Well-known hydrogeologist Gerasim Bogomolov, from a humble Smolensk family, began by working in Minsk and, in 1947, was elected a member-correspondent of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus

Life-giving waters of Gerasim Bogomolov

Well-known hydrogeologist Gerasim Bogomolov, from a humble Smolensk family, began by working in Minsk and, in 1947, was elected a member-correspondent of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus. In 1960, he was given the title ‘academician’. He discovered Minsk mineral water, heading Minsk’s hydro-geological team before WW2, and made the first state geological map of the primary deposits of Belarus. In his explanatory memorandum, he gave the first forecasts for deposits of potassium salts and oil. Belarusians’ respect for him is revealed in the naming of a Soligorsk street in his honour: the city of potassium salts workers.

Life-giving waters of Gerasim Bogomolov 

Well-known hydrogeologist Gerasim Bogomolov, from a humble Smolensk family, began by working in Minsk and, in 1947, was elected a member-correspondent of the Academy of Sciences of Belarus. In 1960, he was given the title ‘academician’. He discovered Minsk mineral water, heading Minsk’s hydro-geological team before WW2, and made the first state geological map of the primary deposits of Belarus. In his explanatory memorandum, he gave the first forecasts for deposits of potassium salts and oil. Belarusians’ respect for him is revealed in the naming of a Soligorsk street in his honour: the city of potassium salts workers.

Online, you can read a great deal about his achievements, creating geological and tectonic maps of Belarus, and helping discover our deposits of potassium and rock salts and oil. His life was full of discoveries, inspired enlightenments and wonderful findings. He managed to discover the real treasures! Discovery and prospecting of Starobinskoye potassium salts deposit earned him the State Stalin Prize in 1952. In 1972, he received the State BSSR Prize for discovering and prospecting oil in Belarus. Minsk has almost two million residents today, who drink pure, fresh-tasting water from artesian springs found during those pre-war years, under the direction of young Gerasim Bogomolov.

Yuri Bogomolov, Gerasim’s son, is also a hydrogeologist. Online, we found an interview with him, which states: ‘My father graduated from the University of Mining in 1929. From 1927-1928, he came to Minsk to develop the water supply. All the drinking water in your capital was his brainchild (1927-28). The first well of mineral water was widely known as `Minskaya-4`, and was drilled from 1928-1929’.

Belarusian Frantsiska Vrublevskaya, a graduate of the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages, married Gerasim. Also from Smolensk Region, ethnically close to Belarus, being once part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Belarus held a special place in their hearts.

It may have been Gerasim’s ‘heaven blessed’ work that protected him in the difficult years of his life. We could write a whole book on the subject. His name was and is well-known and respected among geologists and ecologists across the post-Soviet territory, and among the wider world community of hydrogeologists. This outstanding scientist, an academician of the Academy of Sciences of the Belarusian SSR, enjoyed a life filled with discoveries and achievements connected with Belarus. We’ll start from one characteristic episode.

In the face of war

Professor Gerasim Bogomolov left Brest on the fast night train to Moscow on June 21st, 1941. Brest railway station is located on the right bank of the River Bug and, of course, the invasion of the Soviet Union began just hours later. The 45th infantry division of Germany stood poised to force a crossing, strengthened by main command artillery and assault field engineer battalions.

At dawn, on June 22nd, the armed forces of the Wehrmacht crossed the State Border of the USSR near Brest. Professor Bogomolov was already on the Smolensk-Moscow trainline and learnt about the events in Brest only when he reached Kaluzhskaya Square (now Oktyabrskaya) in Moscow, from a speech given by the Chairman of the Council of People`s Commissars of the Soviet Union, Vyacheslav Molotov.

At that time, the mood was positive, with people believing that the war would be short, and the enemy defeated quickly. However, the 36-year-old professor was under no illusions, and felt depressed, understanding the cruel tests ahead, for the Soviets and Germans.

