Ukraine President Zelensky Tests Positive For Coronavirus

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gives a press conference after a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on December 9, 2019. CHARLES PLATIAU / POOL / AFP


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday he tested positive for the novel coronavirus but felt fine as infections surged in the country.

“Despite all quarantine measures, I also had a positive test,” Zelensky said on Facebook.

The 42-year-old leader said that his temperature was 37.5C but that he felt “good”. He will self-isolate and continue to perform his duties, he added.

“Most people overcome Covid-19. And I will get through this too,” he said.

The head of Zelensky’s office Andriy Yermak also said that he had contracted the coronavirus.

In June, Zelensky’s wife Olena Zelenska was hospitalised after contracting the virus but has recovered.

On Saturday, the ex-Soviet country of 40 million people reported a record 10,746 new coronavirus infections.

Ukraine, one of Europe’s poorest countries, last week imposed fines on people who refuse to wear face masks in public places.

Officials have repeatedly criticised the general public for ignoring social distancing rules and other anti-virus restrictions, threatening to reintroduce a lockdown that was lifted in June.

In a bid to halt the spread of the virus, the country is considering whether to introduce a partial lockdown on weekends, with only essential businesses such as grocery stores allowed to remain open.

Since the start of the pandemic Ukrainian officials have reported more than 469,000 coronavirus cases and 8,565 deaths across the country.

Zelensky is latest in a long line of world leaders to contract the virus, including US President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Andrzej Duda of Ukraine’s neighbour Poland.


COVID-19: Andriy Shevchenko Calls Up Goalkeeper Coach For France Friendly

Ukraine’s head coach Andrii Shevchenko (C) speaks to his players during a training session at the Stade de France stadium, in Saint-Denis, north of Paris, on October 6, 2020, on the eve of the friendly football match between France and Ukraine. FRANCK FIFE / AFP


Ukraine assistant coach Oleksandr Shovkovsky has been drafted into the coronavirus-hit squad for a friendly against France later Wednesday, at the age of 45 and four years since his last game of football.

Head coach Andriy Shevchenko has just Dynamo Kiev’s uncapped Georgiy Bushchan as an option in goal after Real Madrid’s Andriy Lunin and veteran Yuriy Pankiv returned positive Covid-19 tests on Tuesday.

Those came after first-choice Andriy Pyatov’s positive test earlier in the week.

Shovkovsky, who won 92 caps for Ukraine, ended his professional career as a Dynamo Kiev player in December 2016, but “keeps himself in good physical shape”, Ukraine’s football association said in a statement.

Shovkovsky will only play against Les Bleus, with the kick-off set for 1910 GMT at the Stade de France, should Bushchan test positive for Covid or get injured, it added.

On Monday six squad members, all from Shakhtar Donetsk, withdrew from the game after club team-mates Pyatov and Taras Stepanenko contracted Covid-19.


Ukraine Plane Crash Death Toll Rises To 23

Resquers and experts work on the place of the Antonov-26 transport aircraft crash at Chuhuiv military air base around 30 kilometers southeast of Kharkiv.   SERGEY BOBOK / AFP


The death toll climbed to 23 on Saturday from the crash of a Ukrainian air force plane carrying mostly cadets in the east of the country, emergency services said.

The Antonov-26 transport plane was carrying 20 cadets and seven crew when it crashed late Friday two kilometres (about one mile) from the Chuguiv military airbase near the city of Kharkiv.

One more body was found under the charred remains of the plane early Saturday, the emergency services said, bringing the number of victims to 23. Two people were also injured.

“The search for two more people continues,” the services said in a statement.

The cause of the crash is being investigated.

Ukraine’s SBU security service said it was a training flight but the cadets of the Kharkiv National Air Force University were not involved in piloting the plane.

It said in a statement that according to the initial information the officer who was piloting reported the failure of one of the engines, and seven minutes later the plane hit the ground.

