By Linda Low
Viktor Pyntikov, 55, has driven every inch of Mogilev: 600,000 kilometres over 18 years. As driver of the Belarus mobile medical vehicle, his team visits more than 20,000 people every year – in remote villages, farms, fields, companies and schools. The people he remembers most are the ones that are no longer there.
“In the villages most contaminated by the Chernobyl disaster, we make screenings every year. When we come back again, we learn that some people have passed away. These are the people I remember,” said Viktor.
The Red Cross mobile medical clinic consists of Viktor and 2 doctors. In the back of the vehicle are 2 blue chairs that recline into beds. Sometimes they move their equipment into a local school or farmhouse – anywhere people can gather.
They screen up to 100 people per day. One doctor does thyroid screenings; the other screens breasts using a handheld device no bigger than a mobile phone. If a tumour is detected, the Red Cross doctor provides a referral to a state medical facility for more testing with the goal of detecting any signs of cancer early.
Today, Viktor drives the Red Cross medical vehicle to Kadino Secondary School. Forty people are waiting, mostly women, sitting on small benches.
“We wait every year for the Red Cross vehicle,” said Maria, 30, who has brought her son Denis, 7, and daughter Elona, 9.
The mobile medical vehicle was donated to Belarus Red Cross by Icelandic Red Cross in 1996. Viktor drives it and his team on average 30,000 kilometres every year – over highways, dirt roads and farm lands – moving them to a different location each day, often to small villages where there are no doctors.
“Every day I maintain the car. I fix the lights, the sirens, the engine,” said Viktor. If the car doesn’t drive, we can’t reach the people that need our help.“
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.
Some locally farmed foods became unsafe to eat and the incidence of thyroid cancer increased. 135,000 people were resettled. Mogilev and Gomel, regions in Belarus closest to the disaster site, have higher incidences of cancer: 458 and 470 cases per 100,000 people respectively, compared to the national average of 456 per 100,000 people.
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.