With Ukraine’s borders scheduled to slam shut to cope with Covid-19 contagion, thousands of Ukrainians who had been working in Europe risked infection by crowding at crossings to get back into the country.
Endless lines of mostly men, many wearing face masks but some without, waited for hours at border crossings between Ukraine and Poland on Friday, hours before the lockdown was to take effect. RT’s news agency Ruptly captured some of the footage in Lublin Voivodeship, at the Polish side of the crossing in Dorohusk.
Similar scenes unfolded at other border crossings, with photos widely shared on social media showing tightly packed crowds – the exact opposite of “social distancing” advised across the world as the best way to slow the spread of the potentially deadly virus.
Ukraine closes its borders tonight. Here were the scenes earlier today on its frontier with Poland, where millions of Ukrainians work. The people pictured will presumably fan out across the country, returning to their home-places. Images from @epaphotospic.twitter.com/2mxh1PLhll
— Bryan MacDonald (@27khv) March 27, 2020
Reports from Korczowa, in the Subcarpathian Voivodeship, were just as dire. As of 2 pm local time on Friday, about 3,500 people had queued up at the crossing, on foot. It was estimated that processing them all would take up to 15 hours, clearly implying that some might be stranded there – and with the Ukrainian embassy’s website down, no solution for their plight, Gazeta Wyborcza reported.
However, Ukrainian officials reportedly told their Polish counterparts they would admit their citizens even after the border officially closes, regional spokeswoman Małgorzata Waksmundzka-Szarek is cited by the newspaper as saying.
Around 3,500 Ukrainians queued at the Poland-Ukraine border today to go home before Kiev closes its borders. Large crowds cramped together, waits of up to 10 hours, looks terrible https://t.co/ZQQY6IuZZq
— Ola Cichowlas (@olacicho) March 27, 2020
One European country after another slammed their borders shut as the coronavirus continued to spread. As of Friday, Ukraine had 226 officially confirmed cases, while Poland had over 1,389 – but the authorities have been operating on the assumption that the actual number of people infected must be much higher.
Announcing the border closure, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked those citizens who heeded his call to return two weeks ago, and some 80,000 people who were evacuated by the government by airplane, train and bus.
“But today we have no time to wait,” Zelensky added, saying that Ukraine was “facing a difficult choice between citizens who are still abroad and the safety of the 40 million citizens in the country.”
Millions of Ukrainians emigrated to Poland and further west for work after the 2014 coup in Kiev touched off an economic collapse and civil war in the country’s east. Zelensky was elected in a landslide last April on a promise to end the conflict, but has not been able to overcome extreme nationalist forces to do so.
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