Not All Cubans Are Allies of Russia, Says a Baseball Player in Ukraine

Raidel Arbelay arrived in Ukraine in 1989; his desire was to study in the Soviet Union. (Captura/video Raidel Arbelay)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 July 2023 — “Not all Cubans are allies of Russia or Vladimir Putin,” baseball player Raidel Arbelay, who has lived in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, since 1989, tells 14ymedio. He will never forget how, on February 24, 2022, a drone sent by Moscow was shot down by the Ukrainian Air Force. The aircraft fell 230 feet from his house: the war had just begun.

Arbelay condemns the confrontation and says that “there are no winners but only losers, families in mourning, mothers without children and many other things.” Despite this, he clarifies, he has not planned to leave the country at any time. His wife and two children returned from Spain two months ago, where they had taken refuge after the beginning of the Russian invasion.

While the media talks about the promise of the G7 — made up of the United States, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada — to provide more military support to Ukraine to defeat Russia, and the possibility of its accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is being reevaluated, Arbelay’s attention is focused on the organization of a baseball game on July 23 at the Muromets Park stadium, in the capital, to honor both the professional Ukrainian baseball players who are at the front and those who have already been demobilized.

“Not everyone will be able to play because they are not in Kiev,” admits the athlete, who managed to position himself as coach of the runner-up team of the Ukrainian baseball championship last year. In addition, he has carried out an initiative to collect money for children who have been orphaned during the war.

Currently, Arbelay is the only Cuban baseball player based in Kiev. The two athletes who were with him in the conquest of the runner-up championship – Eriel Carrillo (former member of the Villa Clara team) and David Mena (who played for Industriales)- have emigrated. “Eriel is playing in Italy through the Cuban Baseball Federation. David emigrated to Mexico this year, I think,” he says.

The Cuban admits that “Ukraine, unfortunately, will not produce baseball players for several years to send to the U.S. Major Leagues, because there are few teams, few players, and the league is not very strong.”

Arbelay’s arrival in Ukraine was “a dream come true.” He says that since he was a child he longed to study in the Soviet Union. “I was lucky to be one of the last group of Cuban students who came in 1989,” he says. In his adventure he counted on the complicity of his parents. “My family supported me from the beginning. During that  period you couldn’t emigrate as you can now, and not everyone wanted to do it.”

He also knows that the crisis that Cuban baseball is facing — marked by escapes, dropouts, low wages and the lack of clothing — affects the quality of the sport and the motivation of the athletes. “I know the problems firsthand. Whenever I traveled to Cuba, I  brought them bats, balls and many other things,” he adds.

Now, in the midst of the conflict, Arbelay has few Cubans left to talk to in Kiev. “The Cuban community before the war was about 250 people. Now there are about 20 left,” he says.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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