How USSR Dealt With Major Cholera Outbreak in 1970 – Part I

Dear Readers:

In the middle of this worldwide pandemic, which to many people is a scary and completely unique and unheard-of incident in their lives — it is easy to lose sight of the fact that epidemics have “plagued” humanity (little pun there) since the dawn of time.  And human societies have learned to deal with these outbreaks.  To survive and even grow stronger. The more ancient the society, the more they have experienced; and with age comes wisdom, perhaps.

With that said, I bring you this fascinating historical piece by a writer named Fatima Sheudzhen.  It is about a little known event in Soviet history:  a cholera outbreak in 1970.  The Soviet government dealt with this event forcefully and even rather effectively; but also while maintaining complete secrecy, and keeping the scary news from the public.  Which goes against the way things are done nowadays, including in Russia, where hysteria and panic must be performed in public, 24/7.  Different times, as they say…

Empress Catherine the Great: “Plague? What plague?”

Loyal Avalanche readers know that Russia has had to deal with plagues since medieval times.  Many of these plagues involved cholera.  Through trial and error and practical experience, not having vaccines in those days, the Russian government came up with methods of quarantining people, restricting social intercourse, burning infected products, etc.  Methods which are still in use today.  When confronted with outbreaks, Soviet political leadership employed some of these tried-and-tested methods that had been developed in Tsarist times.  But also adding their own brand of bureaucratic secrecy.  Which, by the way, they didn’t invent either:  Readers will recall how Empress Catherine II, in her correspondence with Voltaire, tried to downplay the cholera epidemic of 1771.  And she had good reason, too:  Russia had many foreign enemies and didn’t want them to know how much the plague had weakened the army and the rest of society.  Pretty much the same reasons why the Soviet bureaucracy tried to keep a lid on bad news escaping the country!  See, if all the nations of the world just played nice and didn’t try to harm each other or make hay out of somebody else’s misfortune, then everybody could be more transparent when something horrible happens.  But I digress….

Two Weeks of Quarantine

Award-winning writer Vladimir Runov, who was in the Kuban Pensinsula at the time, recalls his personal memories of the event:

In 1970, a cholera epidemic broke out on the shore of the Black Sea.  The origins, though, were actually farther east:  The Caspian region.  One of the first known locations was the city of Batumi.  Then the outbreak spread through the Caucasus, to Crimea, and to the southern regions of the Ukraine.  Thirteen cases of cholera were registered in the port city of NovoRossijsk on the Kuban Peninsula.

The outbreak spread westward, from the Caspian to the Black Sea, and on into Crimea and the Ukraine, as far as Odessa.

It was the end of summer, but the resort season was still in full swing.  At that time I was on assignment in Gelendzhik with a movie crew — I was working in television at that time.  Nothing was being said about any quarantine procedures in the Kuban.  But, if I recall correctly, a quarantine had also been imposed on the Krasnodar shore region.  In any case, the roads were all closed.  Railroad service all the way to Odessa was also halted for a certain time.

The harvest was being collected right around that time — but nobody was allowed to truck it out.  The government ordered people to just leave the harvest where it lay.  Because transportation was impossible.  And by the way, I was also not allowed to leave Gelendzhik.  Myself along with the camera operator and our driver, we were housed in one of the sanatoria in the resort town.  The lads and I spent a couple of weeks there, and only after the quarantine was lifted were we able to return home to Krasnodar.

Next:  Whence the Infection?

[to be continued]

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