August 8, 2020

Vicenta Llorente, the 'girl of Russia' who became a world expert in insects

Vicenta Llorente del Moral was born in Algorta (Biscay) on September 17, 1930. At the beginning of the Civil War his father, Clemente, joined the Republican Army as a volunteer. He was mortally wounded in Elorrio on September 26, 1936. His mother, Rafaela, was widowed, with two children and pregnant. He had no choice but to accept that Vicenta and his older brother, Miguel, were evacuated to the Soviet Union.

After a long trip, the two brothers arrived at their destination, Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), along with many other girls and boys from republican side. Vicenta was indisposed upon disembarking, she was transferred to the infirmary and the two brothers were separated. It took almost two years to meet.

A new home

Like the rest of the children of the people of the Republican side, in the Soviet Union they received Miguel and Vicenta with familiarity. There they were able to study and lead a life without shock, at least a few years. His situation was complicated when the Nazi army invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 and food shortages began.

Miguel neglected his studies and sent him to Saratov (southeast of Moscow), where he learned the trade of turner. Vicenta finished her high school studies and, in 1948, enrolled in the Faculty of Edaphology and Biology of the Moscow State University. Years later, Vicenta herself I remembered with appreciation their experiences during that time:

"These were difficult years but splendid. For the number of languages ​​that one could hear, that seemed like the UN, although Russian was the point of reference for understanding. It had a library and several reading rooms where exams were prepared. It also had an auditorium in which plays were performed, concerts were performed and conferences were held, almost always by the best actors, musicians and teachers, sometimes the recitals were organized by different groups of residents: Ukrainians, people from others Soviet, German, Czechoslovak, Polish, Romanian, Chinese, Indonesian, Korean and ourselves republics. The Spaniards were a large group; we came to form a choir and a body of dance that interpreted themes of our folklore; a group that had a lot success and that he was treated with a special affection when the reason for our presence in the USSR was known. "

The years passed. Miguel and Vicenta did not know the fate of their mother and their little sister. Would they have survived? Without news of them, everything seemed to indicate that their future would continue for life in the Soviet Union.

Vicenta specialized in entomology, the scientific study of insects. Once she graduated she went to work at the Institute of Epidemiology of Ashgabat (now Turkmenistan) with her friend Elvira Mingo Pérez.

Vicenta Llorente del Moral.

Vicenta Llorente del Moral.

José Ignacio López-Colón, Author provided

The two entomologists remained three years in that institute. They focused on studying dipterans disease transmitters There, Vicenta studied ailments such as leishmaniasis, an illness zoonotic which is transmitted to people and animals through the bites of the females of the sandflies. Its severity varies depending on the type of leishmaniosis, but it can be fatal.

Back to Spain

In 1956 Vicenta returned to Spain after learning that her mother and sister had survived. They were happy in the Soviet Union, but they longed for their family:

"The authorities, officials and colleagues who treated us were stunned to see our tremendous illusion to return and argued that they – the Soviets – had welcomed us with great affection, that they thought we were happy there (that we certainly were!); No they understood us … But they forgot that although the 'children of war' had received from the Russian people everything we possessed: asylum, education, understanding and support, culture and language, work and integration, the illusion and longing to embrace our loved ones I had not stopped being present for a single day of the many years spent in the remote eastern steppes … In my case, nineteen. "

Vicenta was able to validate his university studies and, together with Elvira Mingo, began working at the Institute of Edaphology (CSIC, Madrid) under the supervision of the entomologist Salvador V. Peris Torres.

Vicenta Llorente married Jorge Prado Fernández, another "child of war." They had a child. Although Jorge had the title of Doctor energy engineer in the Soviet Union, he could not validate his studies in Spain; the College of Industrial Engineers did not accept the approval of these diplomas.

Some covers of Vicenta Llorente del Moral's books.

Some covers of Vicenta Llorente del Moral's books.

Vicenta continued to investigate the dipterans, but also fixed his gaze on the orthoptera (like grasshoppers, crickets or lobsters), and became a recognized expert. Thanks to a scholarship to expand studies, he traveled to the United Kingdom and researched for a year at the British Museum of Natural Sciences in London, where he met colleagues in his specialty.

Vicenta Llorente obtained a doctorate in Biological Sciences from the Complutense University of Madrid years after returning to Spain. During his long scientific career, together with his collaborators, he has discovered seventeen new species, four subspecies and two sub genera in the field of entomology.

Among his many writings, we highlight two of his monographs: Red Book of the Iberian Orthoptera (1985), written with Stanley K. Gangwere and Manuel García de Viedma, and The Pamphagidae of the Iberian Peninsula (1997), in collaboration with Juan José Presa Asensio.

Despite being retired, Vicenta Llorente has continued to investigate those insects that have filled her research career. From time to time they still call you to ask for advice on some _bug strange – or a group of them – that has appeared without warning.

Author's Note

My sincere thanks to the teacher José Ignacio López-Colón for facilitating his works on Vicenta Llorente and the photographs that appear in this publication. José Ignacio has had numerous conversations with the protagonist of this article. Wrote the first biography about this scientist in 2005, after several years of interviews with Vicenta, a text that I highly recommend reading. Thank you very much for rescuing the story of Vicenta Llorente and, through it, a part of our History that we should not forget.

This article is a revised version of Vicenta Llorente del Moral: studying insects that was published in the blog Women with Science of the Chair of Scientific Culture of the UPV / EHU on May 29, 2018.

This article was originally published in The Conversation. You can read the original here.

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