14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Desde Aqui, Havana, 7 March 2022 — In the middle of 1962 (or perhaps at the beginning), the Soviet Union placed several anti-aircraft rocket units in Cuba with the purpose of defending the bases of medium-range rockets with nuclear warheads that would later unleash what historians call “The Missile Crisis.”
As is known, the nuclear-charged rockets were withdrawn by Nikita Khrushchev (“Nikita, mariquita, lo que se da no se quita” [Nikita, sissy, you can’t take back what you give] we shouted then), but the anti-aircraft devices remained in national territory, operated by Soviet technicians.
On March 13, 1963, in a political act on the steps of the University of Havana, Fidel Castro called on young Cubans to voluntarily enlist in the Armed Forces to enter what was then known as “strategic weapons.”
This [then] fifteen-year-old fool went there with the belief that he could continue his studies and with the intention of freeing himself from family tutelage. Oh! and to respond to the call of the commander in chief.
After an intensive course at the San Julián base, in the west of the island, we were placed in different combat units according to our specialties. There, at 3671, I met Anohi Piotr Petrovitch, the operator of the Command Radio Transmission system whom I would replace.
Anohi was about 25 years old and was born on an island in New Siberia, which allowed him to identify with us, despite the difference in latitudes and temperatures. We made the pact to learn, he Spanish and I Russian, without any academic requirements. We used as material the songs that were heard in the loudspeakers transmitted by the Cuban radio. The first was Bésame mucho [Kiss me a lot], which he sang well and which I replied out of tune in cave Russian: “Tseluy menya, tseluy menya mnogo, kak budto segodnya posledniy raz” [Kiss me, kiss me a lot, like today is the last time].
One day Anohi asked me why almost all Cuban songs spoke of love and none referred to harvests, to labor exploits. I didn’t know what to answer, but it was a discovery for me, understanding that we were different cultures. “This is the West,” he would say, and at the time I was not capable of realizing the depth of that definition.
Cabin A of the Radiotechnical Battery was the closest thing to a container on wheels where the electronic equipment that elaborated and transmitted the signals for the remote control of the rockets was located. To enter, it was a mandatory requirement to take off your boots, because you had to protect those valves from dust, huge lightbulbs, like the mythical and super secret phantom, which years later would be supplanted by small transistors.
As personal hygiene was not my forte at that stage of my life, going up to the cabin without boots was an attack on someone else’s sense of smell. That’s why Anohi was the author of my first nickname, which was, in its pronunciation, “peteapata,” that is, foot stink without bathing. In return I nicknamed him “rotten onion,” but I don’t know if he realized the extent of my riposte.
That Soviet soldier in the days of the Cold War was my friend. The day we said goodbye we didn’t know it would be forever. Anti-aircraft rockets remained under our responsibility to defend the sky of the motherland.
Perhaps Anohi must already have grandchildren and I wonder if any of them are invading Ukraine today.
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