Village doctor in Ukraine faces coronavirus challenge

Mstyslav Chernov & Yuras Karmanau

VERKHOVYNA, Ukraine (AP) — Riding a horse-drawn cart, Dr Viktoria Mahnych trots along country roads to attend to her patients in several villages nestled in the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine.

The country of 42 million recorded over 1.1 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and nearly 20,000 deaths. Mahnych, 30, now fears that the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented restaurants and other entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded religious services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections and make her job even more difficult.

Starting Friday, Ukraine imposed a broad lockdown aimed at containing a surge in infections, but many medical workers say that the move came too late.

The streets of Ukrainian cities swarmed with festive crowds during the holidays and thousands flocked to religious venues to attend services on Thursday without worrying about social distancing or wearing masks.

“If they imposed the lockdown before the holidays, it would have had a positive impact on the number of coronavirus infections,” said Mahnych, who noted that the holidays significantly expanded social contacts. “Let us see what comes after the holidays.”

Dr Viktoria Mahnych rides an old-fashioned horse-driven cart to visit a patient with COVID-19 in Verhovyna village. PHOTOS: AP
Dr Viktoria Mahnych checks on a COVID-19 patient at his home in Iltsi village

Hundreds of maskless worshippers lined up at a religious venue in the village of Iltsi to kiss the icons during the service.

Mahnych, who also attended the service, said other worshippers forced her to take off her mask “in order not to remind them about the contagion”.

Ukraine’s new lockdown closes schools, entertainment venues and restaurant table service through January 25. Some regions, however, refused to comply. The mayors of Ternopil and Cherkasy – each with a population of more than 200,000 – said their cities will not observe the restrictions.

Mahnych said she currently has to tend to 2,030 patients in three villages, but did not specify how many of them have COVID-19.

“I feel panicky at times, but I try to mobilise myself and have reason prevail,” Mahnych said. She lamented the state of the nation’s healthcare system that remained underfunded and weakened by widely criticised reforms.

Mahnych’s husband sometimes gives her a lift in their old family car, and on other occasions, she rides a bike or a cart to visit her patients.

She does not wear full personal protective equipment while visiting coronavirus patients, fearing she will spook locals.

“The first time we came to a patient to take a PCR test fully dressed in protective costumes,” she said, “neighbours almost beat us up.”

She and other doctors pin their hopes on the vaccination effort, which is expected to start in March.

“I do not have any time or energy left,” lamented Mahnych, who said she has to work day and night without any time off. “My family is practically not seeing me.”