Ukraine’s Defence Minister Andriy Taran said “the plane likely caught the ground with its wing” and caught fire after that.

“The flight recorder is now in the plane, after analysing the information that is recorded there, it will be possible to draw conclusions,” the defence ministry quoted Taran as saying.

The body of the plane burst into flames on landing and firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze after an hour.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who earlier described the crash as a “terrible tragedy”, is due in the Kharkiv region on Saturday.

The region, which borders Russia in the northeast, has declared Saturday a day of mourning.

Many grieving Ukrainians mourned the victims of the tragedy on social media.

“We send our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the cadets, officers, and crew killed and injured in the An-26 plane crash,” US embassy in Ukraine wrote on Facebook.


22 Killed In Ukraine Military Plane Crash

This handout picture taken and released by the State Emergency Service of Ukraine on September 25, 2020 shows rescuers working on the place of the Antonov-26 transport aircraft crash at Chuhuiv military airbase, 30 kilometres southeast of Kharkiv. AFP


At least 22 people including military cadets were killed and two others seriously injured Friday when a Ukrainian air force plane crashed near Kharkiv in the east of the country, the interior ministry said. 

“Twenty-two people died,” Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko told AFP, adding that “the search for two other people is continuing”.

The transport plane was carrying a total of 28 passengers when it crashed, including 21 military students and seven crew, he said.

“It’s a shock,” he added. “At the moment it’s impossible to establish the cause” of the crash.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he would travel to the region on Saturday.

“We are urgently creating a commission to investigate all the circumstances and causes of the tragedy,” he wrote on Facebook.

The Antonov-26 transport aircraft crashed at around 8:50 pm local time (17:50 GMT), two kilometres (1 mile) from the Chuhuiv military airbase, the emergency services said.

The plane caught fire after the crash and was extinguished after one hour.

The town of Chuhuiv is around 30 kilometres southeast of Kharkiv and 100 kilometres west of the front line with the pro-Russian separatists.


BREAKING: Ukraine Bus Hostages Freed, Gunman Arrested

An intercity bus with passengers who have been taken hostage by an armed man is seen in the city of Lutsk, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital Kiev, on July 21, 2020. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP


The siege of a bus with 13 passengers by an armed man on Tuesday has ended with all the hostages freed, Ukrainian police said.

“The hostages are freed! The man who took hostages and kept them on a bus in Lutsk has been detained,” the interior ministry posted on Telegram.

The crisis lasted over 12 hours with police managing to first escort three people from the vehicle after lengthy and tense negotiations with the perpetrator.

READ ALSO: Armed Man Holds Passengers Hostage On Bus In Ukraine

The SBU security service said a total of 13 hostages were freed and no civilians were harmed in course of the incident.

“The terrorist has been identified as Maksym Kryvosh, who disseminated extremist views,” the service said in a statement.

Interior minister Arsen Avakov posted photos and videos on his Twitter of people being escorted by security officers and a man in jeans lying face down on the asphalt with hands behind his back.


Armed Man Holds Passengers Hostage On Bus In Ukraine

Ukrainian servicemen are seen at the scene where a man took around 20 passengers hostage on a bus in western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital Kiev, on July 21, 2020. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP


An armed man carrying explosives has taken around 20 passengers hostage on a bus in the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, police said Tuesday.

The head of the local police service said shots were heard at the scene but no injuries have been reported so far.

Law enforcement has cordoned off the centre of Lutsk, a city in western Ukraine some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital Kiev, and advised residents not to leave their homes or places of work.

Police said the SBU security services had surrounded the minibus after two shots were fired from it towards law enforcement.

“The attacker threw a grenade from the bus, which, fortunately, did not detonate,” a statement said, adding that the attacker was believed to have undergone psychiatric treatment.

Video footage and pictures published by local media showed heavily armed police in Lutsk surrounding a blue and white minivan with several windows shattered and its curtains drawn.

An intercity bus with passengers who have been taken hostage by an armed man is seen in the city. YURIY DYACHYSHYN / AFP


The hostage-taker made contact with the police and identified himself as Maksym Plokhoy, deputy interior minister Anton Gerashchenko said.

The authorities were working to confirm the identity of the attacker, he told AFP.

Gerashchenko said law enforcement was talking with the assailant in the hopes of resolving the crisis “through negotiations”.

‘Anti-system’ suspect

Posts on social media accounts using Plokhoy’s name claimed he was armed, including with bombs.

They described him as “anti-system” and made demands of the authorities.

The interior ministry told AFP it believed the accounts were genuine.

President Volodymyr Zelensky said news of the hostage-taking was “disturbing”.

“Every effort is being made to resolve the situation without casualties,” he said on Facebook.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov was travelling to the region to coordinate a resolution to the crisis, the ministry said.

Ukraine, which has been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014, has been struggling with a proliferation of illegal weapons.

The fighting broke out between Kiev forces and Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the fighting so far.

Police in late 2017 stormed a post office in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where an armed man claiming to be strapped with explosives had captured 11 people.


Ukraine Battles Post-Lockdown COVID-19 Surge

Medical staff wearing personal protective equipments (PPE) treats a patient in the COVID-19 intensive care unit of Lviv emergency hospital on June 30, 2020. – The World Health Organisation listed Ukraine among two dozen countries in Europe that had seen resurgences of the coronavirus for the first time in months.  Genya SAVILOV / AFP.


Wearing full protective gear including a white suit and plastic visor, Ukrainian doctor Marta Saiko checked on an elderly patient hooked up to a ventilator.

The country has seen a surge of new COVID-19 cases following the lifting of nationwide lockdown measures.

“We’re overloaded. Over the last 24 hours we’ve admitted 18 patients with suspected coronavirus,” said Saiko, head of primary care at Lviv Emergency Hospital.

“It’s like in a war, it’s very hard. All our staff are exhausted,” she said.

Saiko’s hospital, in one of the worst affected regions of Ukraine, is still treating ordinary emergency patients but for the first time since the pandemic began is also admitting suspected virus cases.

The hospital has created 50 beds for such patients and all were full within three days, she said. “Their medical state is moderately serious or bordering on serious. One patient has died.”

Nataliya Matolinets, head of the intensive care unit, said the hospital had begun treating coronavirus patients because the city needs more beds.

“Both the psychological and physical burden has grown significantly for the doctors and all the staff,” she said.

During the first wave of contagion earlier this year, the hospital admitted some patients who subsequently tested positive and infected medics, she said.

Now, unlike in the first weeks of the outbreak, doctors have enough protective equipment, she said, remaining upbeat.

“We’re stress-resistant and understand how much hope is pinned on us.”

The facade of the hospital has a mural showing a doctor in white protective gear and the word “Dyakuyu”, meaning thank you in Ukrainian.

– ‘People forgot lockdown’ –

In June, the World Health Organization listed Ukraine among two dozen European countries that have seen resurgences of the virus.

At the highest point on June 26, Ukraine had a daily increase of 1,109 cases as authorities warned they might have to re-impose lockdown measures.

The country has confirmed more than 49,000 cases and over 1,200 deaths.

Over the past two weeks the western Lviv region has reported more new infections than any other.

Nataliya Timko, a top epidemiologist at the Lviv regional health care department, told AFP that the region had expected to have more cases in the first wave but avoided this thanks to strict lockdown rules.

But now “some people have forgotten about the lockdown”, she lamented, saying the virus is spreading because some are ditching face masks and other protective measures.

Andriy Sadovyi, mayor of Lviv, a picturesque city of one million that is a major tourism destination, told AFP that the region had carried out more tests than any other, detecting more cases.

He urged residents to adhere to social distancing rules, stressing these were in place to prevent infections.

“You can’t have a coffee in a cafe in Lviv until they’ve taken your temperature and all the waiters wear masks,” Sadovyi said of the city famed for its cafe culture.

