The Romantic Diaspora. From USSR to Cuba, with love.
The sun shining from the branches of a tropical tree in Almendares park.
"I had always imagined Cuba a beautiful, immense garden, where it was always summer. A paradise full with flowers and fruits that you could pick from the trees directly on the streets... Toni and I arrived a La Habana by night, I couldn’t see anything, but as it started to dawn, I figured out there were no gardens, nor anything I had imagined before".
Irina’s living room in La Habana. “I miss that sensation of the smell of snow…of when you hang out the laundry in your yard, and then you collect the clothes hanging and come in....you feel that smell of fresh and snow…Sometimes I miss that. I love to feel the cold. That’s why I asked a friend of mine that was paying a visit to bring me paintings depicting the nature of my Kyrgyzstan”.
Violetta arrived in Cuba from Izmail, Ukraine, when she was 22. It was 9/12/1987. "Nostalgia is a feeling that persists in everyone, and with the passing years that feeling is getting stronger. You miss people, your friends and family…you miss things, some places of your childhood… Unfortunately that places don’t exist anymore. Now it’s something different. But after so many years passed here in Cuba, when I travel back to Russia I start to miss being here. I start to miss Cuba, the things I have here.
There are things that remain unchanged. I’m not Cuban. I’m Russian. Very proud of what I am, of my homeland, of everything. But Cuba is already part of my life, is already stuck to my bones. It’s a place where I have to deal with infinite problems, and a place where I’m immensely happy".
“When I arrived here it was all so beautiful and wonderful! There was everything, included Russian condensed milk and canned meat, there was a good cultural level, transport were excellent… and people were joyful, always smiling! I had no problems at all, it was all fine and beautiful then".
Nadia’s living room in Holguin, where she lives alone after separating from her husband many years ago.
Galina arrived in Cuba from Belarus when she was 23. It was March 1986. She now lives and works as a waitress in an hotel in Pinar del Rio, still happily married with her husband.
"I was born in a country that doesn’t have direct access to the sea. Also, mine was a family of workers and I could never travel to the sea. The first time I saw the sea was here in Cuba. When we landed at the airport of La Habana, before traveling up to Pinar del Rio, where my husband’s family was waiting for us, we got on a taxi and my husband took me to the Malecon to show me the sea. It was the first time…I was 23. I won’t never forget that moment".
Alamar, the so-called “Reparto de los Rusos” (the Russian’s neighbourhood), a neighbourhood on the outskirts of La Habana, where many “Soviet” women are still living.
Small residential country houses in Viñales, Pinar del Rio.
"Actually I didn’t expect what I saw when I came here. I was living in a nice apartment in Kiev, el (Vlado, my husband) was living in a small house in Artemisa. It looked strange to me…I couldn’t expect something like that. Everything was so different...I can clearly remember the hot air that embraced you as soon as you got off the plane… "When I got here the first time I felt that something very strange was coming inside me. I was living as in a dream. Things that come into your life they make you lose something…but it’s also through losing that you obtain something".
The wedding card of Lydia and Osvaldo
Lida arrived in Cuba from Zemetchino, Russia. It was May 1976. She is living with her husband Osvaldo in Alamar, in the outskirts of La Habana.
"The only one in my family who didn't agree I moved to Cuba was my brother. I came here in May, and he died in August. He accompained me to the airport, helping me with my luggage, then asked me: 'where the hell are you going, my sister? Can't you find a boyfriend here?' Then I answered 'I don't know...It seems to be love!' Since that day I haven't seen him again".
The Orthodox cathedral in La Habana. "Your roots always call you back, and the desire to come back is somehow always in your mind. But sometimes reason prevails. I continue to thank God, and the circumstances of life that have brought me here".
An old picture of Lydia and her husband Osvaldo, from their old wedding album.
