Return of China evacuees sparks protests, clash with police in Ukraine

Ukrainian riot police gather to block protesters who planned to stop buses with evacuees from Wuhan. (AP pic)

KIEV: Dozens of people protested Thursday outside a hospital in central Ukraine and some briefly clashed with police over plans to quarantine evacuees from coronavirus-hit China in the facility, officials said.

The protest took place in the central Poltava region as Kiev repatriated dozens of nationals and foreigners from China and President Volodymyr Zelensky urged his compatriots to show solidarity.

Dozens of protesters blocked a road near a hospital in the town of Novi Sanzhary even before authorities confirmed the site would hold evacuees.

A plane carrying 45 Ukrainians and 27 foreign nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, arrived Thursday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Ukraine’s interior ministry said that all evacuees would be kept for 14 days at the Novi Sanzhary medical facility in the neighbouring Poltava region.

Ukraine’s health ministry has said none of the passengers is sick.

Authorities beefed up security at the site, deploying hundreds of armed police and an armoured 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 in a statement.

No injuries or detentions have been reported.

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.

On Wednesday, several dozen demonstrators blocked roads near a hospital in the western town of Vynnyky after rumours spread the site could hold some of the evacuees.

Zelensky on Thursday sought to allay fears, saying that “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.”