COVID-19 in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR): propaganda instead of prevention29.04.2020
The current situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions with COVID-19 is a copycat of the Russian actions taken since the beginning of the armed aggression against Ukraine. From 2014, Russia responded to all accusations of their military support of the puppet regimes of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) as follows: “We are not there”. The same happens in the occupied Donbas where they use the same rhetoric about the coronavirus: “it is not here”, as if it is some kind of the safe heaven in the ocean of the worldwide pandemic. Yesterday the first case of the coronavirus was even registered on Easter Island. However, the leadership of the collaborators vehemently deny any numbers of infected people despite the open border with Russia.
The first two confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in Russia were registered in Tumen and Chita on 31 January 2020. Both infected individuals were the nationals of the People’s Republic of China. As of 27.03.2020, the number of those who contracted COVID19 in the Russian Federation (according to the Russian Ministry of Health) totals 1036 people with the highest numbers of those infected in Moscow and its region. Officially, three cases of the SARS-CoV-2 deaths were registered.
Despite this, the so-called leadership of the Ministry of Health of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republics (DPR) report daily: “There are no registered cases of the new coronavirus on our territory. Don’t panic!” However, the social media are ripe with messages about a high number of ill people with similar symptoms to coronavirus.
What does the puppet regime of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic hide from the people of Donbas and the entire world?
A “zero” patient in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) could have been the citizen O., who lives in Yenakiyevo (Donetsk region) and who has obtained a Russian citizenship through a simplified procedure.
On 6 March 2020, the Russian media reported that a woman, who had arrived in Moscow from China, and who upon arrival at the Sheremetievo Airport had been tested to have symptoms of the coronovirus, was told to return to the place of her registration in the DPR. It is interesting that Russian propagandists underlined she was a Ukrainian and forgot to mention she had a Russian citizenship (though unlawful).
On that same day (March 6th) the headquarters of the Ukraine’s Joint Forces Operation, tipped off by the intelligence, decided to temporarily restrict the border checkpoint entry for the individuals with coronavirus symptoms.
“In the event of deteriorating conditions of the epidemics on the temporarily occupied territories, the Russian-backed occupation government would not be able to take the situation under the control due to a lack of qualified medical personnel, equipment and medicine”, the Unified Joint Operation (UJO) posted on Facebok.
Three days later, on 9 March, the Unified Joint Forces’ command centre posted on their website that the person suspected with the coronavirus would be transported to the uncontrolled border area between Russia and Ukraine in the district of the border checkpoint “Derzhanskyy” and then sent to one of the hospitals of DPR.
The citizen O. left Moscow for Yenakiyevo (under temporary occupation in the Donetsk region) by a regular bus. En route her tempreture rose to 37,2, which was registered at a Russian customs checkpoint. The woman was removed from the bus and sent in an ambulance via a ‘green corridor’ to Gorlivka. This is because in Yenakiyevo, where she was supposed to go, an infectious disease department of a local hospital was under the renovation.
Depending on the woman’s itinerary, the bus could have stopped in Tula or Voronezh or could have gone straight from Moscow to Novoshakhtynsk without any stops. The automobile route between Moscow and Yenakiyevo is over 1000 km.
According to Russian air carriers, it could have taken between 18 to 22 hours on the road. Therefore, if the woman was ill with the new coronavirus, all passengers that were with her could have been infected (who arrived in Yenakiyevo on 9 March), as well as the bus driver and those with whom she might have contacted directly during stops. The social media report that there were 2 drivers and 19 passengers with the woman in that bus.
The health ministry of DPR reported on 10 March that the woman who had been hospitalisied one day prior into the infectious disease department, had stable temperature of 37,2, but there were
‘no syptoms of the coronavirus infection. All people she contacted are under the medical vigilance’.
But the DPR’s health ministry didn’t report about the number of people she contacted with or what type of the medical vigilance, such as hospitalization, outpatient vigilance, or self-isolation, was used. In other words, from the beginning the decision was made to silence the problem on the occupied territories under the motto: “Coronovirus is not here”.
As the propaganda tool, the following day (11 March) in its daily COVID-19 reporting, the so-called DPR’s health ministry “forgot” to mention to the citizens of Donbas that Russia registered 28 COVID-19 cases (+8 in the last day). At the same time, they mentioned all the far-away countries: Bolivia and Burkina-Faso (2 cases each as of 11.03.20), DR Congo (1), Brunei (1) and Jamaica (1). The DPR strated reporting the Russian SARS-CoV-2 stats only from 18 March, when the number of infected reached 93 (30 in the last day). The so-called health ministry has started updating their website with the world news about the coronavirus since 27 January 2020. This is another proof of synchronized actions of the puppet administration of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics with their headmasters in Russia. It is precisely on 27 March when Russia set up an ad-hoc centre updating on the coronavirus epidemics and headed by the Russian government’s Vice President Tatiana Golikova.
Let’s go back to the story about the woman, who could have become a “zero patient”, on 8 March (the day before she was taken by ambulance to Gorlivka’s hospital), the director of the santitary and epidemiological service of the foreign ministry of DPR Dmitri Klishkan gave an interview to KP:
«There is no testing for the new coronavirus in the Republic. The reason is that there is no testing system in place, but we will have it on Monday» (9 March – editor’s note).
Due to no availability of tests, the woman’s medical analysis was sent to Russia, most likely to the experts of the Scientific and Research Institute ‘VECTOR’ (in Novosybirsk). The social media users of the temporarily occupied territories reported that the Gorlivka’s hospital No. 3 had been guarded by the DPR interior ministry’s personnel covered with medical masks and protection gloves. Access to the patient with suspicion of the coronavirus was restricted to all, but medical personnel. At the same time, in the social media the hospital’s staff complained that sanitary measures were not followed in its entirety (because of a human factor, such as a lack of items of individual protection).
On 13 March, the Miister of Interior of Ukraine Arsen Avakov reported at a Cabinet of Minister’s meeting that in Gorlivka there were 12 cases of the new coronavirus. It may be that he referred to the passengers of that bus with the infected woman who came from Moscow. The social media’s reports are mixed on that account. Some citizens of Gorlivka report that some passengers were hospitalized into the infectitious disease department of the Gorlivka hospital No. 3 and with a few sent to the teraputic department of the Gorlivka hospital No. 2. Others claim that since arrival the passengers had stayed at home on self-isolation. It is not clear, however, whether the local occupation government ensured the self-isolation of the passengers.
That same day, the head of the National Security and Defence Committee of Ukraine Oleksii Danilov confirmed that 12 people were infected with COVID19:
«Indeed, the Foreign Intelligence Service and our other units have the information that there are cases of the coronavirus registered on the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. More so, we know about how it all began. A sick woman returned home by a minibus from China via Moscow and that’s how it all started”, said Danilov.
As a reaction, the DPR’s health ministry denied the information about 12 coronovirus cases and informed that the patient in Gorlivka was in a satisfactory condition and had a normal temperature.
«Medical personnel checked the patient, who had been previously hospitalized with suspicion of COVID-19, and the result is negative. In other words, the coronavirus was not detected».
(Interestingly, the language that was used said “checked” not “tested”). As if there are no other patients with the coronavirus in the DPR.
Also, the self proclaimed DPR’s health ministry accused Ukraine of
“destabilizing the situation in DPR by making up new methods to spread panic among our residents”.
On 18 March, the so-called head of the DPR’s ministry of health Olga Dolgoshapko said that the woman who was suspected to have contracted the coronavirus, was discharged from hospital as two tests showed negative results. If the information provided by the occupation regime, the woman who came from China on 6 March and was hospitalized on 9 March, did not stay in the medical facility for 14 days, which is the incubation periof for the new coronavirus.
