Kiev’s main war museum is part of a large complex that covers 10 hectares on the high western bank of the Dnieper River. The museum is housed in the pedestal of the 62-m-tall Motherland statue, which dominates the skyline of the surrounding area, and the complex also includes a number of sculptural compositions, an open-air display of military hardware and a museum dedicated to post-WWII conflicts, particularly the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The first State Museum dealing with the war opened in Kiev in 1974, but it quickly became clear that the museum building was too small and planning for the current complex began. The official opening took place on May 9, 1981.
The Motherland statue was designed by Yevgeny Vuchetich, who also worked on the Motherland Calls statue in Volgograd and the Soviet memorial in Treptower Park in Berlin. It is made from stainless steel and weighs about 500 tons, with the 16-m-long sword alone weighing 9 tons. There are two viewing platforms, at heights of 36 m and 91 m from the ground, although the elevators were closed on both my visits (September 2008 and June 2012).
The museum is located in the pedestal of the statue and covers 16 rooms, arranged over two floors in a circular pattern around a central atrium. The exhibits in these room examine the war chronologically. The ground floor halls are:
- Hall No. 1: The beginning of World War II
- Hall No. 2: Operation Barbarossa and the start of the Great Patriotic War
- Hall No. 3: The Defence of Kiev, June—September 1941
- Hall No. 4: The Siege of Odessa, the battles in Eastern Ukraine, the Defence of Moscow, the Siege of Leningrad, the Arctic Front
- Hall No. 5: The Crimean Peninsula, the Defence of Sevastopol and Kerch
- Hall No. 6: The Nazi Occupation Regime
- Hall No. 7: The Occupation Regime in Ukraine
- Hall No. 8: The Ukrainian Resistance and Underground
- Hall No. 9: The Contribution of Ukrainian Economy, Science and Culture
The halls on the first floor are arranged as follows:
- Hall No. 10: The Battles of Stalingrad, the Caucasus and Kursk
- Hall No. 11: The crossing of the Dnieper and the Liberation of Kiev
- Hall No. 12: The Final Liberation of Ukraine
- Hall No. 13: The Final Defeat of Germany and Japan and the End of the War
- Hall No. 14: The Hall of Memory
The central atrium of the first floor contains the Hall of Glory, in which the names of almost 12,000 people who were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union for actions during the war are engraved on white marble pillars. The Order of Victory is displayed on the ceiling, surrounded by a mosaic frieze. The museum also has a hall for temporary exhibits and a cinema hall. An English-language information sheet is provided in each of the exhibition halls, giving at least a brief overview of the exhibits. The museum is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm every day except Monday. The admission fee is 10 UAH (~€1), with a photography permit costing an additional 15 UAH.
There are two large monuments on the grounds of the museum complex. The first comprises an alley with sculptures representing the defence of the Soviet borders, the activities of partisans and the underground and workers in factories behind the front. The second represents the crossing of the Dnieper in 1943. The Alley of Hero Cities features a series of stones representing the 13 Hero Cities of the Soviet Union.
The display of military vehicles and hardware beside the museum features a wide range of exhibits, including civil-war-era armoured cars; the usual selection of WWII tanks, Katushyas, etc.; an armoured train; a gunboat from the Dnieper Flotilla and a range of more modern tanks, jet fighters, helicopters and missiles. The admission fee of just 3 UAH (€0.30) is an absolute bargain, and for an additional 5 UAH, visitors can climb inside several of the machines: a Mil Mi-24 attack helicopter, a Lisunov Li-3 transport plane and a MiG-23 fighter. The exhibit is open daily from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Beside the main museum, a second building features two exhibits. The first, “Tragedy and Valor of Afghanistan,” focuses on the ill-fated Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979—1989, while “Wars on Foreign Soil” examines the experiences of Soviet and Ukrainian forces in other post-WWII conflicts across the globe. The museum opens from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Wednesday to Sunday, with an admission fee of 5 UAH.
The museum complex is not directly served by the Kiev metro, although the Арсенальна (Arsenala), Днiпро (Dnipro) and Печерська (Pecherska) stations are all relatively close by. From Арсенальна, bus no. 24 and trolleybus no. 38 both go to the complex. The museum is beside another of Kiev’s most-visited sites, the Caves Monastery (Печерська лавра). The pathway between the two sites is lined with kiosks selling snacks, drinks and souvenirs.