Men’s Day and Russia’s most influential men of the centennial

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February 23, 2015
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People laying flowers to the tomb of Yuri Gagarin, near the Kremlin Wall © Aleksei Nikolsky, RIA Novosti

To mark the Defender of the Fatherland Day – also known as “Men’s Day” – thinkRUSSIA looks at the most influential men of the past 100 years known for their outstanding achievements and contributions to society

On 23 February, Russia widely celebrates the Defender of the Fatherland Day, or Men’s Day as it’s informally known. The holiday commemorates the first mass draft into the Red Army and praises men’s courage and bravery. thinkRUSSIA pays homage to some of Russia’s most influential men of the centennial and invites you to learn more about the men who left their mark on world history. 

Yuri Gagarin – First man in space

This historic moment took place on 12 April 1961 when a 27-year-old Russian pilot named Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, orbiting the Earth during a 108-minute flight. He was the first man to realise that our planet is indeed round and mostly covered with water. His space flight marked the beginning of the space age - the time when space exploration became possible. Since then, 12 April is celebrated as the Cosmonautics Day in Russia, and in 2011 the UN declared this date theInternational Day of Human Space Flight.” 

A year before, in 1960, Gagarin, a fighter pilot, was shortlisted for the Vostok 1 programme, masterminded by leading Russian rocket engineer and spacecraft designer Sergei Korolyov and aimed to become the first human space flight in history. Gagarin was chosen among twenty other candidates to become the prime pilot of the Vostok 1 spaceship. He became fascinated by air flights when he joined a flying club at fourth grade. His dream came true when he took the first solo flight in 1955, but his career reached its peak in 1961, when Gagarin’s space flight became an international historical event.

Sergey Dyagilev – Founder of Ballets Russes

Sergey Dyagilev was a prominent Russian art critic and founder of Ballets Russes, a world renowned dance company that promoted Russian ballet culture. The company set the highest standars for ballet performance and had a great impact on the international dance world. Ballets Russes, whose staff included such dance stars as Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky, went on to run for two decades, developing into a truly international enterprise. The company has successfully toured Europe, South America, and even debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1916. Dyagilev himself became the greatest impresario of that period and enjoyed wide popularity. He later became known for collaborations with Pablo Picasso, Erik Satie and Claude Debussy. 

Ivan Pavlov – Nobel Prize winner for physiology  

The topic that made Pavlov a prominent name in physiology actually began as a study in digestion. He was looking at the digestive process in dogs, specifically the interaction between salivation and the action of the stomach. Pavlov realised that without salivation, the stomach didn't receive a message to start digesting. He wanted to research if external stimuli could affect this process, so he rang a metronome at the same time he gave the experimental dogs food. After a while, the dogs would begin to salivate when the metronome sounded, even if no food was present.

In 1903 Pavlov published the results of this research calling his findings a "conditioned reflex". In 1904, he won the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine as recognition for his research on digestion.

Nikita Mikhalkov – Academy Awards winner as best director

Nikita Mikhalkov was born into a distinguished family of artists and writers. His father, Sergei Mikhalkov, was best known as a writer of children's literature and author of the Russian national anthem. Nikita Mikhalkov first appeared in cinema at the age of 14, but then shifted his interest to filmmaking. 

His most successful film "Burnt by the Sun", depicting the story of a senior Red Army officer and his family, won an Oscar for the Best Film in Foreign Language and also Grand Prize of the Jury and Ecumenical Jury Prize at Cannes. Not only did Mikhalkov direct the Academy Award-winning film, but he is also known as a versatile actor, having appeared in over 40 films. 

Evgeni Plushenko – Figure skating Olympic champion

Evgeni Plushenko is an extraordinary artist and inimitable athlete. He is a four-time Olympic medalist, a three-time World champion, and a seven-time European champion. Having participated in four consecutive Olympic Games, including the Sochi Olympics, Plushenko is one of the most decorated figure skating champions in history. Plushenko enjoyed a truly glorious moment when during the 2006 Olympics he established scoring records in both the short and the long programs to run away with the gold medal.


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