Viktor Porokhnya tells about his friendship with Gagarin

12 October 2021

Viktor Porokhnya tells about his friendship with Gagarin

“Smolenskaya Gazeta” newspaper continues issuing publications basing on interviews taken during the radio marathon "Forever the First" that is dedicated to the anniversary of Yury Gagarin's flight into space. On the Cosmonautics Day the journalists of the “Smolenskaya Vesna” media talked to cosmonauts, people who study the history of the first flight and the life of the first cosmonaut of the planet Earth. Of course, among the most interesting interviews there are with those who knew Gagarin personally. Viktor Porokhnya – Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, Honored Worker of Physical Culture, honored worker of higher professional education, full member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after Tsiolkovsky and the Academy of Military Historical Sciences, author of more than 100 scientific papers, is one of them. And besides, Viktor Sidorovich is the classmate of Yury Gagarin: they studied together at the Saratov Industrial College, and then they were friends for a long time...

Craving for aviation

– Viktor Sidorovich, let's start from the very beginning – how you met Yury Alekseevich Gagarin...

– Fate brought us together seventy years ago at Saratov industrial technical school. We are of the same age: Yura is three months and four days older than me. He graduated from Lyubertsy industrial school, I graduated from Debaltsevsky industrial school, we got the fifth labor grade, and we, as excellent students, were sent to improve our qualifications to Saratov industrial technical school. We ended up in the same group and lived in one dormitory room for four years. There were thirty-five of us in the group: those who fought at War, and those who already worked as masters of industrial training, and in production – I mean elder people, those who were for us at the same level as the teachers, and it was very difficult to learn for them then. Because of this, only fifteen people graduated from the technical school, six of them with honors, including me and Yura. Mathematics was hard for me due to the fact that I played football – football fascinated me more and more, and I could even be expelled from the first year. Yura, who had excellent knowledge of arithmetic, mathematics, higher mathematics, helped me, and we graduated from the first year with him, receiving honorary diplomas. So that was how Yura saved me.

I must say that we also had peculiar craving for aviation. We both got into the occupation almost at the same time during the Great Patriotic War: Smolensk region, my Donbass - almost at the same time. And, of course, we experienced hunger, cold and humiliation... And the first, who liberated us, it was the aviation, then the artillery, infantry, and we really fell in love with those pilots who set us free. But we came to Saratov to study something else, we came to study molding, foundry and metallurgy. We were preparing to become technicians, foundry technologists, masters of industrial training in industry schools. In our technical school, in which mainly children studied, the DOSAAF pilot department of the Atkar training center was opened, and we went there to study – we remembered who set us free. But everyone who went there began to pay a little less attention to the disciplines for which we were sent to the Saratov Industrial School. The management of the technical school realized this and eliminated this department.

However, our first contact with aviation happened: we studied the M-11 engine, the Yak-18 aircraft. But, you know, if we had graduated from this department, Yura would not have become the cosmonaut, because after graduation we would have been sent to study at the Krasnokutsk Civil Air Fleet School, and by the decision of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, only those who piloted jet high-speed aircraft, could become cosmonauts. That is, we would remain in civil aviation.

First steps towards cosmonautics

– Viktor Sidorovich, now it sounds like a paradox: if Gagarin had studied flight science further, he would not have become a cosmonaut...

– That is true: he could go to civil aviation, no one thought about cosmonautics then! However, the following happened to us at the technical school. Nikolay Moskvin, who graduated from Warsaw University in 1904 taught us physics. He called everybody “citizens”: his colleagues were “citizens,” and so were we, but he knew physics very well! He created a physics circle, and I do not know why, but it was Yury, after several classes, that he made the leader of this circle. And once, when the conference of the circle was being prepared, he gave Yura the task to prepare a report about Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and his spacecraft. And that was how Yura discovered cosmonautics.

I want to jump a little ahead at once – to the time when Yura flew. I was, as they say, here and there, but how to meet him? We talked, corresponded, I was in Chkalov in 1956, this is now Orenburg, where he was at the school, and we met, but here – nothing! And then I worked in the Pavlodar football team as a senior coach – after I finished playing and was prompted to turn to Boris Pastukhov, who later became the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Komsomol, and then he was the first secretary of the Moscow City Komsomol Committee. They told me: "Go to him, he will help you." I came to him and told him everything, showed the pictures I had with me, and he said that he would help me. He said that he would phone to Kaluga, where Yura was supposed to come on June 13, 1961, to lay the foundation for the Tsiolkovsky Museum of Cosmonautics, said that he would give me the travel certificate, they would meet me there, accommodate me and I could meet Yura. The most interesting thing is that June 13 is my birthday ... I arrived, they placed me, the next day they took me to the military airfield where Yura flew. As soon as he saw me, everything was put aside: we hugged, talked for fifteen to twenty minutes, he gave me all the contacts, told me where to call, how to meet, and so on. And that's all, I never saw Yura – only at the museum's foundation, and then he was taken to the regional party committee for lunch, and immediately after that he flew away...

