The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 79/No. 22      June 15, 2015

New Ukraine group seeks to
renew Cuba’s Chernobyl aid

KIEV, Ukraine — Efforts are well underway here to relaunch the internationalist medical program in Tarará, Cuba, for victims of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear meltdown in Ukraine. From 1990 through 2011, the revolutionary Cuban government provided free medical care to more than 25,000 people, overwhelmingly children. The program was suspended when the Ukrainian government stopped providing funds for transportation.

“We organized a scientific conference here May 16 that was a big step towards relaunching the Cuban health care program,” Liliya Piltyay, who helped organize to get the children and others in need of medical attention to the island from 1990 onwards, told the Militant May 31.

“Ukraine needs this help just as much as before,” she said. “Some of the original children — now grown up — still need help. And now there is a new generation of their children, some of whom are showing effects from Chernobyl,” the worst nuclear power disaster in history.

The conference at the Radiology Institute here brought together more than 150 participants, including former beneficiaries of the program; well-known doctors Victor Chumak, a former vice minister of health, and pediatrician Berezhnoy Vyacheslav; other Ukrainian medical personnel; and two former ministers of health, Mykola Polishchuk and Illya Yemets. Some of the doctors present spent considerable time with children in Cuba while they received care.

“It was very important for Ukrainian doctors to go with the children to follow their development and watch the way the Cuban medical personnel treated them,” Piltyay said. “They helped us convince the government to fund the airfare to Cuba for the children beginning in 1998.”

The Ukrainian government had approved participation in the Cuban internationalist program in 1990, but for the first eight years Piltyay and other volunteers helped the families collect the money from donations in Ukraine and other countries.

Cuba remains willing to help

The Cuban government organized volunteers who rebuilt a special seaside medical center outside Havana for the program. It views such efforts as a moral duty and remains willing today to continue the effort.

Julio Medina, the pediatrician who directed the Tarará program, told the Militant in 2014 that he remains hopeful that a way will be found for Cuba to continue to provide care for those in Ukraine who need treatment.

“One of the results of the conference is that we decided to form a NGO called Tarará Children,” said Piltyay. Yulia Panasiuk, one of those who benefited from the Cuban program as a child, will head up the organization.

“The Cuban doctors fought to help me,” Panasiuk told the Militant in an interview in Kiev last year. “I am really glad destiny gave me the chance to go to Cuba. The experience taught us a different attitude toward people.”

“We need support from the government to begin again,” Piltyay said. “They can send information to organizations in other countries through the Ukrainian embassies and inform them of the need for help to restart the program.” There is already an initial group of 100 youth prepared to participate when the program starts again.

“We are forever in debt to Cuba for the help they have given and they stand ready to help again,” she said. “This kind of solidarity seems so natural for the Cuban people.”
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