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Peace may not have reached eastern Ukraine yet, but the coronavirus has not arrived either.
At least that is what the de facto authorities of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), one of the two independent territories in war-torn eastern Ukraine, claim. At a press conference on March 24, Olga Dolgoshapko, Minister of Health de facto of the Donetsk People's Republic, assured that as of March 26, no cases of coronavirus had been confirmed in the territory. However, the state media de facto They report that 71 people are “under observation” in the hospital and that 247 people have isolated themselves. On March 25, Leonid Pasechnik declared that the Luhansk People's Republic is also free of coronaviruses. Natalia Pashchenko, Minister of Health de facto of the Luhansk People's Republic, added that 60 people are currently “under observation” in the smaller of the two independent territories.
Nearly three million people live under the control of the two separatist regimes, which declared their independence from Ukraine in April 2014. The war that ensued has claimed the lives of more than 3,000 civilians; more than a million and a half have been displaced. Until now, the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic are internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory; Although Russia does not formally recognize its self-declared independence, it provides extensive economic, political and military aid, as well as direction to the separatist governments.
Currently, the government-controlled Ukraine is under a blockade, with its borders closed and 162 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has hit Russia hard, with more than 840 confirmed cases and an increase in pneumonia diagnoses. Moscow responded by closing all its borders on March 17, including those bordering eastern Ukraine. However, on March 23, the same day that the Donetsk People's Republic closed its border crossings into the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin made an exception to the Kremlin order: “in light of the blockade economic territory ”, he ruled, Russia would open its border to anyone with permanent residence in the Donetsk or Luhansk regions, regardless of their nationality. In any case, the separatist authorities are not taking any risks, not even with regard to their benefactors: as of March 25, the Ministry of Health of the Donetsk People's Republic ordered that even those arriving from Russia and the Luhansk People's Republic Self-isolate for 14 days, symptom-free or not.
It must be repeated that the coronavirus and the restrictions to contain it could have unfortunate consequences for the inhabitants of a region that is already unstable, especially for older adults who until now could cross the first line into the territory controlled by the Ukrainian Government to receive their Kiev pensions, to which they are still entitled.
Nothing happens here?
It is difficult to receive much accurate information from Donetsk or Luhansk. Independent journalism critical of the authorities de facto it is difficult, and even impossible to direct. This is compounded by the fact that reporting on separatist territories through Ukrainian news channels can also be unreliable. A recent newsletter from CivicMonitoring, a project funded by the German Foreign Office to monitor human rights violations in eastern Ukraine, points out the following:
While the separatists did not confirm any infections with the new virus, both sides used the crisis to spread disinformation about each other. The Donetsk separatists claimed on 11 March that tuberculosis and pneumonia were rampant among Ukrainian servicemen stationed along the Contact Line. And Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on 13 March that there were 12 cases of infections in Horlivka, the second-biggest city inside the “DNR” – the Donetsk Health “Ministry” denied.
Although the separatists did not confirm any infection with the new virus, both sides used the crisis to spread disinformation about the other. Donetsk separatists claimed on March 11 that tuberculosis and pneumonia were out of control among the Ukrainian military stationed along the Contact Line. And the Ukrainian Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, claimed on March 13 that there were 12 cases of infection in Hórlivka, the second largest city in the Donetsk People's Republic – the Donetsk “Ministry” of Health denied this.
Meanwhile, the news channels faithful to the authorities de facto The Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic ensure a degree of normality in and around Donetsk, or as normal as life can be after six years of armed conflict and isolation. International media have made similar observations:
“For more than six years, we have adapted to living in crisis situations,” explains a florist living in Donetsk to the German digital channel OstWest on March 20. Panic shopping? He hasn't seen anything, he says with a shrug.
There are signs that things have changed since then. On March 24, a member of Tipichny Donetsk, a group on real estate investment in the eastern Ukrainian city, posted a photo on the popular Russian social network VKontakte of a poster at a branch of the bank First Republic Bank that recommends its customers to enter the facilities using masks. “I work in the construction materials market and there are no more masks left,” replied one user. Despite the fact that the state media de facto They insist that the supermarket shelves are full, the latest posts on social media from the same group attesting to the well-stocked shelves in city supermarkets are met with incredulous responses from locals: “Where did you go?” all the wheat? ”someone asks. “There is no milk for 17 rubles, only brands for 40 rubles or more,” reports another.
Even before the territory closed its borders, the authorities de facto they announced emergency measures. An executive order of March 14 issued by Pushilin calls for “greater preparation,” requires medical personnel to report to border crossings to take the temperature of all travelers, and requires those returning from affected countries to self-isolate for 14 days.
Although these measures do not amount to a blockade or total quarantine, they do promote social distancing. From March 19, schools and gardens were ordered to carry out “distance learning”. According to Donetsk video blogger Ivan Likhachev, on March 21 the city's cinemas and theaters were closed, although public transport continued its service. Correspondingly, the Pushilin decree also prohibited state institutions, such as the Ministry of Sport and the Ministry of Culture, from carrying out public activities with more than a thousand participants until at least April 10.
