How new technologies promote a Belarusian town: the example of Hlybokaje

16-04-2019

Around 18,000 schoolchildren from the Viciebsk region of Belarus have already experienced the virtual tours on offer at the Hlybokaye Museum of History and Ethnography.

You put on your glasses and – just like that – you find yourself in Hlybokaje's main square. The reality is virtual, but the sensations are real – so real you want to touch it. The technology even makes you afraid of falling; if you turn your head and body quickly, objects change with a noticeable speed and your head starts spinning.

Virtual reality technologies have come from computer games and are now being used for various educational and training purposes. As such, the Hlybokaye Museum of History and Ethnography has created a system of virtual travel through the historical and cultural heritage of the region. The museum received funds for this at a competition for local initiatives within the framework of the project "Promoting local development in the Republic of Belarus", a joint project of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The total project budget is €23,230, of which €20,903 were allocated by the European Union.

A senior museum researcher, Aleksandr Khaynovskiy, says that during the virtual tour, visitors can see all the best features of Hlybokaje while accompanied by the narration of a professional guide.

The tour is made up of two main excursions: “Shrines of Hlybokaje District” and “In the footsteps of the Cherry Festival”.

“Not everyone can come to the museum, so we make field trips with virtual excursions. And people, whether inside the museum or outside of it, can put on glasses and take a city tour without any problems. Our glasses and headphones are autonomous; this is, in fact, a mobile device onto which information is downloaded,” says Aleksandr.

Local schoolchildren were the first visitors on whom the virtual excursions were tested. Hlybokaje’s children know a lot about their town; at one school, they conduct excursions in the museum of the aircraft designer Pavel Sukhoy, including in English. The children said that it was “cool” to have the opportunity to take a virtual trip around their hometown.

Seventh grader Gleb Bagovich said: “I have been on the 3D tours. It was interesting to recognise the streets of the town, to see them through the virtual reality glasses. Our town is known not only for its condensed milk, which is the best in the world. We also have the symbol of the town – a cherry tree – which grows in every yard.”

Aleksandr says that the virtual tours were also well received in neighbouring districts: “Children were able to see Hlybokaje [despite] being dozens of kilometres away from it. An effect of immersion occurs during virtual excursions. One can watch a film, but it is too simple, it does not give the feeling that you are in it.”

Up to 15 people can participate in the tour at once. In total, about 18,000 people have “visited” Hlybokaje virtually: “Many of these people heard about our town but were not planning on visiting it. However, thanks to the project they could visit it virtually and the next thing we know they will want to come and see it in real life,” says Aleksandr.

He says that they were motivated to apply to take part in the project by their desire to promote tourism in their region, explaining that the museum's employees wanted to share information about their town: “It was not hard to put together an application. There was a goal and a desire to do so. However, we had to hire an accountant after that as financial reporting is very strict,” he says.

There are not so many tourists in Hlybokaje in winter, but it is hoped they will start to come for winter holidays.

One tourist from Russia on holiday with her husband at the Plissa health resort, near to Hlybokaje, says that the nature is incredible. In particular, she is really impressed by the forest and the lake after which the health resort is named:

“We chose this health resort thanks to its proximity to Hlybokaje, the birthplace of Pavel Sukhoy. My husband is a military man and he is very interested in the famous creator of the Soviet Union aircrafts. We will visit the town museum and then go on to Sukhoy's museum. We liked the town museum. It seems like it is such a small museum but they use new technologies there, 3D glasses, virtual excursions, etc. We looked at the exhibition with interest.”

The Hlybokaye Museum of History and Ethnography is indeed a small museum, located in a cosy historical building that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century, where the city council was located for a long time.

The museum’s collection is not so old; it started to be collected in the 1990s.

“Until 1996 there was no museum in the town with almost 19,000 people. The basis of the collection is items of the household and interior. For instance, in this room a bank owner could have lived in the beginning of the last century. As you see, the setting is not that of a poor family,” says Aleksandr, gesturing.

At the turn of the 20th century, the atmosphere in the town was quite Belarusian. The renowned Belarusian actor, director and theatre figure Ignat Buynitskiy worked and directed plays in Hlybokaje, leading to a theatre in the town being named after him.

Then, in the early 20th century, the famous artist Jazep Drazdovich worked as an art teacher at the Polish gymnasium named after the Union of Lublin, where the majority of teachers were Belarusian.

“We have a few painted carpets,” says Aleksandr. “They were painted on raw linen. Some of them are Drazdovich's work. Many artists used the technique in Hlybokaje District. There were his students and independent artists as well.”

Vladimir Skrabatun, a local historian, emphasises that anything that helps attract the attention of tourists to the district centre is good, especially using modern methods such as virtual technologies.

“Tourism should be developed in our district,” the historian says. “We have architectural monuments, the Trinity Catholic Church, the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin. This is a former church of the Carmelite Order, the very first monument of the Vilna baroque style in Belarus. And finally, Hlybokaje District is rich in lakes; there are five of them in the town alone. This is our pride and joy.”

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Virtual excursions in Hlybokaje are created within the framework of the large-scale project “Promoting local development in the Republic of Belarus.

The project’s participants include non-profit organisations, local authorities, enterprises, active local leaders and community members.

From February 2014 to October 2018, 243 local initiatives from all over Belarus received financial support from the European Union.

Total project budget: €5,919,975

Implementing agency: United Nations Development Programme

National partner: Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Belarus

Goals and objectives: to unite efforts and forge a partnership of government bodies and civil initiatives for the development of regions, taking into account their specific features.

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Author: Yelena Spasyuk

Article published in Russian by Naviny.by.