Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MOSCOW MAILBAG: Heroes, Monuments And the Imperial Eagle




Heroes. Every nation has them. And when they die young, it seems all the greater a tragedy. John Devon of Pasadena, California, wanted to know about one of the Soviet Union's most visible heroes, Yury Gagarin, and how he died.


Gagarin was the first man in space. He made a single revolution around the Earth in 108 minutes. On March 27, 1968, when Gagarin was 34, he went on a training flight in a two-seater MiG fighter with another pilot. They crashed. To this day, it is not clear why they crashed, but there are several hypotheses: there was an explosion in the air; cabin pressure fell; a foreign object hit the plane; the plane lost speed and took a nose-dive. A final version - that the two pilots were drunk - has been refuted by the fact that both passed a pre-flight medical test.


What about that scar over Gagarin's eye? Apparently, he had started drinking. While staying in a hotel with his wife, he went to see his wife's sister, who worked in the hotel. He walked into her room, locked the door and tried to kiss her. His wife soon knocked on the door, and Gagarin jumped off a two-meter balcony. He got caught in some vines, lost his balance and fell head down on the cement curb. He broke the bone above his eyebrow; an artificial eyebrow was made to cover the scar.


Gladys Clement of Sheringham, England, asked about some of the statues still standing in Russia today, many of which commemorate other heroes or heroic symbols.


My favorite statue is on the hill in Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad. It is a gigantic sculpture of a woman holding aloft a sword, her head turned back, calling on the soldiers to advance into battle. Her left hand beckons, as if to say: "Forward, men!" It is very impressive and dynamic. St. Petersburg is dotted with statues to former tsars. But what I cannot understand is why today on the main square of most cities you see statues of Lenin, his hand pointing toward a "bright future." Can you imagine statues of Hitler standing in every German city today? I can't.


Danny Jamesson, of Runcorn, England, asked about Russia's famous symbol or emblem, the double-headed eagle - how did it originate?


The history of this emblem goes back to ancient Egypt, where, in the 7th century B.C., the double-headed eagle symbolized the merging of the Middle Kingdom and Assyria. Our emblem was adopted in 1497, under Ivan III. Ivan the Terrible added St. George slaying the dragon. In 1625, the three crowns were added, symbols of sovereignty. Peter the Great added the chain with a Russian Order. Under Paul I, the Maltese Order became part of the emblem. By the 19th century, the emblem had acquired the form it has today.


Joe Adamov hosts the English-language program "Moscow Mailbag" on Voice of Russia.