I visited my first closed city! As home to the Uzhmash missile factory, Dnipropetrovsk in eastern Ukraine was so important to the Soviets that they closed it to foreigners. Today, not only is it the money laundering capital of Ukriane, it's a proud mine of Sovietica without irony or sentimentality.
Dnipropetrovsk's history museum is a rare breed -- apparently well-funded, well-curated and well-lit. It has a phenomenal interwar Soviet exhibit, with lots of Ukraine-specific propaganda that exalted the peasants while at the same time "encouraging" them to move to the cities to work in the factories. The World War II era displays are remarkable as well. It also has an exhibit "it won't happen again" that displays the pictures and personal effects of local victims of Stalin's gulags. The ladies in charge are eager to talk about it all with you. Unfortunately, they don't speak English and none of the displays are in English. It helps a lot to go with a Ukrainian speaker.
I almost didn't even bother to go into the museum, but I was attracted by the display of Pani Yushenka's personal collection of flatweaves from Western Ukraine. Count on Carpetblogger to locate the textiles! Maybe she will loan them to me after the DNP history museum is done with them.
ICBMs made Dnipropetrovsk what it is today and if you ask really nicely it's possible to tour a small museum of models of the satellites, missiles and launch vehicles with an actual rocket scientist who worked to build them all! It's more of an exhibit that encourages students to study physics and engineering than a museum; all of the displays are replicas. But Viktor, the director, can barely contain his glee when he points out to someone who was traumatized from watching "The Day After" in 8th Grade the missile "that could hit you anywhere in America!" He himself worked to build all those SS-7s and Zenits and Cosmos and his blue eyes sparked with pride. It's hard to think of anything cooler than this and I highly recommend it. The Uzhmash factory also is noted for launching the political career of sort a dud -- its one-time chairman, former President Leonid Kuchma.
I heard a rumor that there's a display of the real thing at the factory, but the cold war isn't so far over that citizens of the great satan can just stop by and have a look. Next time....
There's not much to recommend the Academy Hotel in the center of town, except the amazing display of Soviet Realist paintings in its hallways. The owner is a collector and doesn't mind if you drop into the lobby to have a look. Some are better than others, but the painting of Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova (first people in space) absolutely rocked, as did the one of Uncle Lenin leading little children on a walk through the woods. There were also several that exalted the Ukrainian peasant (at least when they weren't starving), which is an interesting propoganda theme from the period that I never saw that in the Caucasus.
Anyway, I ended up enjoying DNP much more than I expected. The trip was totally worth it and I'd go back.