Ukraine eased its lockdown measures in late May and early June with the resumption of public transport and the reopening of parks, outdoor cafes and beauty salons.

– ‘Hard to see patients die’ –

The mayor praised the work of local medics.

“It is reassuring that the medical system is coping with the number of patients, and we have up to 40 percent (of virus beds) occupied,” Sadovyi said.

If the surge in cases continues, all the city’s hospitals will have to start treating coronavirus patients, he added, however.

He urged the government to fulfil its promise to pay all the doctors who treat COVID-19 patients a bonus of three times their monthly salary.

“It’s important to give them decent pay,” Sadovyi said.

He acknowledged that it is “psychologically difficult for the doctors to reorganise how they work” as hospitals have to hastily adapt their systems to treat virus patients.

The new caseload causes a lot of physical and emotional stress, agreed Timko.

“It is hard to work in protective suits; it’s hard to watch patients die.”


Ukraine First Lady Hospitalised With Pneumonia

People walk in front of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kiev on March 31, 2019, during Ukraine’s presidential election. Sergei GAPON / AFP


Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska, who last week tested positive for the coronavirus, has been hospitalised with pneumonia, the presidency said on Tuesday.

Zelenska, 42, has been diagnosed with double pneumonia, the presidency said, adding that oxygen treatment was not required.

“Her condition is stable,” it said in a statement.

Zelenska said on Friday she had tested positive for the coronavirus, while her husband, President Volodymyr Zelensky, and their two children had tested negative.

Zelensky’s spokeswoman Yuliya Mendel said the 42-year-old leader was “feeling well” and being tested for coronavirus “every single day”.

“All his results are negative”, she told AFP.

Zelensky continues to work from his Kiev office, but has reduced social contact and was now in touch with a “very narrow circle of people”, Mendel said.

He also cancelled domestic trips that had been scheduled for this week, she added.

READ ALSO: Africa Urges UN Probe Of US ‘Systemic Racism’, Police Violence

Zelenska said last week the positive test was a surprise as she and the president had sought to follow social distancing rules and protected themselves.

But the president came under fire early this month when he appeared without a mask in a cafe during a visit to the city of Khmelnytsky in central Ukraine.

In an interview with Ukrainska Pravda news site last week, Zelensky said that he even wanted to get infected with the coronavirus to show people that it was “scary” but “not a plague”.

Authorities said there had been an “alarming” rise in coronavirus cases as the country eases the lockdown.

Lockdown restrictions eased gradually in late May and early June with a resumption of public transport, including metro systems and long-distance and local train services.

On Tuesday, the ex-Soviet country reported 32,476 cases and 912 fatalities.


Ukraine Reports ‘Alarming’ Record Rise In COVID-19 Cases



Ukraine on Thursday cited an “alarming” rise in coronavirus cases after a daily record of 689 new infections were reported as the country eases its lockdown measures.

Cases have surged in Ukraine in recent days, with the total now reaching more than 29,000, according to official figures.

Since Friday, the number of cases has risen by over 3,600, 21 percent more than in the previous seven days.

“Today we have very alarming figures,” Health Minister Maksym Stepanov wrote on Facebook, saying the tally for the last 24 hours was the highest since the outbreak hit.

Some experts said the uptick was due to an increase in testing rather than a second wave of the disease.

But Stepanov berated Ukrainians for failing to stick to safety rules after lockdown restrictions were eased last month with the reopening of outdoor cafes, beauty salons, dental clinics and parks.

He promised to come up with some “urgent” steps to slow down the spread of the virus.

“The threat is still here, but take a look at the streets, take a look at what is happening around you,” he said.

“We all came out of isolation, we all decided that (the virus) no longer exists,” he added.

Lockdown measures are set to further ease this month with a resumption of public transport, including metro systems and long-distance and local train services.

Ukraine launched domestic flights on June 5 and will restart international flights on Monday.