In the meantime, the new information came in about the other patient, who could have been infeted with COVID-19, who is a student A. studying at a foreign languages department of the National Donetsk University and who has recently returned from Poland. At first, she was at self-isolation at home and later hospitalized to the Vyshnevskyi hospital, from where she was transported to the infectious disease department of the Gorlivka hospital No. 3. It transpired that 3 more students of the same university, who had contacted her, got flu symptoms. This university was the first one to introduce the quarantine for students. The university’s professors were obliged d to wear masks; all desks and doors in classrooms of the university were disinfected with a bleach-and-water solution. After this case, the so-called ministry of education, disseminated the information among students and profesors of Donetsk higher educational institutions, trying to identify students who came from “dangerous countries” to DPR in the last 20 days. Russia was not listed again. There were the following numbers of higher Donetsk abbreviated institutions: DonNU – 160; DonNTU – 70, DonNMU – 50, DonNUET – 40. For unspecified reason, the students and professors were asked to report if they had passports of Ukraine/Russia/DPR.
Another potential case of the new coronavirus was reported from Torez. The man with high temperature was collected off a street and out into an ambulance. Later, it became known that his girlfriend, who had visited China, was allegedly tested negative for Covid-19.
The social media also reported about a Donetsk resident Natalia. The 67 year-old woman returned to DPR from abroad on 13 March. She complained about having a strong cough and temperature. She was first diagnosed with a flu and then with pneumonia and, as a result, hospitalized to the Republican Rehabilitation Centre in Donetsk. The woman died on 22 March. It is not known if she was tested for the coronavirus when she was alive or posthumously. As usual, the so-called health ministry denied this information.
Similar news came from other towns and villages of DPR.
Is it possible that the occupation government was not aware of the situation? If we leave aside the official boisterous messages of the DPR’s health ministry and look at the real steps undertaken there, the epidemiological situation there looks more serious than it is depicted.
Attempts to prevent the epidemics
The chief combatant of the self-proclaimed DPR Denis Pushylin issued the decree №57 «On the introduction of a high alert regime», due to the “threat of the new coronavirus infection in the Donetsk People’s Republic caused by 2019-nCoV”. This document better represents the real situation with the threat of epidemics in DPR than the official information of their health ministry.
The document instructs about the identification of the people with high temperature at the border checkpoints and their transportation to the infectious disease departments for further diagnosis. This decree also obliged the citizens with flu symptoms, who visited territories with registered cases of the new coronavirus, to immediately call for a doctor’s visit, restrain from visiting a hospital and to self-isolate at home for 14 days.
It is interesting that the decree No. 57 mentions the following countries with negative coronavirus situation: The People’s Republic of China, Spain, Italy, Iran, South Korea, France Germany and Ukraine, but not the Russian Federation, where (as of 14.02.20 ) 59 cases of COVID-19 were registered (+14 per day). In Ukraine, on that same day the Ministry of Health registered only 3 cases (+0 per day).
Moreover, Pushylin obliged the employers to test their employees for temperature daily and to mandatorily suspend those with higher temperatures. Similar instructions were given to the DPR’s ministry of education and science. School students and workers with higher temperatures need be isolated until running medical checks. Also, the decree banned mass gaherings in educational institutions and restricted any local events gathering more than 1,000 people in DPR. According to this decree, the health ministry had to be ready to provide a medical support and select a biological material of the new cornovirus for research purposes. The priority for medical personnel were those individuals who stayed self-isolated at home with respiratory difficulties, those who visited “problematic” countries, as well as patients over 60 year-old.
The annex to this decree is of a special interest. According to it, the DPR’s leadership made a list of the hospitals, which would accept patients with coronavirus and the people they contacted. During the first stage (up to 500 registered cases) 13 hospitals would provide medical aid, where there were 37 in-patient beds for those who needed respiratory reanimation, 544 in-patient beds for those diagnosed with coronavirus without a need for reanimation and 400 in-patient beds for those who contacted with infected people.