In the 1930s, he had trained in Germany so understood the German psyche, with its high culture and traditions. Invisible forces had caused a clash between our two civilisations: our two mighty spirits. He reflected sorrowfully that they would do better to be enriched, rather than destroy each other.

Rod in the stream of biological currents

Having ‘escaped’ in those last hours before the war, Gerasim turned to applying his expertise with the engineer corps, rising to the rank of colonel. He fought at the Front, finishing the war in Berlin (his name is signed on the wall of the Reichstag!) and became deputy head of the Home Front of the Red Army. During those hard years, he went repeatedly to the Urals, helping the many enterprises working for the Front, in his capacity as a consultant-hydrogeologist.

In 1942, in the North Urals, he helped at the bauxite mines at the `Red Riding Hood` deposit, solving a difficult technical problem, and even rescued a number of mine heads from tribunal execution. During The Battle of Stalingrad, when aluminium was essential for aviation and the construction of aircraft, a catastrophic flood unexpectedly occurred at the mine. Now, as director of the USSR Research Institute of Hydrogeology and Engineering Geology (known as VSEGINGEO), Gerasim headed the governmental commission sent to overview the proceedings. 

Well-known hydrogeologist Prof. Arkady Gaev, from Perm, wrote, “It was war time and punishment in such cases was quick. In this vital episode, Gerasim Vasilievich showed not only the bright talent of a scientist and organiser, but exclusive courage and fairness. His rare ability helped him perceive the nuances of biological currents relating to ore, water streams and metal conductors.

To find the underground source which had flooded the mine, he took a willow rod, holding it almost outstretched, as a divining rod. He walked methodically reading the movement of the rod to find an unexpected and previously unknown karstic cave abundant in water, which had caused the flooding.

The mine heads would have been shot, as was the norm in wartime, and those speaking on their behalf risked the same punishment. It showed huge courage for Gerasim Vasilievich to do so. The mining operation was suspended for nearly a whole year while further karstic caves were revealed. The Vagran River and other waterways were then enclosed in pipelines, but the large water flow brought many problems for miners. Georgy Maximovich created a world famous school on karst science and speleology at Perm University in the years that followed.”

From Smolensk Region to Moscow, on foot

This year is the 110th anniversary of the birth of Gerasim. On March 17th, 1905, he was born to a peasant family, in the village of Sliznevo in Smolensk Province (now Novodugino District of Smolensk Region). Those who’ve visited the area know how beautiful it is, with the great Dnieper, the Western Dvina, and the Vazuza River (a tributary of the Volga).

The Vazuza played an important role in his choice of future life, having noticed, at the age of just 3-4 years, that the small stones he marked on the bank of the river had been carried downstream the next day. He probably recollected that river many times over the years.

Shortly before his death, in April 1981, he told his wife, son and grandchildren, softly but distinctly, “Life was not for nothing. I have to prepare for a long journey. You will live on; the 21st century will be fascinating scientifically. It will be possible to try to understand how the Christian spirit, senseless to pagans and Pharisees, prevailed over logic and law in the Roman Empire.”

The scientist and communist was suddenly speaking about Christian spirit. It seems a paradox. The surname Bogomolov means ‘one who worships God’. He was revealing his respect for God. Probably, he was brought up in such a spirit, which might explain his disapproval of Stalin’s decision to demolish Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

Only those close to him knew of his true feelings. Nevertheless, this sincere belief did not prevent him from being a true communist, serving the party for more than half a century. He believed that a strong party would prevent state collapse and his foresight was prophetical. In due time, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted, “Those who believe that the USSR can be restored are not thinking rationally; those who fail to lament its demise have no heart.”

One episode from Gerasim Bogomolov`s life gives us an interesting parallel. After finishing school and agricultural technical college (in 1922) he went to Moscow, on foot, wearing bast shoes, and carrying his boots on his shoulder. He entered the Moscow State Mining University, having worked his way from Smolensk Region. His ‘Lomonosov way to science’ shows his determination of spirit, like Mikhail Vasilievich, who managed to reach St. Petersburg, from the far north.

