SEATTLE, Washington — As countries throughout the world fight against COVID-19, Ukraine has united to mobilize its resources. As of June 3, 2020, Ukraine has 24,823 cases, 735 deaths and 10,440 recoveries. These numbers rank Ukraine at 36 out of the countries in the world with the most cases. Compared to its western neighbors, this case count is somewhat low. However, Ukraine faces unique challenges as the already weak economy dwindles. Those living in the eastern war zone face an especially dire crisis.
Expatriates Return to Ukraine Due to COVID-19
On March 28, the Ukrainian government closed its borders in hopes of mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in Europe’s largest country. Of the three million Ukrainians working abroad, 37,000 returned home the day before borders closed. In total,145,000 Ukrainians have returned from other European countries with the assistance of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most of those returning home had lost their jobs abroad or wanted to be with their elderly parents, who are considered especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
The repatriation of workers returning from countries within the European Union raised concern that they may be bringing the virus back to Ukraine as the EU suffers significantly from the highly contagious coronavirus. Ukraine’s government ordered all returning citizens to remain in strict quarantine for at least 14 days.
Ukrainian citizens returning from abroad weren’t the only ones mandated to stay at home. The government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, declared a state of emergency throughout the country on March 25, advising all citizens to remain at home to slow the virus’s spread.
Stay-At-Home Order Impacts Ukraine’s Economy
The fallout of the stay-at-home order has been especially devastating for the already weak economy in Ukraine. Within the first two weeks of mandatory quarantine, 700,000 Ukrainians found themselves without jobs, making the current unemployment rate roughly 15%.
The COVID-19 crisis emerged in Ukraine as the country was in the process of replacing its Soviet-style healthcare system with a more modernized, American-style system. As COVID-19 engulfed the nation, it became clear that Ukraine needed to mobilize its medical resources immediately since Ukraine was far behind its neighbors Poland and Belarus in testing.
The unemployment numbers and lack of medical supplies, especially testing kits, forced Ukraine’s government to ask for financial assistance from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations in Ukraine. The government is asking for $28.5 million.
Two-thirds of the money requested plans to go to eastern Ukraine where the active war between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian soldiers has persisted since 2014, internally displacing more than 1.5 million people in the country. Eastern Ukraine, especially the Donbass region, is especially vulnerable as the water supply and sanitation system are deteriorating. At least 3.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. COVID-19 is expected to exacerbate the crisis for civilians living in the conflict zone.
UN Steps in to Help Ukraine
The United Nations in Ukraine responded to the government’s call for assistance. Although the U.N., alongside its humanitarian partners in the region, faces harsh challenges delivering aid to non-government controlled areas in the east, it has begun efforts this past week.
Humanitarian workers crossed the Stanytsia Luhanska region and delivered much-needed medical supplies to civilians, such as testing kits and personal protective equipment. The U.N.’s efforts aim to assist two million Ukrainians, especially the elderly who are unable to obtain their pensions. Its efforts have been largely successful so far, and it continues to work every day to provide the aid needed in the conflict zone.
The Push for COVID-19 Testing in Ukraine
On May 7, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a law, introduced by Olga Stefanyshyna, that targeted increasing testing and improving conditions on the front line for healthcare workers. This bill mandates the Ministry of Health must test anyone showing COVID-19 symptoms and those who have been in contact with anyone with the virus, doctors, nurses, police and the National Guard. In addition, the law will allow interns or assistants without medical licenses to volunteer to help treat COVID-19 patients. These recommendations are in accordance with the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As the government stepped up its efforts with testing and mitigation, the Ukrainian citizens have adhered to the rules and recommendations with discipline. Due to their compliance and the aid delivered by the U.N. and other humanitarian organizations in the eastern region, the challenges from COVID-19 in Ukraine continue to improve day by day.
– Georgia Duszynski
Photo: Wikimedia Commons