During the second stage (from 500 to 1000 registered cases), they provisioned additional 36 in-patient beds for those who would need reanimation, 650 – for the coronavirus-positive patients and 160 – for the people who contacted with infected people.
The third stage (over 1000 cases) would increase the number of in-patient beds to 615 in-patient beds (no reanimation needed) and 80 for those who were in contact with infected indviduals.
This scale of preparation is in dissonance with the optimistic forecast made by DPR’s propagandists.
Ukraine and Russia additionally restricted the entry from the territory of DPR, which caused some panic among the citizens of the occupied territory. Within a week, the price of staple food increased by 10-15%, some goods disappeared from the shelves of shops due to a panic. The DPR became in deficit of protection masks, spirirt, chlorehexidin and paracetomol.
On 16 March, for the first time the head of the DPR’s health ministry Olha Dolgoshapko confirmed that from the beginning of the year, 43 individuals died of H1N1 (the swine flue) in DPR. Accoridng to her, these individuals didn’t vaccinate on time and called for a medical support too late, so there was no chance to save them.
At the same time, the occupation government posted the news about remote temperature testing and the key enterprises of the so-called DPR started to disseminate instructions on fighting the new coronavirus.
Russia closed the entry for the citizens with DPR passports and for the Republican air carriers.
The education ministry issued a decree about the introduction of the quarantine in schools and higher education institutions from 19 March.
The director of the enterprise “Special clothwear and uniforms” said that the company could not produce protection masks because of the lack of raw materials, as Russia banned the export of bandage cloth.
The health minister of DPR Dolgoshapko informed about the unsatisfactory condition of the health system on the occupied territory. According to her, the supply of doctors was just 60%, the medical personnel of the middle-rank and junior staff stood at 70%. There were only 122 ambulances and 300 mln roubles were needed for the renovation of medical facilities.
The state sanitary and epidemiological service of the DPR’s Republican Centre informed that the so-called DPR was equipped with tests for cornovirus. No information about the numbers or about the source. If the testing system was provided by Russia, why would not they use it as a perfect PR example of “Russia does not quit its people”. Why they did not show a humanitarian assistance convoy with tens or hunderds of boxes with tests, their clearance and interviews with doctors of medical facilities who received these tests? No information campaign in the DPR media signifies that either their tests are non-existent or they have them in very small amounts.
Denis Pushylin made an order, by which the top management of the self-proclaimed republic cannot leave DPR.
The Donbas Opera cancelled all their performances. They promised to return back the money for the tickets after the end of the quarantine.
An extra-ordinary sitting of the so-called government of DPR took place. After the decision, the Reunification of the People of Donbas programme was temporarily suspended.
Any movements between the temporary borderline between Ukraine and DPR were stopped.
The Russian Federation allowed the citizens with passports of unrecognized republics to enter Russia.
At the DPR’s health ministry’s briefing, it was reported about the spread of tuberculosis between medium to high level. In addition, the DPR’s health minister Dolgoshapko informed there were 15 people suspected with the cornovirus infection on the territory of the self-proclaimed republic, 71 were under medical vigilance, including 4 children, some 247 осіб were on self-isolation. But there is no coronovirus, there are enough tests. She also refuted the information about the doctors of Gorlivka who had to sign non-disclosure document about the real COVID-19 situtaion.
The self-proclaimed DPR closed its border with the self-proclaimed LPR. The situation around visiting Russia became paradoxical. From 23 March, Russia has allowed those with passports of DPR and LPR to enter the country. However, as reported in the social media, it is DPR who starting from March 16th, has forbidden their citizens from leaving for Russia. Those who return from Russia to DPR sign a paper agreeing to self-isolate for 14 days.
