By Gualveris Rosales Sánchez
It was the summer of 1991, when several of us who studied Russian Literature and Language at the University of Havana had an exceptional opportunity: to do our training as interpreters in a specialized medical attention program that was underway at the Pioneer International Camp José Martí for the children affected by the nuclear accident in Chernobyl.
For that goal, in what Cuban President Fidel Castro had called a labor feat, thousands of workers had been mobilized to repair some 10 thousand houses of the also known Tarará Camp, in eastern Havana, and accommodate and render the best of attentions to thousands of people, among them children, adolescents and adults, basically from the former Soviet Republics of the Ukraine and Byelorussia.
For many folks of my generation, and particularly for those who studied the language of Pushkin, being in contact with the Soviet people was a yearning that we hoped to fulfil some moment during our life as students.
The opportunity did not keep us waiting, but the contact instead of happening in Moscow or Leningrad, in the bank of the Volga River or in the Urals, it occurred in Eastern Havana.
Dozens of university students arrived at Tarará Camp, we did not have much work experience and our Russian was of intermediate level, but we have become aware of the noble and humanitarian job we were doing.
As soon as we came, we immediately approached professional interpreters and people that had lived for a long time in the Soviet Union, to consult them on the vast and complex medical terminology.
I was allocated one of those big houses that abound in Tarará, once a rich and middle class suburb in the beach, in which I had to share day and night with a group of children (raging 6 to 15 year old), under the custody of two or three adults.
My first children came from a rural zone of the current Belarus, next to the place where a huge cloud of radioactive isotopes had spread because of the dramatic accident of Chernobyl, on April 26th 1986.
After housing them, the Cuban doctors, with our help, began to interview and fill out the children’s medical histories. That first day was so intense that when finally went to bed, I listened to hundreds of little voices in an indecipherable hustle and bustle in some Slavic tongue.
Next day, the specialized tests started and sometimes, if it was necessary, we had to go to hospitals in Havana such as Juan Manuel Marques and William Soler.
Efforts were not spared, so that those little people could receive the best of the attentions. There was a great purpose in that task assumed by doctors, nurses, psychologists, maids, pioneers guides among other workers, a commitment that went beyond the hospitality of the Cubans, ‘cos it was the internationalism, the humanitarianism and the gratitude with the Soviet Union.
Apart from the diverse medical treatments, they enjoyed the beach and the tropical sun, and above all they received human warm, solidarity, and love.
The assistance that Cuba has given to over 18 thousand children who direct or indirectly were affected by the accident of Chernobyl, has been recognized by various personalities and members of the governments from Ukraine and Belarus.
Today, twenty years after the disaster of Chernobyl, in my memory are present hundred of faces of children and teenagers who like Daria, Lesia, Svietlana, Yury, Nikita Valentin, Dima and many others, found in Cuba the cure of their sufferings and afflictions, and also learned the true value of the unity among the peoples.