The Last Soviet Citizen
The only man to remain a citizen of the USSR even after its breakup
The collapse of the Soviet Union shook our world and changed it forever. The long-fought Cold War finally came to an end after Boris Yeltsin’s successful grab for power. The transition from the union to independence wasn’t peaceful, with many states fighting for land to which they had claims on before they were puppeted by the old communist empire, a fight which continues to this day in some of these post-USSR states.
Upon the collapse of the USSR most Soviet citizens, more specifically those who lived in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, became citizens of the newly formed Russian federation. This was the case for all but one man who wasn’t present when the switch happened and remained a citizen of the USSR long after its collapse.
The Space Race
After the United States landed on the moon on 16 July 1969 the Space Race cooled down. Cooperation between the two nations became more frequent with the landmark Apollo-Soyuz mission happening only six years later. As the years went on and the countries went into the period of ‘détente’ in the latter stages of the 20th century.
During this period the cooperation between East and West strengthened, leading to more frequent joint missions between the two enemies and their respective allies.
Even as the fate of the USSR seemed uncertain, the country continued to pour more of its ever-decreasing resources into its space programme. This continued even through the oil crash of the 70s which impacted the petrol-reliant economy of the USSR heavily. By the late 80s, the USSR was weak and close to collapse. Even so, the space missions continued with one Soviet cosmonaut being sent up from the USSR and, by the time he completed his mission, he landed in the newly formed Russian Federation.
On the 18 May 1991, the Soyuz TM-12 spacecraft lifted off from Baikonur in the then Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic. Within the aircraft were two Soviet cosmonauts, namely Анатолій Павлович Арцебарський (Anglicised: Anatoly Pavlovich Artsebarsky) and Сергeй Константинович Крикалёв (Anglicised: Sergei Konstantinovich Krikalev) as well as one British astronaut called Helen Sharman.
The spacecraft was headed to the Soviet space station Мир (Anglicised: Mir). Artsebarsky, the commander of the Soyuz TM-12 spacecraft, only resided at the station for 144 days after the Soyuz TM-12 docked onto the station, going back down to Earth with the incumbent crew. This left Krikalev as the only cosmonaut from the Soyuz TM-12 left on Mir at the time. Not going down with Artsebarsky would mean that the cosmonaut wouldn’t be able to come back to Earth for another half a year.
At the time of Soyuz TM-12’s takeoff, the USSR was on the brink of collapse. After the spacecraft left the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic the situation only got worse with the power grab between all of the factions within the communist empire intensifying. By the end of 1991, the union was formally dissolved with Krikalev being the only Soviet citizen not being present on Earth for this history-changing event.
Due to the political turmoil going down on Earth, Krikalev had to extend his expedition to space. By the time he ended up coming back to Earth, the cosmonaut spent more than double the planned amount of time in space, recording 311 days spent in orbit. Upon his landing, he arrived in a completely new country than the one he had left nearly a year before.
The last Soviet citizen
Due to his peculiar circumstances, Sergei Konstantinovich Krikalev is said to be the last Soviet citizen as he wasn’t present for the union's collapse and thus his nationality wasn’t switched upon the conversion of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic to the Russian Federation.
Once back on Earth, the cosmonaut’s documents were converted as needed after which he continued working in the Russian space programme, performing his last flight in 2005. Due to his extensive track record, he was hired by the S.P. Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia where he works as the administrator of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, using his experience to train young, up and coming cosmonauts.
Krikalev continues to work there to this day, keeping close to the field he dedicated so many of his years to. Although Krikalev hasn’t broken any records in terms of spaceflight his name will likely never be forgotten due to his legacy as the last Soviet citizen.
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