IMF Approves $5 Billion In Aid To Ukraine

) In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo an exterior view of the building of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), with the IMG logo, is seen on March 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP.


The International Monetary Fund has approved a $5 billion aid package for Ukraine aimed at helping the country “to cope with COVID-19 pandemic challenges,” with an immediate release of $2.1 billion, the institution announced in a statement on Tuesday.

The new 18-month program is geared towards “providing balance of payments and budget support, while safeguarding achievements to date and advancing a small set of key structural reforms, to ensure that Ukraine is well-poised to return to growth when the crisis ends,” the Fund said in a statement published on its website.

The program was agreed in principle on May 21 but has now received the green light from the body’s board of directors.

The Washington-based institution said Ukraine’s track record in stabilizing the economy over the last five years has been “strong.”

“However, more reforms efforts are needed to ensure robust and inclusive growth,” it added in the statement.

READ ALSO: Elevated Extreme Poverty To Persist Through 2021 – World Bank

The COVID-19 outbreak has “significantly worsened” the country’s outlook, it said, forcing authorities to focus primarily on virus containment measures.

“Uncertainty is large, and the economy is projected to contract sharply in 2020 as strict containment measures — in Ukraine and globally — led to sizable falls in domestic and external demand,” the IMF warned.

The 2020 budget is “expected to be hit hard, with a sharp decline in revenues and large emergency spending needs to address the crisis,” it continued.

The agreement was reached under what the Fund calls a Stand-By Arrangement (SBA), the technical term for one of the financing instruments most commonly used by the Fund, usually in exchange for a reform program.

It succeeds the previous 14-month $3.9 billion program approved in December 2018 to maintain stability during the election year, the Fund said.

At the end of March, the Ukrainian parliament lifted a long-standing ban on the sale of farmland, a crucial and controversial piece of legislation needed to unlock support from the IMF.

In May, Kiev also adopted a law targeting owners of banks that go bankrupt, preventing them from regaining their assets.

Under the previous plan, Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe, received a single payment of $1.4 billion due to insufficient reforms and corruption.

Separately Tuesday the IMF approved $363.6 million in emergency aid for Papua New Guinea, for use in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

The support “provides resources to the authorities to maintain macroeconomic stability with the aim of assisting the private sector adversely affected by COVID-19,” the IMF said.

The Fund said it welcomed measures the country had taken to support businesses, workers and households.

However, due to export losses and the cost of measures put in place to mitigate spread of the virus, Papua New Guinea is expected to be in recession this year.


Coronavirus: Ukraine To Close Schools, Halt Italy Flights

Ukraine on the Map


Ukraine said Wednesday it will close schools, kindergartens and universities and suspend flights to Italy as part of measures to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The government said in a statement it was also banning all public events with more than 200 participants, including sports events.

The measures will take effect from Thursday and will last at least three weeks.

Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Denys Shmygal, in office since last week, told journalists flights were banned to and from Italy, the European country most affected by the virus.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Fears: India Suspends All Tourist Visas

“Today there was actually a decision and the airlines have already started implementing it,” Shmygal said, adding the measure could be extended to other countries.

Ukraine’s two carriers said they had already cut a number of flights to Italian cities due to the virus outbreak.

Ukraine has so far announced just one confirmed case of COVID-19, but there is widespread concern as many Ukrainians work in European countries hit by the disease.

Shmygal also said Ukraine will close most of its border crossings. The country shares borders with European Union countries including Poland and Slovakia.

“We want to protect Ukrainians as much as possible and to get through this period as easily as possible,” he told reporters.

Vitaly Klitschko, mayor of the capital Kiev, separately announced the closure of entertainment venues such as cinemas from Thursday until the end of March to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Even though not a single case of the coronavirus has been registered in Kiev, we have decided not to wait and protect the residents of the city,” Klitschko said.

Ukraine also banned the export of facemasks, surgical gloves and protective suits and glasses until June 1 to prevent shortages.

