Business owners in Kyiv, Ukraine, organized a mass protest featuring a caravan of 50 cars on Wednesday demanding the government ease mobility and business restrictions meant to curb the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.
Wednesday’s protest preceded one on Tuesday by leaders of patients’ rights organizations complaining the government was not offering enough access to health care for individuals with chronic diseases at higher risk of deadly complications from the Chinese coronavirus. Scientists believe the virus is extremely contagious and can cause pneumonia or other potentially deadly conditions in the elderly and those with prior existing medical conditions.
The Ukrainian government, under President Volodymyr Zelensky, imposed limitations on conducting non-essential business and implemented social distancing guidelines similar to those in place around the world in response to the virus. Ukrainian officials announced last week that they would keep “shelter-in-place,” or quarantine, orders in place until May 22, but begin relaxing them slowly on May 11, the date Kyiv had initially announced would be the last of quarantine provisions. The relaxation of quarantine measures is contingent on less than five percent coronavirus tests coming back positive on a daily basis for the ten days before May 11.
At press time, Ukraine has identified 13,184 cases of Chinese coronavirus; of those patients, 327 have died.
The timeline for return to normalcy was apparently not fast enough for many business owners in the country, who drove into the capital from, they said, as many as 40 different municipalities to demand they be allowed to make money and feed their families. The Ukrainian news service UNIAN reported that the protesters flooded Yevropeiska Square with 50 cars and left them there “as an act of protest”:
Stickers on their cars say: “Do not destroy small businesses,” “Justice for all,” “Quarantine kills,” “Open markets in the country,” “Protect small businesses,” “You kill small businesses and seek a new IMF loan,” “Stop passing decisions without thinking,” and others.
Protesters claim the work of small- and medium-sized businesses cannot be halted over the quarantine.
UNIAN noted that the cars were actively blocking traffic not associated with the protest and shared a video that showed large crowds gathering around stopped cars. Individuals with megaphones were also present shouting demands at the government.
The German news outlet ARD also posted video of the event, noting that the activists there said they had driven in from a variety of major cities, including Odessa, Kharkiv, and Cherkasy.
Protest (ohne Distanz) in der Innenstadt von Kiew. Ca. 50 Autos mit Kleinunternehmern fordern, ihre Firmen wieder öffnen zu dürfen. Sie sind dafür aus Odessa, Charkiw, Tscherkassy und Krywyj Rih nach Kiew gereist. Die Ukraine hat früh strenge Maßnahmen gegen #COVID19 verhängt. pic.twitter.com/vBqxsrwnOc
— ARD Moskau (@ARDMoskau) May 6, 2020
Video surfacing online also showed some protesters engaging in a symbolic “quarantine” of the Cabinet of Ministers building, where UNIAN had reported the protesters intended to travel next.
Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported last week that, despite the measures, increasingly large groups of people have begun hitting the streets in Kyiv in the past few weeks, in part because the number of coronavirus cases appears to be declining. RFE described Ukrainians as “adapting” to the measures “in many different ways — some of them involving violating, or at least pushing, the limits on travel, commerce, and social interaction.”
“People were very frightened initially, partially because of their perception of the health-care system,” Hlib Vyshlinskiy, executive director of the Center for Economic Strategy, told RFE. “Many were afraid to end up in hospitals even if they were in low-risk groups. They thought that if COVID-19 didn’t kill them, the hospitals would.”
RFE noted, however, that new polls showed a decline in the number of Ukrainians who believed the quarantines were “absolutely necessary” and the number of people saying they were “self-isolating.” At press time, data do not indicate an increase in cases related to this decline, but as only half of the believed incubation period of 14 days for the virus has passed, that data will not be complete for another week at least.
“Some measures remain more popular, such as wearing masks or face coverings and frequent handwashing. According to the same poll, 90 and 81 percent were taking these precautions,” RFE noted.
Protests by health workers appeared to reflect the fears RFE mentioned of the Ukrainian health system failing to protect people. On Tuesday, the Kyiv Post reported that representatives of patient groups organized a socially-distanced protest featuring “50 cardboard mannequins” posted in front of the Ukrainian Health Ministry headquarters. The groups argued that the Health Ministry had failed to provide adequate amounts of drugs and other key medical support for hospital workers and patients, according to the newspaper.
Deputy Health Minister Svitlana Shatalova responded to the protest, walking out and issuing a statement that her ministry will “consider” changes. “Making changes to the list of drugs is not something that should block all state procurement. If there are questions about previous developments, for which people from the previous team were responsible, we will consider them,” Shatalova said.