COVID-19 crisis and Putin’s war push Ukraine to breaking point

KYIV, Ukraine — Lying down in pain from pneumonia and constant muscle spasms, Andrey Mozyl could only pound the hospital wall with his fist. He was hospitalized in the Ukrainian city of Odessa with COVID-19, but there is little that medical staff can do to alleviate his suffering.

“There is not enough oxygen. Doctors constantly complain about drug shortages, ”the 54-year-old businessman told The Daily Beast. Our president, Zelensky, says he is the ‘master of the fight against COVID.’ But that’s laughable.

About 800 people in Ukraine die from the virus every day. But the battle against COVID is not the only crisis the country is facing: already traumatized by 7 years of war, Ukrainians live in fear of a possible Russian invasion, with some 100,000 Russian troops deployed near the Ukrainian border this month.

Meanwhile, public confidence in President Volodymyr Zelesky is rapidly collapsing. His approval rates have jumped from 73% in 2019 to 21% this month. Even though the best western vaccines, including Pfizer and Moderna, are available in Ukraine, only 8.8 million Ukrainians have been fully vaccinated – less than a third of the population. Widespread distrust of the government fuels reluctance to vaccinate, and hospital treatments are dismal.

The pandemic has killed more Ukrainians in the past four months than the ongoing war in Donbass in seven years. Following the annexation of Crimea in 2014, thousands of pro-Kremlin militiamen, led by Russian and local ideologues, took control of the main state buildings in the Donetsk Outblast and other Ukrainian regions. Ultimately, Ukrainian forces succeeded in retaliating and restraining the rebel forces, drawing the so-called “line of contact”, which separates Ukraine from the separatist territories.

Seven years later, tensions escalate again and again as Ukrainian forces continue to fight Russian-backed militias, resulting in the loss of some 4,500 Ukrainian citizens to date.

Now, the Ukraine-controlled portion of Donetsk, a virtual war zone, is taking the brunt of the COVID crisis in the country, recording 120 virus-induced deaths on Monday alone. But rather than blame Russia for the economic and political turmoil that rocked eastern Ukraine before the pandemic, locals appear to be directing their fury at their own government for its astonishing vaccination campaign and overwhelmed medical institutions.

“In the Donetsk region, people often find it difficult to find professional medical help, as most of the large hospitals with intensive care units are across the front line, in the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, ”said the director of the Donbas Regional Policy Institute, Enrike Menendes. the Daily Beast said on Tuesday.

But things look grim on the other side of the front lines as well, in the rebel-controlled part of the region. According to Novosti Donbasa, 7,507 people have died in the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk since the start of the pandemic.

As in most post-Soviet countries, many Ukrainians are reluctant to go to the hospital and prefer to try their luck at recovering at home. “People have a blind and irrational fear of vaccines, anti-vax resistance is symbolic resistance to government,” Vera Zaporozhets, an Odessa-based documentary filmmaker, told The Daily Beast.

“We no longer have free beds in intensive care units in Odessa, there is a shortage of professional medical help,” local volunteer Aleksandra Tisheikina told Daily Beast. Tisheikina’s charitable fund, M-Corporation, has provided more than 1,000 oxygen cylinders to COVID patients receiving treatment at home.

Tens of thousands of young professionals, including medical staff and doctors, have left parts of the Donbas region controlled by the Ukrainian government since 2014. The remaining population of around 300,000 lives in small towns close to the cities. front lines. The sound of artillery fire is not as intense as it was at the start of the war, but every month the number of civilian and military casualties inevitably increases.

More than three million people live in the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, where they depend on vaccines provided by Russia. Due to the pandemic, most checkpoints along the contact line have been closed and up to 200,000 retirees living in breakaway regions have been unable to enter Ukraine to receive their funds.

To promote COVID vaccination, President Zelensky announced this week that every fully vaccinated Ukrainian would receive a reward of $ 38, but because Ukraine does not recognize the Russian vaccine, residents of separatist territories will not receive the promised reward. .

“Sometimes people can’t get to the nearest hospital on time [to survive]”, said Menendès.

“We are facing unpopular health care reform, major economic decline and coming energy crises,” referring to Russia’s decision to halt coal exports to the country earlier this month.

All that, and one more war.

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