However, government officials, including Pushilin himself, appear to be attending meetings as usual:
С руководителями учреждений культуры # ДНР в канун их профессионального праздника обсудили достижения и проблемы развития отрасли, в том числе необходимость оказания государственной поддержки в этот непростой период. pic.twitter.com/3IDImu8xo9
– Пушилин Денис (@pushilindenis) March 24, 2020
On the eve of their professional holidays, the leaders of the cultural institutions of the Donetsk People's Republic discussed the achievements and problems of the development of the industry, including the need to provide state support in this difficult period.
Regardless of the pandemic, Pushilin has highlighted his determination to stage a major Victory Day parade on May 9, which is expected to be attended by thousands of people to commemorate the defeat of Nazi Germany at the hands of the Soviet Union. This year's parade has a special meaning: in December Pushilin declared that 2020 would be “the year of the great victory”.
The separatist leader has instructed his team to consider “alternative means” to hold the parade if the situation deteriorates. However, in VK groups, the Donetsk locals called their determination to run the parade irresponsible.
Social media certainly indicates that digital users in the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic are aware of the danger of the virus. The Ministry of Health de facto of the Donetsk People's Republic opened a phone line for citizens. But it is also not difficult to find complaints about how the authorities de facto They have handled the crisis and their level of preparedness. Just as communication channels located in the independent territories suggest that local health systems are well prepared, Ukrainian media such as the digital magazine Apostroph report that hospital wards in Donetsk and Luhansk now have patients with pneumonia and extreme respiratory distress . On March 18, Ukraine's human rights defender wrote on Facebook that the week before, more than 600 locals in the independent territories had contacted authorities complaining of cold symptoms.
The authorities de facto Health officials in the Donetsk People's Republic have neither confirmed nor denied these claims, although on March 16, Minister Dolgoshapko unexpectedly claimed that more than 40 people have died from swine flu since the beginning of the year.
What can be said is that both independent territories rely heavily on Russian assistance to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Ukrainian magazine Focus quotes an interview with a Donetsk doctor who says that Donetsk has only 20 fans to use. The ability to mass-produce masks and disinfectant locally, as the separatist media claims, may not be enough. This could be the reason that, as several Ukrainian media claim, a group of 40 Russian medical specialists inspected facilities in the independent territories in mid-March to assess whether they are ready to face the pandemic. According to the same Ukrainian media, a supply caravan is on the way and will complete its delivery on April 1. No reference to that caravan can be found on Russian websites.
The biggest mystery is perhaps the most obvious: How can local doctors do tests to detect the virus?
In her most recent update on the medical situation, Minister Dolgoshapko suggested that several patients hospitalized for coronavirus have already been examined, from which it appears that test systems are available in the Donetsk People's Republic.
Ukrainian authorities seem skeptical; In the same Facebook post, Liudmyla Denisova, Commissioner of the Ukrainian Parliament for Human Rights, also stated that from what the Ukrainian Government knows, no territory has test systems to distinguish these symptoms from the coronavirus. In this way, the origin of these test systems allegedly used by local doctors has been by far the biggest cause of speculation in the Ukrainian media. Novosti Donbassa, the Ukrainian independent news site for journalists who fled the region after 2014, says the Donetsk People's Republic actually does not have the facilities to analyze the samples they take and quotes a senior Health official de facto.
If the separatist authorities in eastern Ukraine received evidence of coronaviruses, they probably received them from Russia. As RBC reports, on March 12 the Russian government sent 800 “Vector” tests each to various post-Soviet states along with Mongolia and Iran. Novosti Donbassa journalists noted that the media under separatist control were unwilling to discuss the issue:
Заметили, что телеканалы «ДНР» и другие СМИ стараются не афишировать, что имеюе сест-системы системы В сюжетах каналов из донецкой лаборатории об этом упоминалось только на одном канале, остальные – вые Количество тест-систем вообще никто не называет.
– Дежурный по Донбассу, Telegram, March 26, 2020
We have noted that the DPR television channels and other media try not to disclose that the evidence systems in possession (of the authorities) were received from Russia. Only one channel mentioned this in their dispatch from laboratories in Donetsk, while others cut it off. No one has mentioned the number of test systems at all.
Having separated from the rest of Ukraine, it seems that the rulers of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic are going to have to rely on Russia's help to fight the pandemic for them. Whoever has that task can only be expected to have some success – because one of the few hopes that unites political divisions is the fact that Donbas does not need more civilian deaths.
As one VK user noted:
Да в любом случае он у нас будет, это нужно понимать. Поэтому надо готовить тест-системы, койки, аппараты ИВЛ и набирать дополнительный мед. персонал. А просто надеяться на то, что нас обойдёт стороной – слишком наивно.
Look, in any case it will reach us, that must be understood. So test systems, beds, ventilators, and additional medical personnel must be found. It is very naive to think that it will pass us by.