Posted: 10.04.2024 11:27:00

This is how the history gets closer

Local history enthusiast from Narovlya Vasily Chaika opened five unique school museums

It is unlikely that he could seriously imagine that the time would come when the world would begin to distort the past to such an extent. Yet, the first exhibition created by the young teacher, Vasily Chaika, had a clear goal — to preserve our historical memory. Military helmets, a radiation ‘gas mask’ sewn by an old woman, scales from a general store, Soviet toys — in his museums the exhibits can be touched, and they should be. This is a good way to have an emotional impact, evoke a feeling of belonging to the past of your native land, and encourage to study it. This is the only way children will learn to respect
and take care of their own, the local historian is convinced.

Vasily Chaika with 4th grade students Konstantin Konoplyanik and Kirill Belyak

'Everyone started talking about Narovlya in Kamchatka’

Once upon a time, I came to Narovlya as a young specialist. On the very first day, my colleagues advised: ‘if you want to know the Narovlya District, go to Vasily Chaika’. Everyone was brought to him: new employees, guests and relatives, representatives of official delegations. The exhibitions of local historians, opened in different schools in the district, have become a source of admiration for the Narovlya District for many.
There have always been children here. Local schoolchildren listen to the teacher’s stories in excitement and climb into the recreated dugout with burning eyes. These school museums contain the entire complex history of the district — from fragments of ceramics found near the village of Demidov, to an accordion that was in the battles of the Great Patriotic War, from a wooden ‘kalyska’ to a photograph of Ivan Shavrei, a firefighter who was on duty on the night of April 26th, 1986. Of the 28 heroes who then fought the fire at the epicentre of the Chernobyl explosion, he was the only one to survive. He recovered from the tragedy and devoted many more years to service.
Today, secondary school No. 2, where we are going, bears the name of the hero. Here is located part of the museum wealth collected by Vasily Chaika. The situation has not changed over the years — schoolchildren cluster around their mentor in admiration. Except that there are much more exhibits, and the stories of the local historian are even more interesting. First, we ask Vasily, who habitually takes his place near his favourite three-dimensional map of the Narovlya District, to tell his own story, “My home village of Teshkov no longer exists. It was evicted in 1986. I was in the army at that time — in the naval units of the border troops at the other end of a large country. And suddenly everyone in Kamchatka started talking about Narovlya, it was so unusual that people around me were discussing my native place. I did not even have time to really get scared. I contacted the family and found out that everyone was alive. But it turned out that it was impossible to return home — there was nowhere to go back...”

Philologist with a passion for history

He left the village, but could not leave the Narovlya District for a long time. He remembered how, as a child, he voraciously read war books, especially partisan memoirs. How could you get away from these forests when you know for sure that a detachment was based behind those pine trees, and that the partisans were lying in ambush in that ravine?! He wanted to study, remember and be inspired. Then Vasily Chaika went for an education to the philological department — the nearest Mozyr Pedagogical University did not teach history separately.
After studies, Vasily was placed to his native land. He worked in the countryside and in city schools, and then devoted himself to the main passion of his life — local history. “The process used to be much simpler. There was no need for route maps or large approvals. We gathered with our students, travelled to villages, recorded the stories of local residents, and found a variety of artefacts in forests and fields. Now the processes have been regulated, and this is good from a safety point of view. Children often have no restrictions, but not everything may be climbed and not everything may be touched,” Vasily Chaika recalls.
Vasily Chaika walked around a countless number of abandoned huts people had left, sometimes leaving behind real historical relics. Someone brought the enthusiast a stack of ancient coins, someone a dug up fragment of a grenade — and the process was launched. Together with the students, they filled exposition after exposition, looked for new information, and studied archival documents. The local historian is sure, one can endlessly discover one’s native places. Vasily bends over the map, “The Narovlya District is a partisan zone, underestimated by researchers. Starting from here, from Slovechno. The Germans were afraid to interfere: there were numerous detachments there, and famous ones at that. For some time, the formations of Kovpak, Saburov, Medvedev, Karasev, and many future Heroes of the Soviet Union were based. Our geography is like this — a forested and swampy district. To take a breath between operations and plan new ones, this is an excellent place. And the partisans played a significant role in the liberation of Narovlya.”

Secondary school No. 2 named after I.M. Shavrei, Museum, Narovlya 

Student of class 2A Raisa Rusakova

‘First — your native shore, then the whole country’

Here is the chest of a participant in the storming of the Winter Palace. There are fragments of a plane that crashed near Narovlya. And the note from 1986, “I think they won’t bring us back here” is like an inscription from the Brest Fortress, only about a different misfortune that then came to the Belarusian lands. Near the window, there is a whole collection of bricks. Here are the products of the factory of local landowners Gorvat, and yellow Ukrainian brick, created specifically for flooded Polesie, and fingerlings of the 16th-17th centuries. And once, at the junction of the Narovlya, Elsk and Mozyr Districts, students of a local historian found a stone with field signs, consecrated with both pagan and Christian crosses.
Chaika organised a museum of the history of the Narovlya District, a museum of folk arts and crafts, and then wanted to create something so soulful that it would resonate in the hearts of both adults and schoolchildren. This is how museums dedicated to mail, general stores and childhood appeared. For some, scales and weights, Soviet sandals and the ‘Toys for Mischief’ stand with slingshots and wooden machine guns are a reason for nostalgia, while for young people it is an ‘encyclopaedia’ of the youth of their parents and grandparents.
Vasily sees the fact that the exhibits can be touched with your hands as a good educational tool, 
“It is difficult to make a child understand the importance of even the rarest artefact hidden behind thick glass and a lock. It is another thing when they can leaf through a school notebook made from a newspaper, because immediately after the war there was simply nothing to write on, sit at the desk where grandmother studied, twist the bolt of a rifle or touch the dent from German bullets on the flask of a Soviet soldier. It hits home. This is how the story gets closer. Then the child understands — all this is not just lines from a textbook, but what our ancestors had to endure.”
Vasily Chaika is keeping his plans for new exhibitions secret for now. But he confidently declares that he will not stop studying the history of his small homeland and charging his students with enthusiasm, “I have one goal — to preserve history, to make sure that our children and grandchildren do not forget it. And it all starts with such local interest. You learn what your city or village had to experience, and you become imbued with respect for everything native. First you love your native shore, then the whole country.”

By Olga Valchenko

Photos by Ivan Yarivanovich