Space-faring Ukrainians: greatest achievements and records

When people review Ukraine’s achievements in space, they usually ignore a lot of interesting questions. Which Ukrainian has spent the longest time in space? How many have performed spacewalking? What orbital stations have they operated? We decided to rectify this situation.

Україна космічна

Ukraine in space

How many Ukrainians have been in space

On 12 April 1961, the first man entered orbit around the Earth. The history of the space race is a story of great achievements. Nations boast of being first to perform some forms of activity in space, of the duration of spacewalks, or of the number of seats in a capsule. Ukrainians usually have to be satisfied with the fact that they have gone into space at all.

But in fact, there were as many as 20 people in orbit who were born in our country or have Ukrainian roots. Fifteen of them were Soviet cosmonauts, four were American astronauts, and one was an astronaut of independent Ukraine.

Українці, що побували в космосі

Ukrainians who have been in space

Three Ukrainian women and seventeen Ukrainian men have been in space. There were some casualties. US astronaut Judith Resnick died during the launch of the Challenger shuttle, and cosmonaut Georgy Dobrovolsky died during the landing of the Soyuz 11 spacecraft. Another of our countrymen, Valentyn Bondarenko, never made it to space, dying during ground training.

The path to the stars was not easy for our country. Most Ukrainians flew into space as citizens of three countries: The USSR, the USA and Canada. Eventually, we got an astronaut who wore a blue and yellow patch on his flight suit. But our space story began with a song.

The first song in space

On 12 August 1962, Serhii Koroliov from Zhytomyr asked Pavlo Popovych, a native of Uzyn town nearby Kyiv, to sing a song for him. The latter could not refuse and sang a famous Ukrainian song about a person who wishes he could fly. The poem that formed the basis for this song was written in the nineteenth century by a poet from the Ukrainian city of Sloviansk, Mykhailo Petrenko. In the twentieth century, this song became widely known. But Pavlo Popovych’s performance was unique because he sang it on board the Vostok-4 spacecraft. Thus, “I look up to the sky” (the first line of the lyrics) became the first song to be performed by a human in orbit.

The first singer in orbit — Pavlo Popovych

In addition, it was the first time that two ships made approach in space. Thus, Pavel Popovich and Andrian Nikolayev became the first people to watch another manned spacecraft through the window. In addition, Popovych became the only Ukrainian to pilot the Vostok spacecraft. It was just a capsule designed for one astronaut, with virtually no controls or manoeuvring devices. But it was the capsule that launched humanity into space. Finally, he became our only compatriot who flew on more than one type of spacecraft. Later, the cosmonaut made his second flight on the Soyuz spacecraft.

Unusual records

Ukrainians have set many unusual records in the course of space exploration. For example, Georgii Berehovyi from Poltava city took part in the Second World War. Of all the people who have made at least one complete revolution around the Earth, he was born the earliest. He was also the only cosmonaut to receive his first Star of Hero of the Soviet Union before his space flight (there was a tradition in USSR to decorate all cosmonauts with the highest national award — the abovementioned star).

The main achievement for any cosmonaut is the time spent in space and the number of flights made. The leader here is Yuriy Romanenko, an ethnic Ukrainian born in Russian city Orenburg. During his three flights, he spent a total of 430 days in orbit. He also holds the record for the longest continuous stay in orbit among Ukrainians: from 5 February to 29 December 1987, he lived aboard the Mir space station for 326 days.

Свій другий політ у космос Юрій Романенко здійснив разом із першим кубинським космонавтом Анльдо Тамайо Мендесом

Yurii Romanenko made his second space flight together with the first Cuban astronaut, Analdo Tamayo Mendez.

Oleksandr Volkov, who was born in Horlivka (Donbas region), spent the most time in orbit compared to other cosmonauts born in Ukraine. During his three flights, he spent 391 days in space. The third record holder, who stayed in space for more than a year, is Leonid Kyzym from Lyman, Donetsk Oblast. He also flew into space three times and spent a total of 374 days there.

However, there is no clear record holder in terms of the number of flights among Soviet or American astronauts. In addition to the aforementioned, Petro Klymuk, Vladimir Lyakhov and Leonid Popov flew into space three times each.

