Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A nurse checks the temperature of a patient with COVID-19, in Stebnyk, western Ukraine, on Sept. 29, 2020.

Evgeniy Maloletka/The Associated Press

Coronavirus infections in Ukraine began surging in late summer, and the ripples are now hitting towns like Stebnyk in the western part of the country, where Dr. Natalia Stetsik is watching the rising number of patients with alarm and anguish.

“It’s incredibly difficult. We are catastrophically short of doctors,” says Stetsik, the chief doctor at the only hospital in the town of 20,000 people. “It’s very hard for a doctor to even see all the patients.”

The hospital is supposed to accommodate 100 patients, but it’s already stretched to the limit, treating 106 patients with COVID-19.

Story continues below advertisement

Early in the pandemic, Ukraine’s ailing health care system struggled with the outbreak, and authorities introduced a tight lockdown in March to prevent hospitals from getting overwhelmed.

The number of cases slowed during the summer but began to rise again quickly, prompting the government at the end of August to close Ukraine’s borders for a month. Despite that, the number of positive tests reported in the country continued climbing quickly and reached a new daily peak of 5,397 on Thursday.

Overall, COVID-19 infections in Ukraine have nearly doubled in the past month, topping 244,000.

“The number of patients is rising, and an increasing share of them are in grave condition,” Stetsik told The Associated Press of the situation in Stebnyk, a quiet town in the Lviv region. “The virus is becoming more aggressive and more difficult to deal with.”

She said many of those doing poorly are in their 30s, adding that an increasing number of them need expensive medication.

“There is a similar situation across entire Ukraine,” she said, adding that hospitals have run out of funds to provide drugs, forcing patients in some areas to buy their own.

The World Health Organization warns that the number of infections in Ukraine could continue to grow and reach 7,000-9,000 a day.

Story continues below advertisement

The government wants to avoid imposing a new lockdown, but officials acknowledge that the rising number of infections could make it necessary. It has sought to introduce a more flexible approach to minimize the economic damage, dividing the country into various zones, depending on the pace of infections.

At a meeting Monday with officials in Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelensky chastised them for failing to do enough to slow the spread and taking too long to provide necessary supplies.

“We spend weeks on doing things that must be done within days,” he said.

Zelensky specifically urged them to move faster on ensuring that hospitals have enough supplementary oxygen, noting that only about 40 per cent of beds for COVID-19 patients have access to it.

Ukraine’s corruption-ridden economy has been drained by a six-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country, and Zelensky’s administration inherited health care reforms from his predecessor that slashed government subsidies, leaving hospital workers underpaid and poorly equipped.

Last month, Zelensky ordered the government to increase wages for medical workers.

Story continues below advertisement

Official statistics show that 132 medical workers have died from the coronavirus, although the figure doesn’t include those who tested negative but had symptoms typical for COVID-19.

One of them was Ivan Venzhynovych, a 51-year-old therapist from the western town of Pochaiv, who described the challenges of dealing with the outbreak in an interview with the AP in May.

Venzhynovych died last week of double pneumonia, which his colleagues believed was caused by the coronavirus, even though he tested negative for it.

“He certainly had COVID-19,” said Venzhynovych’s widow, Iryna, a doctor at the hospital where he worked. “There are many infections among medical workers, some of them confirmed and others not.”

The government pays the equivalent to $56,000 to families of medical workers who die from the coronavirus. But Venzhynovych’s widow can’t receive the payment because he tested negative.

As the number of infections soars, many lawmakers and top officials are testing positive, including former President Petro Poroshenko, who was hospitalized in serious condition with virus-induced pneumonia.

Story continues below advertisement

Medical professionals want the government to bring back a sweeping lockdown, pointing to the scarce resources for the health care system.

“It’s possible that Ukraine would need to return to a tight quarantine like in the spring. The number of patients is really big,” said Dr. Andriy Gloshovskiy, a surgeon at the hospital in Stebnyk.

He blamed the new infections on public negligence.

“People are quite careless, and I feel sorry that they aren’t impressed by numbers,” he said.

Gloshovskiy said he had to switch to treating COVID-19 patients because of the personnel shortage.

“I had to change my specialty because my colleagues simply wouldn’t be able to cope with it without me,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

Health Minister Maxim Stepanov acknowledged that the shortage of doctors and nurses is a big problem.

“We may increase the hospital capacity and improve oxygen supply, but we could just be simply short of doctors,” he said. “Every system has its limit.”

A tight lockdown would be a severe blow to the already weakened economy, Stepanov said, warning that authorities could be forced to do it anyway.

“If the situation takes a menacing turn, the Health Ministry would propose to return to tough quarantine measures,” he said.

At the Stebnyk hospital, some patients said they only realized the coronavirus threat after falling ill.

“I didn’t believe in its existence until I became infected,” said 43-year-old Natalia Bobyak. “When I got here I saw that people get sick en masse.”

Story continues below advertisement

Michael Houghton, the Canadian virologist who jointly won the 2020 Nobel Prize for medicine, says that a course of several injections or receiving an annual vaccine may be the route for long-term immunity to COVID-19 The Globe and Mail

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies