They were young women romantically drawn to Fidel Castro’s revolution, a breath of fresh air on a distant Caribbean island for those who were disillusioned with Soviet communism.
But when the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, hundreds of Russian women who married Cubans and moved to Cuba were cut off from home and stranded in poverty as the Cuban economy plunged into deep crisis.
For those who had lived through the hardships of World War II in Russia as children, the long blackouts and the lack of food, medicine and fuel for transport were a cruel flashback.
Da, comrade, welcome to the harsh reality of Castro-world. But it gets worse:
The harshest aspect is not being able to travel home. Cuba used to grant them subsidized tickets every five years, paid for in pesos. But Cuba’s airline stopped flying to Moscow and tickets must now be paid for in hard cash few can afford.
“My father died in 1994 and I could not go to his funeral,” said Zita Kelderari, a Ukrainian gypsy, in tears.
The Flamenco singer fell for a Cuban helicopter pilot in Kiev in 1985 and sailed to Cuba on a Soviet freighter loaded with Yugoslavian butter. When he defected to the United States a few years ago, she was left penniless in Cuba.
Only the women lucky enough to receive money from their relatives get to travel these days. On a Cuban pension alone, it would take 10 years to gather the cost of a flight home.
At least one Russian woman had the sense to say nyet to Castro, though, even though it cost her:
Elena Verselova, who was struggling to get ahead after two Cuban divorces, took her activism in a different direction. She became a dissident on Cuba’s depressed Isle of Youth.
Verselova was deported by the Cuban government on July 26, according to her daughter Diana Aguilar, who arrived from Russia when she was a nine-month baby in her mother’s arms.
Verselova was harassed and threatened by Cuban police, and eventually arrested, her daughter said. The family had to sell hard-won electrical appliances to pay for her ticket to Moscow, where she arrived with $170 in her pocket to start a new life.
“They didn’t let us say good-bye to her,” said Aguilar, 22, a University of Havana student. She said the Russian consulate in Cuba refused to help her mother even locate family members in Vladimir, 115 miles east of Moscow.
“I hope to leave Cuba to join my mother. I want to return to my roots in Europe,” said the blond student.
Another family screwed over by the Castro Bros. Da svidanya and best of luck, Diana.