By Linda Low

Surrounded by racks of clothing and holding her friend’s hand, Svetlana Moskvina, 45, is crying. “I’m crying tears of joy,” she said, sitting in the middle of the stock room where she inventories clothes sold in Central Department Store in Mogilev City, Belarus. “I’m so happy to be alive.”

After six years of being sick, Svetlana had her thyroid screened when the Red Cross mobile medical team visited offering free screenings to staff in the first aid room down the hall from hers.

“For years, no one could tell me what was wrong with me. Minutes after the Red Cross doctor scanned my neck, he sent me to a diagnostic centre because I had a large tumour. They took out my thyroid the next day. The recovery was so hard. It was like time stopped. I was depressed; I felt like my life was ending.”

“But my husband was so positive. He convinced me everything would be okay,” continued Svetlana. I met him in technical secondary school when I was 18 and we got married nine days later. I love him just as much now as I did back then! I am thankful for every additional day we have together.”

Galina Ditchenko, 55, holding Svetlana’s hand, is smiling. As the head nurse at Central Department Store, she invites the Belarus Red Cross mobile medical team to come every year so the 350 employees at the store can access the health service.

“I was here the day Svetlana did her screening. She was so brave. She opened the door to leave the first aid room and saw the line of people waiting their turn. She didn’t tell any colleagues her bad news. She didn’t want to scare them,” said Galina.

 Thirty years ago, on 26 April, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in nearby Ukraine caused widespread radioactive contamination affecting 23 per cent of Belarus’ territory. Mogilev and Gomel, regions 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.

“When the Chernobyl disaster happened, I was a teenager. It was a bright, sunny day and I was outside. The cloud created in the explosion, with the radioactive materials, it settled over my village. But I didn’t think it would affect me,” said Svetlana, wiping her tears away.

“It was Galina who encouraged me to do the screening at the store. She is like my family. Every year when the Red Cross medical team comes, it is a happy family reunion, because we are celebrating living.”

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.