In Soligorsk potassium mines

As a student, in 1928, Gerasim, at just 23, was heading the organisation of the water supply in Minsk. He drilled the `Minskaya-4` well, with its huge stocks of spring water, which now satisfies the largest centre of population in Belarus. The world knows very few such youthful discoveries. At the same age, Mikhail Sholokhov wrote And Quiet Flows the Don; in 1912, Igor Sikorsky, also aged 23, as an outstanding Russian scientist and inventor, designed and created the ‘Ilya Muromets’ aircraft. Those were times of courageous aspiration!

The Soviet age was perhaps the most ambiguous in the history of mankind, giving us thousands of outstanding politicians, artists, scientists and athletes. Academician Gerasim Bogomolov stands proudly among them.

Between the Earth and the sky

We can only ponder what might have been achieved if the world had remained peaceful, as the poets of the Revolution promised. What price war: civil and international? Meanwhile, Perestroika (reorganisation) led to rapacious privatisation of state property; who can say what great discoveries may have taken place without such disruption?

Prof. Gerasim Bogomolov lived through three Soviet leaders: Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev. This doctor of geology and mineralogy died in Moscow at the age of 76, on April 8th, 1981. The scientific world remembers him as a founder of the geological service and hydro-geological school of the USSR, as a triple laureate of state prizes of the USSR and the BSSR, as a public and state figure, and the first (and only from the CIS) Honourable President of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS).

Heads of state changed and the land endured upheaval in various forms but he remained engaged in his beloved work. Though the days of Stalin, denunciations were made against him. Fortunately, no serious consequences arose, as if Heaven were protecting him. The discovery of large deposits was convincing proof of his loyalty.

How wonderful it would be to gather recollections from all who knew him! We have heard the words of talented scientist Arkady Gaev. Well-known sculptor, People`s Artist of the USSR Zair Azgur, from Minsk, tells us, “Recently, I finished a bust of G.V. Bogomolov. With all his being, he brought light and love to people, but he doubted that it would help subvert evil. His great energy allowed him to understand this contradiction: encapsulating the idea of the ‘mysterious Russian soul.”

Founder and director of VSEGINGEO

Those who perform great deeds usually gain recognition, but how did Prof. Bogomolov come to found, and become the first director (from 1939 until 1950) of the USSR Research Institute for Hydrogeology and Engineering Geology (VSEGINGEO)? There were other worthy scientists, and this was the first such research division.  He also worked as Deputy Minister of Geology for three years (1950-1953).

After graduating from the University of Mining, he became a senior geologist, heading the Bureau of Underground Waters at the Institute of Construction. Later, at the Moscow Geological Prospecting University, and at the All-Union Scientific Research Institute for Engineering-Construction Hydraulics and Hydrology (1931-1935), and then VSEGINGEO, he brought together a number of outstanding scientists, who founded the sphere of hydrogeology and engineering-geological science. He created VSEGINGEO in 1939, aged 34, having had experience of heading large collectives of hydrogeologists. He had suggested the creation of such an institute at the first USSR Hydrogeological Congress, in 1931. Later, he made various applications to higher authorities, including addressing the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR, V. Molotov: an application which accelerated the development of the institute.

Unusual landscapes around Soligorsk city

The authorities realised his talent in objectively assessing situations and people, clearly and accurately identifying his own position, and taking responsibility, as well as his infinite patience with others and ability to unite people in their labours. He was able to harness others’ hard work for the good of all.

Was he lucky? Perhaps he made his own luck, never shirking his duty or sitting back in leisure. Looking through archival documents, I notice that Resolution #977 of the Council of People`s Commissars of the USSR, in 1939, which dealt with the creation of VSEGINGEO and orders for institute #1 and #2, was issued in just five weeks! (21 days before the First World War began, on September 1st, 1939).

Prof. Bogomolov defended his thesis to become a Doctor of Geological and Mineralogical Sciences on January 26th, 1940, in Leningrad, to the Academic Council of Leningrad’s Mining University. His defence was excellent.

