s presidential election Vladimir Putin won 59% of the vote in Gagarin.
So a small group of budding protest leaders met at Moscow’s Belorussky Rail Station for the trip out to Gagarin. Minister of Parliament and opposition activist Ilya Ponomarev took them in a (train) car and the group began the ride to Gagarin by handing out flyers to train riders. Upon arriving in Gagarin the group gathered at a park and then began to knock on apartment and house doors in the immediate neighborhood. It was reported that one old babushka (grandmother) was agitated at first but upon learning what the group was doing was said to have exclaimed, “”We must all work together – radicals and liberals – to build a new system! You are young, you are our Russia! “
During the afternoon local police stood by but made no attempts to disturb the event. Locals residents seemed pleased to learn more about the opposition they’d watched on television and accepted flyers graciously, many beginning to read and ask questions while standing at their apartment entrances. Some seemed pleased to learn that the Russian protesters are not simply lackey’s on the payroll of the US State Department.
In summation, Gagarin citizens listened and at the end of the day opposition members are calling their latest effort the “All-Russian campaign” to bring their message to smaller towns and communities all over Russia.