But let’s go back to Saratov. In general, when we were "excommunicated" from the pilots' compartment, we continued to study, and everything was fine. At that time, those who received a diploma with honors could get into the five percent of graduates who, after graduating from a technical school, could enter any institute without exams. We decided that if we hit this five percent, then we would go to the Moscow Institute of Steel, Alloys and Gold. Unfortunately, we were not included in this list: masters of industrial training were needed, and we all already received our directions.

This moment became the turning point for Yura: he chose aviation. In his book "The Road to Space", he writes that Viktor Porokhnya runs in and shouts: "Guys, they are taking fourth-year technical schools to the Saratov aeroclub." We wrote applications, passed the commission, interview, and we were accepted. He also wrote that we thought we would come and fly right away, but nothing of the kind: we had to study, study and study again ... At the end of 1954 we were sent to Leningrad for teaching practice: Yura – to the twelfth industrial school, he became master of industrial training, and me – to the thirtieth industrial school. We returned in February 1955, and we were expelled from the aeroclub because we had stopped practicing. And you know, Yura wanted to study further so much that he went to the head of this club, and he was the Hero of the Soviet Union, and to the head of the training unit. He convinced them all, and he was again allowed to attend classes. However, the classes were rather difficult: we had to write diplomas and study at the technical school – in short, it was a very difficult moment. Yura went through this time. You know, he withstood heavy loads all the four years – our Gennady Grigorievich Sokolov, the head of the department of physical education, liked him very much. Yura was involved in nine sports at the technical school, but his main one was basketball. In his book you can see the photo of the team, he is there at number "five" – ​​the shortest one, but he was the team captain. The coach liked him so much that at the meeting of the society "Labor Reserves" of the technical school, Yura was elected the secretary and handed the keys from the gym. Therefore, in the evenings after classes we went there, played basketball, I played football, we worked very actively and continued until late in the gym. Besides Yura actively worked in the Komsomol, as far as the contacts with girls from the pedagogical school and the pedagogical institute were concerned: we invited them to dances, had fun together...

I should also say that from the first group of cosmonauts who were preparing for the flight, Yura was the only one who survived the occupation. And then he learned life not only from the teachers who taught us at the technical school and college, but also from the guys who studied with us in a group. We were very lucky that we were taught, as they say, on the one hand, by colleagues, on the other, by teachers ...

Yura, you rock!

– Viktor Sidorovich, if you return to sports for a short while, how are you – as the expert in this field, a person who is well versed and made sports your profession – how do you assess Gagarin's sports condition? Could he become a professional athlete?

– When Yura graduated from the industrial school, he asked to be sent to the Leningrad College of Physical Culture and Sports. But it was impossible to send him there, because according to the regulations on labor reserves, a graduate of the industrial school had to work for four years in his specialty or improve his qualifications in his specialty at the Saratov technical school. Therefore, he was not allowed in, although Yura was gifted physically and sought to improve his physical condition. When he came to the Saratov Industrial School, he, of course, also completely devoted himself to studying and improving the qualifications of a molder, a caster and a metallurgist, but he still did not forget physical education. It is important to note: when he was selected for the cosmonaut corps, this fact definitely played important role, because physical fitness was extremely important, and Yura was prepared much better than others. It is not just that he became the first – this is also the merit of the Saratov Industrial School, where physical education was at the highest level.

I want to note one more thing. When we were assigned to the cities, I was in Stalino, now Donetsk, Yura was supposed to be sent to Tomsk, he came to the technical school and said honestly: “I will not go there, I will try to enter the aviation school,” we already knew that there was a military aviation school for pilots in Chkalov. And the director of the technical school then said: “Yura, this is your business. Service is service. Everyone should serve: I served, and you should too. " Yura went to the military registration and enlistment office and asked to be drafted into the army and sent to study at the Chkalovsk military aviation school. The military commissar asked for CHVAU, they gave the go-ahead, and Yura went. And now look how fate pulled Yura to the cosmonaut corps. He went there, passed all the exams and was admitted to the four-year group. And here Khrushchev played his role – he fired million two hundred thousand people from the army, including from aviation. The Cold War flares up, but the planes are grounded – there are no pilots. And the Ministry of Defense made a decision and gave a command to military schools: those who graduated from the flying club in 1955 and entered the four-year training groups, transfer to two-year groups. Thus, Yura was directly moved to cosmonauts.

– And this is not the only such a sign, right? We see the signs throughout his biography ...

– Here the most obvious signs are already seen... Yura married Valya at the end of October 1957, there was already graduation not that far away, and at that time he was offered to remain school instructor. And if he became an instructor, our conversation with you would not have happened. During the family council, both Valya's father and mother decided that they should go to the North, since there was such an opportunity to improve his flying skills there. And here he was already directly approaching cosmonautics.

