What Life Amid Coronavirus Outbreak is Like, According to These Ukrainians
12 February, 2020
Children wear improvised face protection masks made of water bottles amid coronavirus outbreak at the airport in Guangzhou, China on February 1. EPA-EFE/ALEX PLAVEVSKI

Around 80 Ukrainians live in Hubei province in China where an outbreak of coronavirus was registered in December leading to a global health emergency. Hundreds more Ukrainians live across China and in other countries where incidents of coronavirus have been confirmed.

51 of the 80 living in Hubei have agreed to be evacuated to Ukraine. A plane was scheduled to bring them back home on February 11 but have since been postponed until further notice.

“Rushed and uncalculated decisions that do not carry guarantees for 40 million Ukrainians can be dangerous,” explained the decision to postpone the flight Ukraine’s Health Minister Zoriana Skaletska during a press briefing. It was Skaletska who provided the latest data about the Ukrainians left in coronavirus-infected regions.

Ukraine has stopped all flights to and from China from February 4, and only some were able to evacuate. The two Ukrainians who have been confirmed to have contracted the virus are believed to have been hospitalized and receiving treatment in Japan where they got infected aboard of the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruiseliner.

READ MORE: Second Ukrainian Citizen Contracts Coronavirus

Hromadske spoke to four Ukrainians who remain in China, or who have recently visited, during the coronavirus outbreak, and asked them how the situation developed and whether they were affected by the spread of the disease.

Mykhailo Yefimov

This is my third year in China. I was a student before this, but now I work in Wuhan as a dancesport trainer. Seeing as the city is now under quarantine, all my usual trainings have been stopped. But we’re working with students online. This isn’t the usual way, unlike, for example, taking online English lessons. After all, it’s more comfortable working in a dance hall. 

At 10 a.m. on January 23, Wuhan was closed due to quarantine. That same day, approximately after lunch, Ukrainian Embassy officials contacted us on Wechat (a messaging app/social network popular in China – ed.) and requested that we send them information about ourselves for a consulate census. I think they reacted very quickly.

There are approximately 75 Ukrainians in Hubei province, and about 50 of them are in Wuhan. Now the embassy is calling for evacuations. If it’ll happen, we’re ready to leave the quarantined city for some time. But participating in the census and evacuating is up to the decision of every citizen.

Mykhailo Yefimov has been living in China for more than two years. Photo: courtesy

My personal opinion is that a lot of things in China can seem strange to us. There are a lot of people here who, even before the viral outbreak, walked around in face masks due to smog. That’s why Ukrainians can be shocked if they come to China even if there isn’t a quarantine. But this is a normal state for the Chinese.

There are a lot of small pharmacies in China, and most of them sell masks. Deliveries are first made to large pharmacy chains. For example, a supermarket not far from me has a large pharmacy. They always have masks and everything else you’d need. Small pharmacies, even when the situation was stable, lacked some goods.

READ MORE: Ukraine Says It Has a Plan to Prevent Entry of Coronavirus

Of course, right now absolutely everyone in Wuhan is walking around in masks, and in general the Chinese are keeping calm. Most of them are staying home, ordering delivery food from local supermarkets. The internet retail system, for example, Taobao (a popular Chinese internet retailer, comparable to Ebay – ed.) is often the first choice. The Chinese are trying to resolve the situation by not spreading the virus and not exposing themselves to risk. It’s the same thing as with an ordinary flu. Everything can work out well, or it can work out with difficulties. 

The city is isolated, but goods are constantly being delivered. Since the quarantine was announced, leaving Wuhan without specialized documents or some necessity has become impossible. The city regions are also isolated. Leaving your region, if you want to, requires permission.

People at the entrance to a supermarket in Wuhan wearing facial masks due to the coronavirus epidemic. Wubei province, China, January 25, 2020. Photo: EPA-EFE/YUAN ZHENG

I’ve never been in a medical center in Wuhan, but I was, previously, in a hospital in Beijing. Even when there isn’t a crisis, it’s filled with people. Now hospitals who receive patients suspected of carrying the coronavirus are being set to work 24-hours a day. They’ve already built an extra hospital in Wuhan for a thousand people. Chinese social media shares videos of how doctors in special protective costumes examine the patients and sing songs to the patients undergoing rehabilitation.

