Russian attacks on the Ukrainian city of Mariupol have destroyed an important computer museum. It was filled with Soviet-era artifacts, and so, in essence, Russian forces destroyed their own history. Other cultural institutions remain vulnerable, including the Software & Computer Museum (SNC), and for me that’s personal.
On a lovely spring day a few years ago, Ukrainian software executive Sergey Tsymbal dropped by the Computer History Museum with his friend and business partner Anton Trubnikov as part of a tour of Silicon Valley. It changed their lives.
Right after this visit, Anton suggested asking CHM about how to open a computer history museum in Ukraine. Sergey googled CHM’s phone number and said something like, “Hey, I'm here for a couple days in California, really impressed by your museum, can you tell us how to open our own in Ukraine?"
The next day, I met with Sergey and Anton along with Kirsten Tashev, vice president of collections and exhibitions. We talked about how to tell stories, how to build an exhibit, and much more. Sergey says the meeting was “worth a decade of experience.”
Once back home in Ukraine, Anton offered an amazing space in Kharkiv and was willing to invest in the first exhibits and education programs. Sergey and Anton also connected with Oleksandr Kovalenko, a Ukrainian game company executive and game collector who was looking for an exhibition space. They opened their doors in August 2017, calling themselves the Software & Computer Museum (SNC).
The new SNC even had a “Woz sighting” (almost). Hearing that Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak was attending a big event in Kyiv, Sergey reached out to see if he would consider visiting. He was shocked when Woz quickly answered the email himself. Though Woz had an extremely tight schedule, he was serious about trying to find a way to visit. Although it ultimately didn’t happen, the prospect was inspiring and speeded up the Kyiv branch opening, which happened in 2018.
As Sergey and Anton explained it to me, the purpose of their Museum, which is free to all visitors, is threefold:
In particular, the desire to improve the technology skills of Ukrainians to help them flourish in the modern world was what attracted me to the Museum and to happily agree to become a board advisor. Sergey told me that there is a real disconnect between tech salaries and more traditional professions. For example, a medical doctor in Ukraine usually takes home a fraction of what a computer programmer does. Helping people upgrade their technology skills can really provide new opportunities.
Anton’s passion is researching and preserving computer history. SNC’s collection contains unique parts of ex-USSR computer history, prototypes, documents, and recorded interviews with engineers. For example, a year ago he interviewed the creator of the Poisk computer made by ElectronMash (Kyiv). CHM has two of them in our catalog (CHM #102766715 and CHM #102766714). See below.
Right on the border with Russia, Kharkiv is being hit hard, and Anton is very concerned about the fate of the museum. Sergey takes hope in the fact that SNC is located in one of the strongest buildings in the city. Built in 1931 and called “The Giant,” it was heavily damaged during WW II but remained standing. In Kyiv, the museum was luckily in the middle of a relocation, so the artifacts are stored safely, and the furniture is not yet completely assembled.
The best news is that SNC’s education programs are still live. Teachers are running a digital literacy course as well as some professional courses online, and many students still attend them. “This sounds a bit crazy, but it's true!” Sergey insists. “We have an amazing team of staff and volunteers. We look forward to winning this horrible war ASAP and opening our doors to all!”
The story of computing is a global story, with each country and its people contributing in their own unique ways. Supporting museums around the world as they work to preserve computing history is close to my heart. CHM strives to be a leader among its peers and to serve as a resource for everyone who is connecting computing’s past to our digital present for each new generation. The Software & Computing Museum in Ukraine is a valued partner in this grand adventure. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and the lines of communication open.
If you’d like to reach out and express your support for SMC, contact Sergey.