Meanwhile, near the city, there raged the Winter War (between the USSR and Finland). He presented not just a set of scientific works (as was earlier accepted from well-known hydrogeologists) but a complete study, entitled, ‘Artesian and underground waters under conditions of powerful development of quaternary deposits in the territory of the western part of the USSR’.

He further developed his studies at the Laboratory of Hydrogeological Problems of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, created during the war, in 1944.

‘An outstanding expert on the geology and hydrogeology of Belarus’

Colleagues valued his work, and saw him as a talented scientist and organiser. One wartime document, signed by member-correspondents and professors from the USSR Academy of Sciences, in spring, calls him an ‘outstanding expert on the geology and hydrogeology of Belarus’. It notes his activity ‘as head and organiser of research into hydrogeology and engineering geology in our country, solving major problems’ and notes that this ‘should be especially marked’. It commends him for ‘finding a method of chemically consolidating bottoms and practically developing this method in the USSR’, saying that Bogomolov had followed the instructions of S. Ordzhonikidze [People’s Commissar of Heavy Industry of the USSR, from 1932-1937]. It states: ‘He pays close attention to the work of scientific personnel, puts forward and advances new and progressive ideas, carries out major pedagogical work, and possesses initiative and creative abilities’.

From these lines, it is clear that his success was due to merit, not luck. He brought together like-minded people in creating VSEGINGEO: working hand in hand, more than a hundred eminent hydrogeologists, engineer-geologists and doctors of sciences were responsible for many of today’s most useful developments. These outstanding scientists in the fields of hydrogeology and engineering geology worked in Moscow until 1961, in the Golden Age of hydrogeological science. VSEGINGEO was then transferred to Moscow Region and the well-known Moscow Laboratory of Hydro-geological Problems (honouring Fiodor Savarensky) was dissolved.

‘Swan Lake’ and Georgian accent

Various interesting stories connect Bogomolov with lakes, rivers and underground water sources. The Director of VSEGINGEO was made Deputy Minister of Geology in 1950. Attending Swan Lake at the Bolshoi Theatre, with his wife, a plain-clothes officer approached them in the first act, telling the geologist’s wife that he needed to ‘take away’ her husband. At those times, such a phrase would render you speechless with fear, and she nearly cried out in the stalls, trying to protect her husband from danger. She challenged the man with knowing where her husband was being taken, but he calmly reassured her that he’d return Bogomolov after just half an hour.

Gerasim was taken to the Kremlin, and guided through the corridors, until he heard the characteristic Georgian accent of Stalin through an open door. He was told, “You are appointed Deputy Minister of Geology of the USSR. That`s all!” He was back in the theatre before the interval.

After taking a new post, he supervised the search, prospecting and exploitation of oil and gas deposits and underground waters across a huge territory: from Moldavia to Kamchatka. This created the groundwork for the future.

It is said that Gerasim was always available, despite his high position, and behaved in a sympathetic fashion, rather than being self-seeking. In 1950, he headed a Soviet delegation sent to celebrate the centenary jubilee of the geological service of India, meeting the Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru: a first in the history of our two countries. This marked mutual interest in research of oil deposits in India.

Scale of personality

Soon after Stalin`s death, the Ministry of Geology was abolished, and Bogomolov returned to his previous research activity. His knowledge, experience, and intuition found use in the Soviet Union and abroad. He carried out field studies in such countries as India, Pakistan, Chile, Germany and France, and across the Middle East, North Africa and Australia. He was the first to prospect for oil in India, and for ground waters in the Northern Sahara.

He wrote more than 300 scientific works (including 55 monographs) and his textbook, entitled Hydrogeology Based on Engineering Geology, for institutions of higher education and technical colleges, was reprinted three times in the USSR (and translated into seven languages). He taught at Moscow’s Geological Prospecting University (MGPU) and at the Belarusian State University (BSU) for more than 30 years, training 13 doctors and 33 candidates of science. Moreover, he was the laureate of state prizes and was awarded various orders and medals.

