In Dmitriy Kovalevich, Ukraine, Ukraine Updates

A demonstrator throws a stone towards a police van during a protest on Thursday in the village of Novi Sanzhary, Ukraine against the arrival of evacuees from China. Photo: Reuters

Written exclusively for the New Cold War website, this update on events in Ukraine during February is from our regular contributor, Dmitriy Kovalevich. This month he focuses on the violent attack, prompted to a great extent by the nationalist hysteria encouraged by most of the Ukraine media, in response to Coronavirus and the evacuation of Ukraine nationals from China.

By Dmitriy Kovalevich, Feb 24, 2020

Throughout February, the Ukrainian media has discussed the failed ceasefire in Donbass, which turned out to be a military escalation, and an outbreak of coronavirus in China. Ukrainian nationals, trapped in Chinese Wuhan, asked to be evacuated, as were many nationals from other countries. The Kiev government promised for three weeks to evacuate the Ukrainians. Several dates for the flight were agreed but several times the flights were canceled.

At last it became clear that the main reason was that the authorities couldn’t find an appropriate place for the two weeks quarantine period.  Even the old Soviet healthcare infrastructure is utterly degraded as a result of the neoliberal reforms. The sanitary-epidemiological service has been disbanded and medics are at a loss to understand what to do with the potentially contaminated people. Within last five years Ukraine became a world leader – in the spread of measles.[1] The deregulated healthcare system regularly suffers from shortages of the most urgently needed vaccines because local pharmaceutical production has collapsed; former Russian supplies have stopped and western vaccines and medicines are too expensive for Ukraine, the poorest country in Europe.

What will happen to the country in the event of a real disaster on the scale of Chernobyl

As Ukrainian journalist Andrei Manchuk writes [2], “during the Maidan reforms, the “Soviet” sanitary and epidemiological service was solemnly buried, and the authorities are not able to solve the most basic economic problems, such as the timely repair of heating systems and bridges. It’s terrible to imagine what will happen to the country in the event of a real disaster on the scale of the Chernobyl accident. Meanwhile, the gradual degradation of the state – the collapse of the economy, production, science, culture, management structures and elementary social relations, which were replaced by the nationalist pogrom mobilizations, constantly increases such risks for Ukraine”.

Finally, the flight with the Ukrainians onboard were dispatched from China on February 19, but on reaching Ukraine it couldn’t find a place to land. The plane circled 35 times [3] over the country – as for seven hours no airports allowed it to land – until the plane run short of fuel.

Meanwhile, riots began all over Ukraine, reminiscent of the darkest Middle Ages. In the western Ukrainian cities of Lvov, Rovno and Ternopol, rioters blocked roads and the airport to stop the new “plague”. Personnel from local hospitals refused to turn up for work and crowds gathered for mass prayers, to ‘deter the plague’ [4]. Clerics of the recently established Orthodox Church of Ukraine (promoted by Mike Pompeo [5] to split the old ‘pro-Russian’ Orthodox Church) called people to stop the plague, which they said was being brought as a genocide to Ukrainians. They inspired mass hysteria and panic, creating conspiracy theories about plans to exterminate western Ukrainians for their ‘patriotism’. Mass psychosis was also spread by social media – numerous bots, newly created accounts, were used to distribute similar calls ‘to stop the genocide of ethnic Ukrainians by a new plague’. Panic was also spread by deputies and officials associated with the former president Petro Poroshenko, such as the deputy of his party and former Lvov governor, Oleh Synyutka [6].

Evacuees met by an angry mob

It should be noted that this panic was artificially encouraged, although in most media it was presented as spontaneous riot caused by the ignorance of “peasants”. Just three weeks ago, when a plane from China landed at the Kiev airport, only the passengers’ temperatures were taken before they were allowed to go home; no quarantine period was required. No riot followed. A week before the riot, Chinese workers arrived at the Ukrainian city of Zhytomir to construct a road there. They were placed under quarantine and no riot followed.

However, when the plane with evacuated Ukrainians finally landed on February 20, the evacuees were brought to an old Soviet-built sanatorium in the Poltava region – a sanatorium in the village of Novy Sanzhary. The evacuees were met by an angry mob, which was ready to beat them with sticks and stones, even though the location was officially supposed to be secret. The riot and assaults with the evacuees on buses, were like something out of the worst scenes of an apocalyptic movie.

