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Preserving history. The new Museum of the Blockade can become an institute of remembrance

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Personal stories from the Blockade – and one common tragedy for Leningrad. How would you tell those to the generations which have never experienced war and know only from books what the residents of Leningrad had gone through in those 900 days?

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That’s the question which has been a hot topic ever since the first talks of a Blockade Museum to be built in St. Petersburg. Today we can imagine what it would be like – the project has been finalized, the location is known and the construction begins this year. But what will the essence of the new Museum be comprised of? Tatyana Bazhenova pictured the future exhibition.

In a few years, this quiet and empty park will become the center of attraction for thousands of people. The future museum of the Blockade will be built here – at Smolnaya embankment. City center with a panoramic view of the Neva. A lot of space for an architect’s creativity.

Ivan Kozhin, head architect of the project: “There are further plans of developing this land. This park will turn into a larger green zone”.

It took three months for Nikita Yavein’s architectural bureau to develop the concept of the new Museum. Hard work paid off – their project won the competition. A grandiose complex with eight towers will spring up at the Smolnaya embankment. Each one of those will be a designated exhibition – lifestyle, famine, fire, grief

Ivan Kozhin, head architect of the project: “Our task was to create different emotional spaces within the Museum. Some high, some low. It is the idea of a modern museum – not only the contents affect a visitor, but the building itself too”

Underground exhibition halls, green zone with an outside expo and parking – all are part of the blueprint. The building will look like a hill with a staircase. The concept was called “The city which survived”

Nikita Yavein, head of architectural bureau: “We aimed at collecting emotions invoked by the Blockade. As well as combining something which cannot be combined – different approaches and feelings. Its history, timeline and emotions – so that one understands the horror of those events”

For Yavein’s colleagues this is not just a professional matter. It’s personal too.

Ivan Kozhin, head architect of the project: “My grandmother lived through the Blockade. Nikita Igorevich’s mother survived it; she’s now 90 something years old. It’s always a personal story”

But how do you put personal stories of Leningrad’s residents into exhibition halls? This is still being debated between the masterminds of the Museum. There have been heated discussions about the Museum’s contents ever since the architectural competition concluded.

Milena Tretyakova, deputy general director, “Center for museum and exhibition projects”: “Its clear that history is being told off the archive materials. Those are paper materials – handwritten notes, documents, decrees. Showing the originals of those would not be interesting for an unprepared visitor. So we’ll definitely have a lot of multimedia”

Milena Tretyakova assures – there will be original things too. The former deputy director of the Leningrad Defense Museum at Solyanyi lane, she’s heading the work group on creating the new exhibition.

The construction of the new museum put question marks over the future of the old museum at Solyanyi lane. There are many issues there as it is – items are crammed into little space and the building badly needs renovation. But Tretyakova politely insists – there can be no competition between the old and the new museums.

Milena Tretyakova, deputy general director, “Center for museum and exhibition projects”: “By no means do we want the new museum complex to be regarded as a rival. It is a research center, which will gather data and inform the people. Thus, we are using the existing museums as a foundation”

The new Museum will not be primarily about the exhibition. More like a research center, which will study materials from the war and the Blockade.

Such is the principle adopted by Israel’s memorial complex “Yad Va Shem” dedicated to the Holocaust. It is visited by a million people a year, but scientific work is prioritized. Historians find new documents and fill the archives with those.

Creators of the new museum in St. Petersburg are convinced that many things about the Blockade are yet to be learnt.

Tatyana Bazhenova, reporter: “while the new complex is gaining a clearer picture on paper, the walls of the old museum at Solyanyi are decaying. The renovation is due to begin in the spring, but it won’t dramatically change the situation. Twenty thousand items are crammed into this historic building. And there’s no talk of moving those into the new complex. Both will be entirely independent spaces”

St. Petersburg residents hope that the renovation will give a new lease of life to the old museum. Its dear to the hearts of the Blockade survivors.

Mikhail Piotrovskiy, director of the State Hermitage: “The Defense Museum at Solyanyi must be preserved as a historic museum. Must be developing. We have to give a maximum effort so that people return to that building – because it is like a monument to the Blockade in itself.”

The team behind the new project plans on gathering the exhibition of things from the Blockade from scratch. Descendants of its survivors are already contributing things from family archives. For instance, medical cards from Mariinskiy hospital, dated 1941, and four diaries of those who witnessed those horrors have been added to the future museum’s collection.

Museum’s creators say that there are plenty of materials remaining all over St. Petersburg. Direct evidence that the Blockade touched just about every family in the city

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