Efforts by Ukrainian officials to evacuate over 70 people from China amid the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) faced setbacks on multiple fronts on Thursday (Feb. 20), as weather conditions delayed the return of evacuees and protests broke out near a hospital where they were to be quarantined.
Hundreds of residents in Ukraine’s Poltava region fiercely protested a move by health officials, who have designated their village as a quarantine area.
Fearing they’ll also become infected, demonstrators burned tires and set-up roadblocks, while Ukrainian media reported that there were clashes with police.
Over 10 villagers were detained, with Interior Minister Arsen Avakov personally visiting the site of the protests to calm the crowd down.
Avakov urged the protesters “not to fall for provocations and be understanding of the necessity for these temporary measures.”
“The situation is rather heated,” Poltava regional police spokesman Yuri Sulayev said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy weighed in, saying the protests showed “not the best side of our character.”
He tried to reassure people that the quarantined evacuees wouldn’t pose any danger to residents of the village of Novi Sarzhany.
In a statement published on his Facebook page, Zelenskiy said the people evacuated from China are healthy and will live in a closed medical center run by the National Guard in the village as a precaution.
“In the next two weeks it will probably be the most guarded facility in the country,” Zelenskiy said.
In the wee hours of Thursday, a plane with 45 Ukrainians and 27 other foreign nationals took off from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak that has infected more than 75,000 people worldwide and killed over 2,100.
Authorities said those evacuated included people from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Ecuador, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama, as well as other countries.
The plane stopped off in Kazakhstan to drop off Kazakh passengers. Later, it sought to land in Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine, but could not due to bad weather conditions.
Instead it flew to Kyiv to refuel, and eventually arrived in Kharkiv.