We studied foundry, molding and metallurgy, we wanted to enter the Institute of Steel and Alloys, and each of us still had his own destiny: Yura was in Orenburg, I was in the Leningrad Military District. And it so happened that in 1956 the Chkalov School and the Leningrad Military District ended up in the same grid of games for the Soviet Army Cup, and we came there for the game. Yura and I have already corresponded, and I went to his unit, Yura was released, and we talked for four hours – about everything. Then the correspondence continued again, and when I became the master of sports, I arrived to Chkalov already in this rank, Yura said: "Well, you rock!" And then, two or three weeks after he flew into space, we met in Moscow. He was already the honored master of sports in three disciplines, and I told him exactly the same thing: “Yura, well, you rock! Overtook me and became the honored master of sports.” By the way, when he was already in the cosmonaut corps, he was in the top ten of those who became the master of sports in badminton in the army championship, can you imagine?

– Yes, this is absolutely amazing!

– He played hockey, football, and basketball - and badminton.

In the future, we also quite often contacted when, as a member of the Presidium of the USSR Football Federation, I came to meetings, conferences, that is, I was more often in Moscow. Yura and I met often: our close friends lived on Nagornaya, closer to Nakhimovsky Prospect, he came there, and we talked. And when it was necessary, as they say, to meet face to face, I stayed at the hotel "Ukraine", and once we were staying there all night, but there were no mobile phones, and when Yura called home, Valya told him and me everything she thought about us. In the morning he took me to the Kursk railway station, and he went to work. ...

This is your Yura!

– Victor Sidorovich, how did you find out about Gagarin's flight into space?

– With the football team "Avangard-Pavlodar" we were at the training camp in Novy Afon, and it was there that we heard that some Gagarin flew into space. My wife was with me at the training camp, there was no TV in the room, but there was radio, and I sat my wife down and said: "Valya, listen, what if this is our Gagarin." We arrive after the game at about eleven in the evening, and Valya says: "Well, this is your Yura, he graduated from the Saratov Industrial School." And what do you think, the next day in the evening two old men, Armenians, come to us and say: “Are you Porokhnya? Could you please come to our village and tell us about Gagarin." We agreed, set the time, we come to their House of Culture, and there is a sign: "Porokhnyan will talk about Gagarin." This is what happened when Yura flew into space.

Well, then, when I was already working in Dnepropetrovsk, at the training camp in Feodosia, the guys run up and say: "Viktor Sidorovich, Yury Alekseevich died." It was 1968 ... I come to the bus, there is no bus to Simferopol, I say to the taxi driver: “Listen, it’s like that: Yura is gone, you see. " And I always had a photograph with Yura in my pocket ... We arrived in Simferopol, I hand him the money, and he said to me: "Leave it." – and did not take anything from me ... Three or four kilometers there was a line to say goodbye to Yura. We arrived, but it was already late - eight in the evening, it was over. The next day, they slightly extended the ceremony, and then we – Leonov and everyone else already knew me, because we communicated - went to the funeral to Red Square. The Central Committee of the Komsomol issued me a pass, and I was able to attend Yura's funeral on the thirtieth. Last year I gave this pass to the People's Museum of Yury Alekseevich Gagarin in Saratov – there it is. Everyone who was there was crying at the funeral, and his death pushed me to take up history, including what space is and why Yura died not there, but in a crash of the MiG-15UTI. Subsequently, I published a lot about space, aviation, Gagarin, and in 1999 I was awarded the honorary title of Academician of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky.

– Victor Sidorovich, thank you so much for a very interesting story! Health and long life!

For the reference

Viktor Sidorovich Porokhnya was born on June 13, 1934 in the Voroshilovgrad region of the Ukrainian SSR. Graduated from the Faculty of History of the Kazakh State Pedagogical Institute. Abai in 1967, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor; full member of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics. K.E. Tsiolkovsky and the Academy of Military Historical Sciences.

Since 1969 scientific and teaching work at Moscow Aviation Institute, head of the department of history of Moscow Aviation Institute. 1993-1998: Head of the Department for Relations with Compatriots in Eastern Europe at the Ministry for Nationalities of Russia (concurrently).

In 1990 he became the chairman of the Council of Historians at the Association "Aerospace Higher Education" (1990); in 1993 he became the member of the scientific and methodological council of the Ministry of Education of Russia. Since 2001 – Director of the Interuniversity Center for Historical Education at technical universities of the Russian Federation.

Author of more than 100 scientific papers on the problems of the national question, science and technology, national and world history, non-ferrous metallurgy, cosmonautics, football. Honored Worker of Physical Culture of the RSFSR, Honored Worker of Higher Professional Education in Russia.

Viktor Sidorovich is married and has a son. He is fond of research and writing, football (for more than a quarter of a century he was a member of the presidium of the USSR Football Federation).

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