Even without knowing much about his academic work, his contacts spoke volumes: Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Abdel Nasser, Salvador Allende Gossens, and Mohammad Ayub Khan. He conversed with many other world level scientists, learning something from each meeting. Nehru`s views on co-operation had a strong influence on him, as did those of 19th century Russian philosophers Piotr Kropotkin and Ivan Ilyin. In his lectures and public discussions, he often returned to these ideas, giving additional proofs of their viability.

Water will always find a path

In 2005, Moscow and Minsk hosted conferences devoted to the centenary jubilee of academician Gerasim Bogomolov, gathering outstanding scientists in the field. Belarusians and Russians who had known him spoke at the conference, and the media gave wide coverage of the event, with publications issued in various languages.

The 50-volume monograph on Hydrogeology of the USSR was released in tribute to his memory, conveying the results of many years of VSEGINGEO research. It was released twice before the close of the 20th century. Candidate of Science Gerasim Bogomolov helped the editorial board prepare the first edition in 1938.

In Minsk there is a monument to the first well of mineral water `Minskaya-4.` It is symbolically that the son and the grandson of famous geologist Gerasim Bogomolov came to its unveiling from Moscow

Symbolically, in March 2005, UNESCO launched the international Water of Life project, bringing to the fore water security within the CIS. Discussions took place at various levels, including at the United Nations, and in the spring of 2007, the International `Future of Hydrogeology: modern trends and prospects` conference was held in St. Petersburg. Participants noted that research in the field of hydrogeology is more important than ever today, since society’s needs are only growing, including the need for drinkable water. On May 14th, 2010, the Russian hydrogeological community founded the Union of Hydrogeologists of Russia, which is open to foreign members of the CIS.

As we see, the work of the academician lives on.

Descendants with Belarusian flesh and blood

Gerasim’s descendants have proven successful in various spheres. His son, Yuri, is also a geologist, working as a laboratory assistant at the Geological Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. He defended his thesis at Moscow’s State University, and has worked in Africa, and in the Middle East.

In one interview, Yuri admitted that, as a child, he listened to stories of his father in his years with an engineer battalion, following the troops, clearing springs from contamination, to ensure a good water supply for the troops.

Researchers Sochevanov and Kekhvishvili worked with his father in seeking out ground springs with a divining willow rod (unrecognised as a scientific method). Yuri notes, “During battle, you need to make decisions quickly, so the question of methods was overlooked. Father found water by using a rod, which moved in his hands in the presence of water. He was a scientist, so he understood that where no scientific substantiation exists, a method should not be advertised. Yet, he continued to use this method.”

One of Gerasim’s grandsons is a successful banker, with three diplomas of higher education. One granddaughter, Maria, is the director of an international auditing company. Another, Yekaterina, heads the juridical department of a large corporation; she has two diplomas of higher education. One great-grandson, Maxim, works for a Russian committee of inquiry. Another teaches science to children of school and pre-school age.

It seems that his determination and hard work have been passed through his genes. Yekaterina, one of his granddaughters, has been professionally engaged in swimming and basketball (as a master of sports, and as a European champion). It’s well-known that sporting success tends to run in families. One grandfather was an academician, while the other was a lieutenant general (Davyd Bedinsky). Both died long ago and were unable to help their granddaughter in her career. She has achieved everything herself, sometimes asking for advice from her father. Certainly, she must have the right nature, but her genes may have helped.

Lieutenant General Bedinsky’s wife, Maria Gusakova, worked on creating fuel for ‘Katyusha’ missiles. In October 1941, in Dzerzhinsk, in Moscow Region, Professor Bogomolov was in Moscow, helping evacuate enterprises, and organising special detachments of self-defence. Bogomolov received the first Order of the Red Star in 1943, and finished the war in Berlin. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren are following his example of success and victory.

By Yuri Vrublevsky

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