Ukraine’s only confirmed coronavirus patient is a resident of the southwestern city of Сhernivtsi who had recently travelled to Italy.

Plus-Size Rap Icon Alyona Alyona, Puts Ukraine On The Map

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 16, 2020 Ukrainian rap singer Alyona Alyona poses during a photo session at the Eurosonic festival in Groningen.


Alyona Alyona is turning the macho rules of rap on their head.

For a start, the former kindergarten teacher tries never to swear in her songs.

She proudly raps in the Ukrainian she grew up speaking in her rustic home village, rather than in English or Russian.

And she has become something of a plus-size icon for letting it all hang out in a silver swimming costume in the video for her first big hit, “Ribki” (“Fish”).

Flanked by two scantily-clad, pencil-thin women of the type that usually people rap videos, the song is a clear metaphor for young women who feel out of place.

The rapper, whose real name is Alyona Savranenko, has put body positivity, bullying and female empowerment in songs that defy the stereotype of what hip-hop should be.

The hugely popular 28-year-old has become a phenomenon in Europe, tearing it up at the Eurosonic showcase in the Groningen in the Netherlands last month after being picked out as a rising star by the New York Times.

– ‘Such a story’ –

“She’s really extraordinary, and hugely charming,” said Jean-Louis Brossard, who booked the charismatic performer for his Trans festival in the French city of Rennes last year.

“She brings people together with her smile and her enthusiasm — and she has such a story,” he told AFP.

“She is super-good, technically great, sassy, what can I say?” added music journalist Eloise Bouton, who founded the Madame Rap website.

Her videos have scored millions of hits despite their down-to-earth settings like her home village in central Ukraine, where horses and carts were a common sight in her childhood.

One clip, which starts with her parents at the kitchen table of their Soviet-era apartment, has had nearly four million views.

Ukraine’s biggest rapper began writing poetry when she was six, but discovered hip-hop at 12.

At first, she copied or translated American rap before finding her own voice and addressing young women’s place in society.

“I wasn’t a gangster, I was a kindergarten teacher,” she said.

But Alyona’s life changed when the video for “Fish”, which featured her frolicking on a jet ski, went viral.

“At the beginning, I was scared” by all the attention, she told AFP.

“The video got so many views that journalists started to come to see me” in the tiny village nursery school near Kiev where she taught.

– Facing down sexism –


Alyona realised if she was going to get serious about her musical career, she would have to give up her job.

“‘Fish’ is about women who have piercings, tattoos or strange coloured hair, or a body that is not seen as normal,” the singer said.

“We, these women, are like fish in tank. And behind the glass, we don’t hear the nasty words directed at us,” she added.

Another track “Pushka”, which roughly translates as “the bomb”, also challenges how women are seen. In it, Alyona calls herself a “pishka”, a term of abuse for someone who is overweight.

Other lyrics are more poignant: “They may have a fresh view on everything, but they never invite us home…”

Hip-hop is hardly known as a hotbed of feminist thinking, and Alyona has had to put up with some zingers.

“They have told me that women were made to cook, to look after children, to do their nails, to do their makeup,” she recalled.

– Body positive –

“But I try to show that women have their place in rap battles,” the off-the-cuff bragging contests that characterise the genre.

And Alyona has found her niche, far from the cliches of “drugs and gangs — because that is not my life. I go to see my parents or go on holiday.

“I try to inspire people. I am not just there to say to women that they can be rappers, but to tell them to believe in themselves,” she said.

Even though Alyona grew up idolising Eminem — “He represents everything you should do and not do at the same time,” she quipped — she prefers not to rap in English or in Russian, which might also bring her a bigger audience.

“I taught in Ukrainian and I want to say things in Ukrainian,” she insisted.

But she denied that it had anything to do with nationalism. “I don’t like politics. My generation is tired by politics… we want to create new things. There are so many great performers, painters, so many talented people out there.”