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AP PHOTOS: Ukraine's hospitals grapple with COVID-19 surge

EVGENIY MALOLETKA and MSTYSLAV CHERNOV
·3 min read

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — A medical college in western Ukraine has been transformed into a temporary hospital as the coronavirus inundates the Eastern European country.

The foyer of the college in the city of Lviv holds 50 beds for COVID-19 patients, and 300 more are placed in lecture halls and auditoriums to accommodate the overflow of people seeking care at a packed emergency hospital nearby.

The head of the hospital's therapy division, Marta Sayko, said the college space has doubled treatment capacity. She hopes a broad lockdown ordered Friday will reduce the burden on the Ukrainian health care system.

“Considering that now the number of cases is growing, more patients arrive in a grave condition with signs of respiratory failure," Sayko said.

The government's wide-ranging lockdown closed schools, gyms and entertainment venues and prohibits table service at restaurants through Jan. 25. Ukraine, which has a population of 42 million, has reported more than 1.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases and nearly 20,000 deaths in the pandemic.

Many medical workers have criticized the government for ordering the lockdown only after the Christmas and New Year's holidays rather than risk angering the public.

“We saw large-scale New Year's festivities almost in every city," Borys Ribun, chief of the regional pathology bureau in Lviv, said. "I think there will be consequences. We shall see them in a week or two.”

A conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine, now in its seventh year, has further drained the country's corruption-ridden economy. Controversial reforms that slashed government subsidies weakened the nation's health care system, leaving hospital workers underpaid and poorly equipped.

In the town of Rudky near Lviv, most local doctors have reached retirement age.

“The exodus of specialists who go abroad poses a problem for small hospitals like ours,” Roman Pukalo, the chief physician at the Rudky hospital. “Salaries don't meet elementary human needs. And our material base is outdated, to say the very least. We lack normal diagnostics equipment.”

Some COVID-19 patients who are in grave condition at the dilapidated-looking hospital are lying next to others who are recovering.

Oleksandra Kaldarar shares a room with her husband, Mykhailo, and their son, who are both on ventilators.

“Measures should have been more strict so people would have been more protected,” she said.

Medical workers say a national vaccination drive that is expected to start in March offers the best chance for improving the country's dire situation.

“First of all, we hope for the vaccination. Then it’s understanding of people, isolation, care for each other, washing hands, wearing masks in a correct way, not under the nose, not on the chin, limiting social contacts and avoiding crowds,” said Zoryana Mashtaler, an anesthesiologist from Lviv. “However, we understand that people are people, and some of them are not following the rules, unfortunately. It is what it is.”

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Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at http://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak