Episode 1/4 – Children in Chernobyl, Cuba, a story that has never been told


32 years ago, on March 29, 1990, 139 Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian children arrived in Cuba after the explosion of reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The longest humanitarian program in history was born that day.

Cubaperiodistas commemorate this date and retell these stories, as contributions and encouragement to true peace and a developed world.

Episode 1

Episode 2


One day in 2011, Sonia Kanleef, a Peruvian visual designer, visited a beach resort. Bathing bald children attracts his attention. He asks who they are and they answer him: Chernobyl’s children. It scars him but he won’t learn anything then. In 2015, Opportunity meets us and she asks me if I know this story. I tell him what was on my mind. She absolutely wanted to do an exhibition on the subject and she asked me to work with her on her research. I hesitate, but I accept. And today I thank him a lot. My brother, a doctor, first contacted me with Dr. Julio Medina, who then referred me to other doctors, to patients, to translators, to research centers, to hygiene center radiation from Cuba and hospitals. Granma and Juventud Rebelde newspapers opened their archives, their newspapers to me. Colleagues gave me video archives, and one thing led to another, in one year, I conducted the research needed for this exhibition project, which was successful in multiple countries. It was one of the best professional experiences of my life.

Thus begins the story

A few years after the explosion of the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the USSR sought help in trying to alleviate the signs of a nuclear explosion on the population at that time, especially the child population. Cuba immediately volunteered. Unfortunately, this was not the case in many developed countries whose needs and assistance in the face of the urgency of the disaster were inadequate.

One day in 1989, on the occasion of an official reception, Anatoly Matvienko, General Secretary of the Communist Youth of Ukraine, contacted Cuban Consul Sergio Lopez and expressed all his concerns about the situation of children in Ukraine. After the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Lilia Pili told Juventus Rebeld’s Julio Morejan in Havana (it must be said that Lilia Pili is a loyal friend of Cuba and a supporter of the resumption of the humanitarian program) after consulting with the country’s directives The whole process was started immediately. Sergio quickly handles the matter and the term “they act like Sergio” became popular in Ukrainian Komsomol.

According to Dr. Julio Medina, who was director of the program for most of the 21 years of its existence, the Cuban Ministry of Public Health created a commission of hematology, oncology, endocrinology, clinical and other specialties that he sent to Ukraine. Once there, by contacting the country’s health authorities and with the help of Komsomol, physicians begin to analyze the situation, organize consultations and work on the ground with patients in need of emergency medical care. The first group consisted of the most ill.

This is how the first flight to Cuba was organized. 139 very sick children, suffering from onco-hematological problems, arrived in Havana on March 29, 1990 on an Aeroflot flight at 8:46 p.m. Fidel himself receives them, when he gets off the plane. Children’s Hospital Juan Manuel Marquez, William Solar and the Hematology Institute were ready to welcome them. That night marked the beginning of the preparation of a program to provide simultaneous treatment for thousands of children in the most affected regions of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.

Photo: Liborio Noval. Granma Newspaper Archive How

Chernobyl childcare in Cuba?

In 1990, Dr. Carlos Dotres was the director of William Solar Pediatric Hospital. When the dengue hemorrhagic fever epidemic broke out in Cuba in 1981, the child population was the hardest hit. Dr. Carlos Dotres decisively collaborated in the organization of a large care program for the child affected by this epidemic. In the town of Los Pioneros Jose Marti de Tarara, 75,000 Cuban children were treated with interferon and given immunological treatment. Dr. Dotres was asked to participate in the creation of a global program that could help treat 10,000 children affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster after this experience, at the same seaside resort in Tara, east of Havana.

Dr. Carlos Dotres, Director of William Solar Hospital in 1990 and Minister of Public Health of Cuba from 1995 to 2002.

The creation of the program is based not only on sick children but also on the impact of contaminated sites and more generally on water, food and the environment. Three republics of the former USSR were particularly affected by its proximity to Chernobyl: Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. Ukraine has been particularly hard hit by the low presence of iodine in the water consumed by the population. The thyroid and especially children were greedy for the radioactive iodine released into the atmosphere at the time of the nuclear explosion. It was estimated that thyroid-related diseases would have the greatest impact in the following years. Follow-up confirmed this medical hypothesis.

From that moment on, Cuban interdisciplinary teams began to study and research a subject that Cuba did not know. There were some final elements such as succeeding in relocating a population from a polluted environment to a healthier environment and giving their organisms a chance to heal more quickly.

Between 1995 and 2002, the Cuban Minister of Public Health, Dr. Carlos Duterte, confirmed that the program was designed to honor two objectives: to treat sick children after a disaster and to take them to a clean area where they are monitored and studied. To create a care protocol that allows them to be medically monitored in their country of birth.

Star dining room, kids in Chernobyl. Photo: Liborio Novel Granma Newspaper Archive.

The program also had other objectives: to clinically characterize all children. Cuban doctors and others have categorized them according to where they came from. They divided the children into four groups: the most sick people go directly to the hospital or to medical and research institutions. A second group had a significant psychological effect that turned into a mental illness such as psoriasis, alopecia or other illnesses. The third group did not have complex symptoms and the fourth group was considered to be a fairly healthy child.

Initially, at night, 350 children could be accommodated in a hospital bed. Specialized areas were created depending on the disease being developed and doctors and nurses were always with them. Stomatological services were based on estimates made about the effects of radiation on caries and the spread of other oral diseases: a large number of babies had caries. All children were measured for radiation upon arrival at the Cuba Radiation Hygiene Center: the results determined whether genetic studies should be performed. An area in Tara was created for children who need placental histotherapy treatment for hair loss and psoriasis. It was directed directly by Dr. Carlos Manuel Myers Cao, the creator of about twenty products for the treatment of this pathology or other diseases such as vitiligo from the human placenta. Children also benefited from psychological follow-up.

Chernobyl children in the house of the stars. Photo: Livorio Noval. Granma Newspaper Archive.

Each group brought their own doctors and teachers, as a continuum of study was also organized in Tara. There was a guide for 10 to 15 children, and one of the parents was with sick children. To allow families to stay close, accommodation was provided near all the hospitals where the most sick people were admitted, especially in cases where hospitalization lasts a long time, sometimes several years. The program was performed at various stages and lasted 21 years, free of charge.

Placental Histotherapy Care Center in Tararat. Granma Newspaper Archive.


Maribel Acosta Damascus

Director of the Department of Journalism, Professor of the Faculty of Communication at the University of Havana. President of the Santiago Alvarez Film Journalism Chair.

The original article can be found at the following link: Los Ninos de Chernobyl en Cuba: una historia no contada, part 1 Translated from Spanish, Frederick Druitt

Leave a Comment