By Linda Low
Chickens trot outside. Through a green wooden door, 20 people wait in Ludmila’s kitchen on chairs, the counter and stools. There are 2 other rooms. The first one, with floral wall paper and a green couch, serves as the breast screening room. The other, the children’s bedroom, serves as the room for screening thyroids.
For some people, being screened by the doctors from the Belarus Red Cross mobile medical team is the first medical intervention they have had in years. Only 100 people live here now in Bruski, a small village in Mogilev, one of the regions closest to the site of the Chernobyl disaster which occurred 30 years ago.
The locals call it a dying village because the young people are gone and the old people are dying, from natural effects of aging and untreated illnesses. They are too far from medical centres and too poor to travel.
Patients lie on the couch in the first room, or the bed in the other room, while two Red Cross doctors perform screenings with mobile medical equipment. They are looking for tumours. If they find one, they will refer the patient to a state medical facility for more testing in hopes that any forms of cancer are detected early and treated quickly.
“We also detect other illnesses, hormonal and heart conditions. People bring us previous medical documents and ask us to explain them in more detail,” said Vladimir Vodichev, 42, a doctor with the Red Cross mobile clinic for 14 years. “Without facts, people have fear. We try to motivate people to take action to be healthy.”
“I opened my home so the Red Cross could come. I called many families. Sometimes I went and visited homes in person to tell them about the Red Cross visit because not everyone has a phone. The word spread; people even came from other villages,” said Ludmila Domakur, 47, a social worker and Red Cross volunteer.
“People are talking to each other, sharing news and food that they brought. Mostly they have expressed happiness that such handsome and professional doctors have come to see them, that they matter to people outside. It gives them hope; it builds community,” continued Ludmila.
“I have a small pension. I could never afford such important medical services,” said Tamara Bokach, 62, crying. “People have not forgotten us. I am so touched.”
Two million people, one-fifth of Belarus’ population in 1986, were affected by the Chernobyl disaster. The explosion at the nuclear power plant in nearby Ukraine caused widespread radioactive contamination: in Belarus across 23 per cent of its national territory, 20 per cent of its forests and 22 per cent of its arable lands. 135,000 people were resettled.
April 26 marks 30 years since the Chernobyl disaster which affected 4.1 million people in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) implemented the Chernobyl Humanitarian Assistance and Rehabilitation Programme (CHARP) from 1990 to 2012. It was the longest running humanitarian programme in the history of the IFRC.