Tamara arrived in Cuba from Rostov, Russia, when she was 19. It was 20/08/1986. She now lives in Holguin with her partner and three Siberian husky dogs after divorcing from her first husband. "All of us who live here had some kind of problems. Many of us divorced. What you hope while in Russia, you don’t find it here…there were so many differences of culture, language, climate…And not all Cubans told us the truth…many women have been deceived, they made us believe different things from what it really was. For the girls of good families that came here from big cities like Moscow, Leningrad, it was really a shock when they saw the shacks".
"The first days here I had the clear feeling that time had stopped. That sensation was very noticeable for me. I had the impression I was watching a slow-motion movie…That is the thing I remember most vividly, together with all people’s warmth. I won’t ever forget this".
An old Chevrolet running across the Malecon, in La Habana. "There were strange things in Cuba for me, furniture I've never seen in Russia...and all those cars along the streets! I had seen them only in the movies. It just needed a music from the 50's and suddenly we could feel as we were living in another era. I used to travel a lot with my imagination at the beginning…".
"There are people who can never get used to this. They suffer all their life, or they leave. They cannot live here. But there are others who have this disease called Cuba running through their veins. They get sick of it, and can no longer recover…And that’s good, as it is not only about adapting oneself, but loving and desiring it all".
Violetta's living room, all covered with flowered wallpaper, to remind her of the flower and plants of her homeland.
"What I’m missing the most about Russia are the woods, the nature is beautiful there… I was born in Kursk, in the middle of Russia and surrounded by steppe.. There is grass everywhere, flowers…I miss it so much that I have my terrace here filled with plants and potted flowers".
The only photograph of her wedding Olga could save and keep with her.
“I arrived in Cuba the 28th December 1982. I remember that the smells here immediately drew my attention…they were different…Along the coast there was a very strong smell of mango, pineapple and sea…a scent of tropic…and I remember also the smell of oil at La Habana’s harbour, and how it smelled all like fish…It reminded me of when I was a child and I used to go fishing with dad along Kursk’s river in Russia…”.
Oksana arrived in Cuba from Kiev, Ukraine, when she was 22. It was 26/3/1992. Now she lives in Ciego de Avila with her husband and two sons.
"We arrived with a boat named “Ivan Franko”, the 26th of March, 1992. The boat spent the whole night in neutral waters, and the only thing I could see were the lights of Malecon. I was up all night on the boat watching that lights…it was beautiful. I couldn’t see the houses, but I was able to see the Malecon, lights shining, wide roads…I was approaching a new life that was about to start. I can’t explain that feeling…But maybe in that moment I understood...I was with my family, united and ready to start our new life in a different country".
A view of the Soviet-style residence blocks in Alamar, La Havana.
“All of us living here are victims of relations that Cuba was having then with the Soviet Union… Cuban men knew how to treat women…and we felt in love almost inevitably…But not all of them were telling the truth…The first time I came here it was for holidays…I stayed at the beach and under the sun all the time. Everything was beautiful and I didn’t realize how things really were…They only showed me the most beautiful face of Cuba”.
Nadia arrived in Cuba from Russia. It was June 1986. She lives alone in Holguin.
"The problem for me was that I got pregnant before getting married. And a lonely mother was not highly regarded among the Russian society. Also, you know, a child needs to know both his parents when he/she comes to life…I didn’t really want to come to Cuba, but I didn’t want either my son to ask me ‘where is my dad?’ Almost all women here came for love, just as me".
"At that time there was everything…My husband was always by my side and with my son. We even had enough money to occasionally go at the theatre, nightclubs…"
"Now there is nothing I miss, because I still live with the same marriage, the same husband, who is now the only thing for me. Sometimes you don’t have anything…the only thing you have left is a family…and we must live happy for that.”
Valia arrived in Cuba from Astrakhan, Russia, when she was 23. It was 1983. She lives with her husband Jorge in Alamar, La Habana.
"I came here when it was beautiful...we couldn't have many things, because here many things were lacking, but I was younger and in love, I've never perceived it as a problem. I've been fighting and struggling for everyday life with my husband, just like all Cubans...but now I don't know...Just want to stay in peace".