KHARKIV, Ukraine – Dozens of people clashed with police Thursday, February 20, outside a hospital in central Ukraine over government plans to quarantine evacuees from coronavirus-hit China in the facility.
Six buses with the evacuees arrived at the medical center, accompanied by law enforcement officers, a video published by Ukrainian media showed.
The policemen had to disperse the protesters to unblock a road that leads to the hospital and to create a cordon for the vehicles.
The demonstrators lit several bonfires and broke at least 3 bus windows, while some of the evacuees waved Ukrainian flags and some hid their faces behind the curtains. (READ: Project fear: Misinformation spreads China virus panic)
Prime Minister Oleksiy Goncharuk said on Twitter he was "urgently" heading to the site of the protests in the town of Novi Sanzhary in the central Poltava region in a bid to calm tensions.
Earlier on Thursday, Kiev repatriated dozens of nationals and foreigners from China as President Volodymyr Zelensky urged his compatriots to show solidarity and remember that "we are all human."
But many in Novi Sanzhary – the town of some 10,000 inhabitants, where officials plan to keep the evacuees in isolation for 14 days – said they feared the virus could spread across town.
Dozens of protesters blocked a road near a local hospital even before officials confirmed the site would hold evacuees.
Authorities ramped up security, deploying hundreds of armed police and an armored personnel carrier, local resident Maksym Mykhailyk told AFP.
As they sought to clear the way for buses carrying the evacuees, some protesters put up resistance and a brief scuffle broke out, regional police said.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov arrived at the scene in a bid to calm tension but more scuffles broke out in the evening.
"We will stand against it," a woman shouted in a video published by Ukrainian media.
"We are not talking about infected people, we are talking about healthy people," Avakov told the protesters.
"So far," a protester replied.
Ukraine has no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,000 people and infected over 74,000 in China and hundreds more in over 25 countries.
'We are all Ukrainians'
A plane carrying 45 Ukrainians and 27 foreign nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, arrived earlier Thursday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
Ukraine's interior ministry said all evacuees would be kept for two weeks at the Novi Sanzhary medical facility in the neighbouring Poltava region.
The returnees were expected to arrive at the medical center later Thursday.
Ukraine's health ministry has said none of the passengers was sick.
Avakov said the evacuees had been checked by Chinese and Ukrainian doctors and showed no symptoms.
"Let's be a little more noble and generous people," he implored.
Three Ukrainians and a resident of Kazakhstan were left behind in China because they had fever, Ukraine's diplomatic mission said.
Zelensky sought to allay fears, saying "unprecedented" measures have been taken to prevent the spread of the virus across Ukraine.
He also urged Ukrainians to refrain from staging protests.
"Most of the passengers are people under 30. They are almost like children to many of us," Zelensky said, adding there was no imminent danger from the novel virus.
"But there is another danger that I would like to mention. The danger of forgetting that we are all human and we are all Ukrainians," he said.
"Each of us. Including those who ended up in Wuhan during the epidemic."
Many Ukrainians took to social media to say that they were ashamed of their compatriots' behaviour.
On Wednesday, February 19, several dozen demonstrators also blocked roads near a hospital in the western town of Vynnyky after rumours spread the site could hold some of the evacuees. – Rappler.com