The riot was instigated by a local cleric [7] from the newly established ‘Orthodox Church of Ukraine’ and a group of young men, who had previously been spotted at riots in other regions and on other occasions. The police that guarded the buses were assaulted and nine policemen were injured (they received head injuries from stones). Likewise, stones were used to smash the buses’ windows, despite there being peaceful evacuees inside, including children [8].

Rioters tried to block the buses by lighting large fires, threatening to burn the evacuees and the sanatorium, to prevent the ‘plague’. There were reports that many of the rioters were drunk, as they believed that alcohol could prevent contamination with the coronavirus. One protester yelled out that the evacuees should be held in Chernobyl. Many protesters were wrapped in Ukrainian national flags, shouting that they were patriots. Terrified evacuees tried to hide under bus seats, covering their children with their bodies to protect them; expecting to be lynched by the mob.

I didn’t know that our country is so rotten. We are really scared”, wrote [9] Anastasia, one of the evacuees.

This is a virus of savageness that resides inside us and breaks out

Healthcare and police officials, who arrived to calm the rioters, couldn’t manage to convince the incensed mob that the evacuees were not dangerous and had been checked by Chinese doctors before departure. But the mob didn’t listen to them. Locals have become used to officials deceiving them and breaking their promises. As a result, all attempts to calm the furious crowd were in vain. Nevertheless, the bus drivers finally managed to drive their vehicles through the barricades and fires, eventually reaching the sanatorium. The evacuees were placed under supervision and protected by a 24-hour police guard. The following day the riot stopped, many medics from the sanatorium resigned from their jobs and the local school was empty – hardly any schoolchildren turned up. In the end, the rioters calmed down but that does not mean that the people really believed there was no ‘plague’.

Maxim Buzhansky, a deputy from the party ‘Servant of the people,’ described the events as follows:

I swear, never in my life have I been so much ashamed. It’s true, we are sick, sick with a worse thing than all the coronaviruses that you can think of. This is a virus of savageness that resides inside us and breaks out of us. And it unites our country more than anything else. You saw – and in Lviv, and in Ternopol, and in Poltava – believe me, if the ill-fated buses moved anywhere else, to any village or other region, the reaction would be exactly the same.

Buzhansky continued:

I can’t accept excuses like ‘people were afraid and therefore they attacked other people.’ Parents covered their children with their bodies – what is this? Aren’t they telling us about the Lviv pogrom of 1941, or is this the 21st century and the center of Europe? There can’t be more shame, yesterday we still could not imagine that this would happen – this is a virus! You can cure the flu, you can cure anything else, but this behavior cannot be cured” [10].

President V. Zelensky: “Ukraine is Europe… but of the Middle Ages”

Commenting on the riots, President V. Zelensky, [11] said, “Ukraine is Europe… but of the Middle Ages”. Some youngsters who participated in the riot downloaded a video [12], defending their actions and claiming ‘we are patriots’. And actually, in Ukraine, that’s enough to justify any brutal action. All the rioters who had been detained were released the next day, despite nine wounded policemen and smashed buses.

Now we know in detail how pogroms and witch hunts have been instigated in the past. And the preceding years of nationalist propaganda, the glorification of the Ukrainian pogromists of the past, the constant production of hysteria by government media – all these are factors that contribute towards making the conditions ripe for mass psychosis, something that can all too easily be activated by unfounded rumors.

It is important to be sufficiently well-informed in order not to succumb to the nationalist hysteria that prevails in most media. Hatred, which the state media instigates against Russians or rebellious Donbass residents, eventually backfires – becoming a hatred of all neighbours, even ethnic Ukrainians from another region or neighbourhood.

The United Nations has condemned [13] this violent attack on the evacuees in Ukraine, quite correctly emphasizing that global challenges like coronavirus can be dealt with only on the basis of solidarity.

A statement by the United Nations says:

In our fractured and divided world, health is one of the few areas which offers the opportunities for countries to work together for common cause. In past outbreaks, fear and distrust have hampered – not helped – outbreak response. This is the time for facts, not fear. This is the time for rationality, not rumors. This is the time for solidarity, not stigma.”
















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