Ukrainians on orbital stations

On 7 June 1971, a crew led by Heorhii Dobrovolskyi from Odesa arrived at the first-ever Salyut 1 space station. Thus, the Ukrainian became the first host of an orbital home. The expedition lasted 23 days, after which the astronauts returned to Earth. However, during the landing, the capsule depressurised, and all three astronauts died of decompression.

Стикування зі станцією «Салют-1»

Docking with the Salyut 1 station. Source:

Pavlo Popovych became the first ever commander of the Salyut-3 combat space station, built under a secret Soviet programme. Its crew was supposed to monitor the territory of NATO countries from orbit. In addition, paranoid Soviets believed that the reusable Space Shuttle could capture their spacecraft. Therefore, the station was equipped with an automatic 14.5 mm cannon.

In 1986, Leonid Kyzym, who we already knew, flew into space for the third time as commander of the Soyuz T-15 spacecraft. This flight was notable for the fact that it was the first time that the spacecraft flew between two space stations. First, he and Vladimir Solovyov became the first people to board the brand-new Mir space station. Then the astronauts undocked from it and flew to another station, Salyut 7. There, they took some instruments and equipment and returned to Mir.

The first Ukrainian woman in orbit

The first Ukrainian woman in orbit deserves a separate story. Two countries are competing to call Judith Resnik their first astronaut: Ukraine and Israel. Her grandfather, Jacob Resnick, was a Jewish man from Kyiv who once emigrated to Palestine, and her parents moved to the United States. Judith graduated as an engineer and on 30 August 1984 became the second woman to fly on the Space Shuttle.

There is still no consensus on whether to consider Resnik a Ukrainian, a Jew, or an American. Therefore, Roberta Lynn Bondar, who also became Canada’s first female astronaut, is often considered the first Ukrainian woman in orbit. This neurologist flew into space on 22 January 1992 aboard the US shuttle Discovery.

Роберта Лінн Бондар під час польоту на шаттлі

Roberta Lynn Bondar during a Shuttle flight. Source:

Ukrainian spacewalkers

To date, six Ukrainians have made a spacewalk. Yuriy Romanenko was the first to do so on 10 December 1977. Together with Georgy Grechko, they took part in off-ship activities at the Salyut 6 station and inspected one of the docking units. The flight was also interesting because these two cosmonauts were the first to celebrate the New Year in space.

The first record for the duration of off-ship activity among Ukrainians was set on 22 November 2008. An American of Ukrainian descent, Heidi Maria Stefanyshyn-Piper, performed a spacewalk lasting 6 hours and 57 minutes. In total, she made 5 spacewalks. Their total time is 33 hours and 42 minutes.

However, Anatolii Arcebarskyi from the village of Prosiana (Dnipro region), is only 8 minutes behind her. On 27 July 1991, he spent 6 hours and 49 minutes in outer space. The total time of his off-ship activities is 32 hours and 17 minutes. This cosmonaut has made six spacewalks during one flight.

Leonid Kyzym holds the record for the number of spacewalks among Ukrainians. He has seven spacewalks to his credit. However, their duration was much shorter, so the total time of his off-ship activities is 31 hours and 40 minutes.

Українці у відкритому космосі

Ukrainian spacewalkers

The first astronaut of independent Ukraine

It is not easy to identify who was the first astronaut of independent Ukraine. The fact is that Oleksandr Volkov from the city of Horlivka went on his third space flight on 4 October 1991. At that time, Ukraine had already declared its independence, but the USSR still existed formally.

Volkov stayed in orbit until 25 March 1992. During this time, a referendum in support of independence was held in Ukraine, and the leaders of the three already independent states signed a treaty in Bialowieza Forest to dissolve the Soviet Union. So he returned to Earth as a citizen of Ukraine, and therefore technically the first Ukrainian cosmonaut.

But if we are talking about the first Ukrainian to wear the flag of independent Ukraine on his space suit, it was Leonid Kadenyuk from Chernivtsi region. He launched into space on 19 November 1997 aboard the Columbia shuttle and spent 15 days outside the atmosphere.

Леонід Каденюк — перший космонавт незалежної України
Leonid Kadeniuk is the first astronaut of independent Ukraine. Source: Wikipedia

Leonid Kadeniuk is still the only astronaut of independent Ukraine. But this does not mean that he will be our last space explorer. Elon Musk recently said that he would like to see Ukrainians on the International Space Station instead of Russians. And who knows, maybe someday Ukrainian spacecraft will dock with Ukrainian orbital stations. Our journey into space is just beginning.