We learn all the operational news and official statements of the authorities from the channel, among friends they call the “13th” or CCTV. And there is also the website of the Wuhan City Municipal Health Authority, which also duplicates the rules of conduct for those who are in quarantine.

The video where the Chinese fall and convulse is a fake. Now the Chinese work 20 hours a day and may just fall from fatigue. In addition, it can be a prank. Such pranks are very popular. A lot of memes are also spreading in social networks, like the image of a man in overalls and a gas mask with the caption: “Let's go for a walk around the city!”

Coronavirus patients at the new, temporary hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, China on February 5. Photo: EPA-EFE/YFC

Lydia Zhgyr

For about five days, I had symptoms of a cold or a respiratory illness that was progressing. I was hoping to recover at home, but I realized that I did not have enough knowledge of medications. So I had to go to a hospital.

I chose one of the best hospitals in Beijing – the China-Japan Friendship Hospital. I turned to the department for foreign clients. There was a two-meter infrared thermometer at the entrance that measures body temperature in one second. Then you’re either allowed inside the hospital department or not.

There is a table there, behind which is a nurse in a hazmat suit who tells you whether you can proceed inside. It was very cold outside, so my temperature was fine, and they let me in. When I listed my symptoms – said that I had a sore throat, nasal inflammation, and had the highest temperature of 37.4 – I was immediately sent to the infectious diseases ward.

Chinese doctors are very serious. Any symptom from the list of symptoms of coronavirus, and they immediately send you for examination. The infectious ward was really close. At the entrance you give your contact details, phone number and address, pay about 20 yuan ($2.8 - ed.) for the appointment, and get into the line.

Lydia Zhgyr had symptoms of a cold and went through a hospital health examination. Photo: courtesy

There were three patients in the room, we stayed away from each other. Everyone was wearing masks, doctors in full equipment and plastic goggles. The doctor listened to my complaints for two minutes, and sent me for a blood test. An extensive blood test in my case did not show anything interesting. But when I spoke more [about my symptoms], and the doctor identified symptoms resembling coronavirus, she sent me for another test. It looks like a small package, where there is a special swab for collecting a sample from the back of my nose and a test tube for it. In 10 minutes, this test can determine if you have coronavirus.

A few minutes later, a small piece of paper that had a minus mark was handed over to the doctor. With a blood test and a negative coronavirus test, I returned to the international department of the hospital to be prescribed treatment. This could be done in the infectious diseases department, but it turned out that there were only Chinese drugs there that did not suit me.

All of us who are in China are registered. If my data has already appeared in the patient registry, I am sure that they will check on me in the future. The school I work with conducts surveys among staff as per request of the Ministry of Education, in conjunction with the emergency commission. 

In this survey, we should indicate every week whether we felt any symptoms of the disease, what our body temperature was before filling out the questionnaire, or whether we contacted people who might be infected. I immediately indicated that I was in contact with potentially sick people, because I was in the clinic.

Public safety volunteers in protective masks at the entrance to a residential community in Beijing, China on February 5. Photo: EPA-EFE / WU HONG

The first workdays of this week I worked exclusively online. My work is completely based on conversations in messengers. I think that now all service industries in China do this in order to limit the direct communication of people in the workplace. And those whose work requires direct contact work in a limited mode. We were strongly recommended not to go into offices until February 17.

I heard that there are people who isolated themselves: purchased a month worth of food, closed their windows. A friend told me how he went out for dinner with his girlfriend. He returned home, the landlady where he rented a room shouted at him that he “brought the virus,” locked herself in the room, and did not let him in.

Oleksandr Nykolyshyn

I have been living in Beijing for almost 10 years. I work in media, and right now I am working from home. However, several times I had to come to the newsroom. At the entrance to the office, there was a person who checked everyone's temperature. There was a schedule sheet next to the elevator as to when disinfection needs to be carried out. Even the elevator buttons are sealed with a film that is changed every few hours.

