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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”