The propaganda mirage
It is interesting to monitor how the epidemiological situation of the DPR changed the information policy of the self-proclaimed republic. Propagandists worked along several strands:
- Turning a blind eye to the official Russain statistics about infected people and cases of death in Russia
- «No coronavirus in DPR». This propagandist policy line was pressed by the DPR’s health ministry and their head Olha Dolgoshapko. A week ago, news started to swirl about a high spike of those infected with pneumonia, tuberculosis, swine flu etc. Since recent, the DPR’s health ministry started to publish some information and at its own pace about those suspected of COVID-19, who came from “dangerous countries”, among which Ukraine but no Russia (the reason -see point 1)
- From 14 March (when DPR announced the ‘regime of high alert’), the information sources of the self-proclaimed republic were ripe with garbage information in the form of the Soviet époque of stagnation ( i.e. a number of ministries reported of improvements in a number of public spheres of a young republic).
- Propaganda among the population increased to distract their attention from the real situation of worsening epidemiological situation and catastrophic health system of DPR, which would not be able to withstand the new coronovirus.
As an example, on 16 March, after the high alert regime was imposed, there was a public gathering in Makiievka in support of the ‘reunification of the Crimea with Russia’, where a couple of hundreds of people with no items of individual protection were told to take part as if on volunteering basis.
That same day the chief combatant of the self-proclaimed DPR Denis Pushylin promised to hold a parade commemorating 9 May in DPR. The 9t May parade of 2020 will be larger by scale and more interesting. I don’t want to spill the details upfront, but this will be a very unusual parade, said the DPR’s leader.
His intention to run the parade in DPR despite the coronavirus epidemics, Pushylin confirmed on 24 March.
‘The COVID-19 situation will not prevent us from commemorating the year of the Great Victory in DPR. We have all conditions for conducting it with heads held high, as we are used to’, he underlined. Pushylin also added that DPR were not planning on cancelling the rally of ‘The immortal regiment’. ‘It is our tradition and this year should be no exception. For the rally to be a success, conducting the preparatory work is crucial’, he said.
The member of the organizing committee and the head of the civil organization “The Young republic” Mikhail Frolov reported to Pushylin that ‘The Immortal Regiment’ rally would gather over 170,000 people in 19 territorial units of DPR ОРДО, including 130 000 people in Donetsk.
Ще одним внеском у пропагандистську істерію став законопроєкт від 24 березня «Народної Ради ДНР» щодо «заборони організацій, які займаються героїзацією нацистських колаборантів».
До пропагандистських заходів з відволікання уваги населення від епідемії COVID-19, що насувається на окуповані території, долучилось також т.зв. «Генпрокуратура» ОРДО, яка 25 березня розпочала «кримінальну справу» проти Петра Порошенка за «організацію терористичних актів на території республіки, у тому числі, вбивстві легендарного командира ОРБ «Спарта» полковника Арсенія Павлова (позивний «Моторола») восени 2016 року».
Another contribution to the propagandist hysteria was the draft law of 24 March of the People’s Council of DPR about a ban of the organisations who glorify Nazi collaborators.
The so-called Prosecutor General Office of DPR joined the propaganda to distract attention of the public from COVID-19, when on 25 March they opened a criminal case into Petro Poroshenko for organizing terrorist acts on the republic’s territory, including for the murder of the legendary combatant of Sparta Unit Arseniy Pavlov (nickname Motorola) in the spring of 2016.
Тo further distract the general public’s attention, one of the favourite methods of propaganda was used to look for internal enemies, which are ‘Ukrainian spies’.
Short summary: In the event of a total deficit of testing for COVID-19, the lack of medical personnel and equipment for respiratory reanimation (artificial respirating unit), with coronavirus-positive people in DPR, the puppet regime of the self-proclaimed republic has made a decision to imitate the Chornobyl syndrome of the Soviet times by denying the catastrophe until the end and destracting the people’s attention by propagandistic messages as long as possible. It is of high concern that the leaders of the so-called DPR want to hold a massive gathering with a big number of people during the pandemic, after which it wuld be impossible to stop it on the temporarily occupied part of the Donetsk region.
Valentyna Bykova, the expert of the information resistenace strand of the International Centre for Countering Russian Propaganda