Oleksandr Nykolyshyn has been living in Beijing, China for almost a decade. Photo: courtesy

In residential micro districts, only certain entrances and exits are open, where they check who enters and who exits. Only residents of these micro districts are allowed on temporary passes. From the very beginning, the authorities called upon all residents of China with a request to wear masks. Inside our building there’s a smell of the disinfectant spray that is used several times a day.

Masks were sold out in the first couple of days, but then they gradually reappeared in small batches. We have a pharmacy across the road, a certain amount of masks is brought there every day – a limited amount is sold to one person, so that there is no speculation. We were also given masks at work – so we have enough.

My son does not go to kindergarten right now. Last week, a small questionnaire was sent to all parents, where it was necessary to indicate whether the child was sick recently, whether there was a high temperature, whether we traveled outside Beijing, in particular, to Hubei province. In our group, fortunately, no one went anywhere. Everyone is healthy, and we are very happy about this. The slogan has already appeared in schools: "Lessons have stopped, but education hasn’t." Many institutions organize online lessons.

Around 300 people fell ill in Beijing, and I don’t think it is that much. There are more than enough hospitals here. Even in my area there are several that accept people suspected of having contracted coronavirus. In general, everyone understands the restrictions, no one complains, at least among my acquaintances. After all, no one wants to risk it. People are just looking for ways to distract themselves from the situation. For example, my wife has her own fitness studio. Classes can not be held, and no one would come. Therefore, she began conducting online classes for clients. And they are very happy, because everyone is bored sitting at home.

People wear protective masks in Beijing city center during the Chinese New Year in China on January 25. Photo: EPA-EFE / WU HONG

Daria Gorova

I, along with my husband and child, are currently in Vietnam. We have been traveling for two months now. We went from Kyiv to Beijing, and we planned to return home through it, too. Everything developed very quickly. First they closed off Wuhan, then Beijing, and then all of China. Therefore, we decided to fly to Ukraine via Hong Kong. And then it turned out that travel connections with Hong Kong were also virtually stopped. Some two airlines seem to fly, but the tickets cost $1,500 now and there are almost none left. At the moment, we managed to buy tickets from Vietnam to Hong Kong only. The cheapest was around $600.

We managed to visit China in December, before things “kicked off.” During the Chinese New Year, we already were in Vietnam – in a city that the Chinese love very much. At that moment, we had already heard something about coronavirus. But when you are a tourist in Vietnam, this distant Chinese Wuhan does not tell you anything. For the first time, I realized what we could face when I arrived with my child at the water park, and I had to stand in line for more than an hour. Everyone around us was Chinese, and they all had masks on. It was then that I realized that the problem is serious.

Daria Gorova, a Ukrainian who went traveling around China and Vietnam, says she did not notice much panic in the region. Photo: courtesy 

Then we found out that a man from Vietnam, an ethnic Chinese, went to Wuhan. And when he returned, he fell ill. At that point, even all of Russian tourists were wearing masks. Boxes with gauze masks appeared at hotel receptions. We were recommended to wear them, first of all, so as not to infect others.

Until recently we were in Hanoi – many wear masks there. Nobody was allowed inside the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum without a mask. My husband categorically does not want to wear one, but they insisted: get it out of your pocket and put it on. Rules are rules. Now we are in the countryside. And although there are also a lot of Chinese tourists here, only a few people wear masks.

Tourists queue outside of the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum on January 29. Photo: EPA-EFE/LUONG THAI LINH

Vietnam has not seen a decrease in tourists, many of them are Europeans. I did not notice a hysteria, but it would be better if there was one. Then I would have known, perhaps, that in Hong Kong a lot of people got sick too, and I shouldn’t have bought tickets through there. We would have flown through some Arab country. It’s a pity that we looked at memes with dogs from Ukraine instead of reading the English-language press about Hong Kong.

READ MORE: Evacuated Tourists From Chinese Island Of Hainan Back in Ukraine

/By Olena Kurenkova

/Translated and adapted by Maria Romanenko and Romeo Kokriatski