A MONTH OF DISASTER AND REPRESSIONS | Vitaliy Portnykov

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It is difficult to call the first summer month successful for Ukraine. The lifting of restrictive measures imposed by the government at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic meant both a revival of life and a significant increase in the incidence of the disease. The statistics of new cases of coronavirus infection in Ukraine have been breaking records for some days now. On June 26, statistics recorded a symbolic increase in 1,109 patients, which became a real "coronavirus record" in Ukraine. However, on other days the number of detected cases was creeping to a thousand, which, of course, raises many uncomfortable questions for society and for the government.


Optimists say that such large numbers should not be feared simply because at the beginning of the epidemic, Ukraine conducted such a small number of tests for coronavirus that it’s statistics at the time simply could not show the true extent of the disease. But now there is more testing - that's why the scale is much larger: Ukrainians simply did not have the opportunity to assess what was really happening. However, Health Minister Maxym Stepanov disagrees. He admits that the amount of testing has increased considerably: “compared to the beginning of April, it was 200-300 tests per day. And today it is about 12-14 thousand." But, at the same time, the Minister points out that the number of citizens with symptoms of the disease is increasing, the number of illnesses, in other words, patients with severe symptoms, is increasing. And as a result - an increase in the number of pneumonias, one of the main symptoms of coronavirus infection.


This means that if the disease develops at the same rate, the day may come when the hospital capacity of Ukraine will not be able to cope with the number of patients. And then there will be the same collapse in order to prevent which Ukraine has imposed strict quarantine, and which we have already seen in southern Europe. And we are not talking about some obscure future, but about months, and even weeks.


The question is - what is the government going to do in this case, which faces several challenges at once. It's a coronavirus, and the collapse of the economy, and the floods in the western regions of the country - and everything requires money, which is not there, and smart actions that are not noticeable. Currently in Ukraine there is a so-called adaptive quarantine, which works in such a way that the decision to further strengthen or reduce restrictions should be taken by local authorities. But mayors are already in the face of election campaign, remembering that they will soon have to defend their mandate. Nobody wants to quarrel with people tired of long quarantine, it is necessary to take measures to start the economy. Therefore, the increase in the number of diseases does not strengthen, but weakens the restrictions - as, for example, in the Ukrainian capital, where against the background of this growth of coronavirus allowed visitors to enter restaurants and opened swimming pools in sports centers. The calculation of the mayors is simple: let against the background of a new epidemiological crisis the decision on strict quarantine be made by the government, and they will only humbly submit to these measures and show the citizens concern for their economic interests. But the government also does not want to "burn" itself, because it is working on the falling rating of President Volodymyr Zelensky and his "Servant of the People" party. The authorities understand that the failure of this, in fact, loss of presidential fans in the local elections will be the beginning of the end of Volodymyr Zelensky. And that's why they want to shift the responsibility for a possible epidemiological catastrophe to the local authorities - then they will keep their rating, and, perhaps, will lead their people into mayors and deputies of local councils.


In a difficult situation with the epidemic and the economy, citizens themselves could think for themselves. But many of them are accustomed to looking at the government, whose representatives have repeatedly shown their indifference to the deadly danger. Then the deputies from the "Servant of the People" will suddenly be seen at lunch in the "closed" restaurant of the presidential colleague. Or the president himself, in the company of his closest associates, will drink coffee in a "closed" cafe and then pay a fine for it, as if it were a matter of money, not a danger to health. Then the president would say he wanted to catch the coronavirus to show that it was possible for everyone and not so scary - as if he had not witnessed how, say, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought for his life. And a few days after this statement, unfortunately, the president's wife will fall ill. And this ignorance and ridicule coming from the first person is transmitted to the people and creates by no means the most unfavorable background for the fight against the epidemic.


At the same time, the epidemic itself - despite the sad figures - disappears from the first level news. In recent days, it has given way to a catastrophic flood in the western regions of the country. Many believe that such a large scale of the disaster was caused by the uncontrolled deforestation of the Carpathian forests. But the main thing we have seen again is that the state is not ready to cope with such disasters and acts reactively. The arrival of the president, the trips of officials, promises to help, television reports. I remember this whole construction not even from the post-Soviet, but from the Soviet times. But it is obvious that floods need to be fought before, not after. Although what to say now - you just need to help people! And to remind that such serious challenges as epidemics and natural disasters require not a war of politicians, but national unity.


But this can only be dreamed of. The fact that specifically in June there were summons several times for questioning and attempts to bring charges against former President Petro Poroshenko, showed that the authorities were trying to solve problems by fighting their predecessors and opponents. Honestly, there is nothing new in this for me. Even when I worked in Moscow, I covered in detail the massacre of the trial of then-young Vladimir Putin over businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky. And then, already in Kyiv, I commented on the trial that Viktor Yanukovych arranged over Yulia Tymoshenko.


Then I wrote that this is how young authoritarianism is trying to establish itself in order to sow fear in the country and gain full control over its very existence and over its financial flows. The reasons for repressions are also not different: Khodorkovsky, Tymoshenko, and Poroshenko were all accused of corruption, but did not find any real basis for such an accusations, then actually tried to hold a trial in connection with actions related to their performance of official duties. And the "support groups" in such actions are always the same - the oligarchs. Putin had Roman Abramovich, who wanted to get rid of a competitor and take revenge on him for a failed combination of companies. Yanukovych had Dmytro Firtash, who wanted to take revenge on Tymoshenko for distracting RosUkrEnergo from the gas pipe and eliminating the "gasket" for Russian gas supplies to Ukraine. Zelensky has Igor Kolomoisky, who is taking revenge for the nationalization of PrivatBank.


But I would not directly compare Zelensky with Putin and Yanukovych. It would not happen first of all because both the President of Russia and the former President of Ukraine fought against their opponents during the period of economic growth and could count on the fact that citizens would simply not pay any attention to politics. And in Ukraine today - is it time for such actions? Zelensky's rule began with a slowdown in the Ukrainian economy and is approaching an era of total poverty. We are now living, in the literal sense of the word, far from prosperity in recent weeks, but with illusory hopes that it will not get worse.


At this very dangerous moment for the country, not to look for ways to save it, not to agree on national unity, but engage in political repression is madness. And even in the situation where the non-approval of the new government's program of action in June, we found out that there was no "mono-majority" in the Ukrainian parliament and that allies are needed to resolve fundamental issues, for effective voting, the president and his party need allies, not enemies.


One can only hope that the authorities will come to their senses and understand the level of challenges facing the country today.


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