On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person to fly to space. His flight lasted 108 minutes as he circled the Earth in Soviet Union’s Vostok spacecraft. Following the flight, Gagarin became an international hero and travelled around the world as part of a ‘Peace Mission’ advocating for global peace and cooperation from 1961-1965. He visited 32 countries including Sri Lanka and met with Heads of State, politicians, artistes and people on the streets. Upon his visit, Gagarin was garlanded by Magilin Nona, a national heroine at the time. More than 5000 people gathered to catch a glimpse of this great human being. During his visit, Gagarin travelled to the South, Central highlands, Anuradhapura and Colombo prior to bidding farewell to Sri Lanka.
In view of the 60th Anniversary of his spaceflight and visit to Ceylon, the Russian Cultural Centre recently held a two-day exhibition of stamps, newspaper articles and exclusive photos to celebrate the world’s first cosmonaut.
“The exhibition comprised three parts and the most important feature was the collection of stamps which is a personal collection by Anura Samaraweera,” opined Anastasia Khokhlova, First Secretary of the Embassy of the Russian Federation. “The other two parts included newspapers and photos collected from national archives capturing the arrival of the first man who landed in space. There were photos of him meeting Sirimavo Bandaranaike and other distinguished individuals. The other part comprised photos of Yuri Gagarin and his personal life and him preparing for the flight collected by Russian news agency RIA Novosti.”
There were colourful stamps from countries such as Northern Europe and different themes. Yuri Gagarin’s collection was one of them.
“We are extremely grateful to Mr. Samaraweera for setting an example to the younger generation because stamp collecting is not a popular hobby anymore. It is something unique and meaningful for children in the Facebook era,” she added.
When asked about expanding the exhibition, Khokhlova further said that plans are underway to make it more interesting for the public. “We will organise a postcard and envelope exhibition during the Russian Cultural Festival which will take place in October. The Festival that took place prior to the pandemic was a huge success. This year we mark the 80th anniversary of World War II which is an important event for Russian people and we hope to mark it in a grand scale.”
For Anura Samaraweera, philatelic journalist and member of the International Association of Philatelic Journalists, winning a gift pack of stamps at a competition was his inspiration to start stamp collecting at an early age. “There was a supplement called Lapati Pela in the Dawasa newspaper and I remember sending answers to a quiz,” recalled Samaraweera in an interview with Daily Mirror Life. “The gift pack included 25 stamps of Soviet countries. This is what inspired me to take up stamp collecting as a hobby. After some time I moved to Colombo for work and bought a stamp album. Thereafter I started collecting used stamps and also got involved in exchanging stamps as well.”
“There were colourful stamps from countries such as Northern Europe and there were different themes. Yuri Gagarin’s collection was one of them. There was a close connection with Soviet nations such as Russia, Bulgaria and stamps were being issued to mark various historic milestones. Back then we also had pen pals and did exchanges with them as well. Many were from Europe and Soviet countries,” he added.
With his interests, Samaraweera was determined to master his newfound hobby and started penning books on stamps back in 1984 while being employed at the Postal Department as a Postal Officer. As such, he has contributed many articles to children’s papers including Mihira, Bindu and Navayugaya. In future, Samaraweera aspires to take philately to newer heights by collaborating with philatelic societies in countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Philippines.
Pics by Kithsiri