While vaccination rates in Eastern Europe generally lag behind, Ukraine has one of the lowest in the region. But due to its underfunded and struggling healthcare system, the situation has turned dire almost two years since the virus spread across Europe.
The country sets almost daily records for infections and deaths, most recently on Tuesday, when 838 deaths were reported.
“We put out the fire again. We are working as at the front, but our forces and capacities are limited, ”said Molchanov, who works at the hospital in the southern Ukrainian city on the Dnieper River. “We work to the limit. “
After his grueling shift, the 32-year-old doctor returns home to sleep and recuperate for two days. The next one can be even more difficult.
“The situation is only getting worse,” Molchanov said. “Hospital beds are running out, there are more and more serious patients and there is a dire shortage of doctors and medical personnel. “
The tents next to the Kakhovka hospital have 120 beds, and 87 of them are occupied, with more patients arriving every day. But Molchanov is one of only three doctors looking after them.
The administration of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy inherited a health system undermined by reforms launched by his predecessor which closed many hospitals in small towns.
In these communities, people have to seek treatment in the big cities. If the problem is severe enough that a patient needs an ambulance, the wait can be up to eight hours.
“They are bringing patients in an extremely difficult condition, with a prolonged form” of COVID-19, said Dr Anatoliy Galachenko, who also works at the tent hospital. “The main reason is the remoteness of the sites and the inability to provide assistance in the early stages of the disease. “
Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who heads the opposition Batkivshchyna party, said she had visited many hospitals in Ukraine and found shortages everywhere.
“The mortality from COVID that is now recorded in Ukraine is not just mortality; it is the killing of people by this government, which does not have oxygen, antiviral drugs, beds and normally paid medical staff, ”she told parliament.
“There are no more free beds in the country – a new patient immediately comes to the bed of a released person,” Tymoshenko added.
Four coronavirus vaccines are available in Ukraine – Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac – but only 21% of its 41 million people are fully vaccinated. The Department of Health reported that 96% of patients with severe COVID-19 were not vaccinated.
Zelenskyy has promised every fully vaccinated Ukrainian a payment of 1,000 hryvnia ($ 38), or about 5% of the average monthly salary, but widespread reluctance persists.
Doctors say vaccines are very effective at preventing deaths and hospitalizations, and when infections in people who get vaccinated do occur, they are usually mild.
Oleksandr Kymanov, who refused to be vaccinated, eventually became infected and was taken to Kakhovka tent hospital from the town of Rozdolne, about 20 kilometers (12 miles).
Connected to supplemental oxygen, he cited various misconceptions about the vaccine, saying it was “unnecessary” and “people are still infected and getting sick.”
Doctors are complaining that vaccine falsehoods about containing microchips or that they cause infertility and disease are behind the COVID-19 outbreak.
“People believe in the most absurd rumors about fleas, infertility and the dangers of vaccines, the elderly in risk groups overwhelmingly refuse to be vaccinated, and this is very harmful and increases the burden on doctors”, Molchanov said. “People trust their neighbors more than doctors. “
The government has demanded that teachers, doctors, government employees and other groups of workers be fully immunized by December 1. It has also started requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results for long-distance plane, train and long bus travel.
The regulations have created a black market for fake vaccination documents, which sell for the equivalent of $ 100 to $ 300. A fake government digital smartphone app is reportedly available, with fake certificates installed.
“COVID cannot be fooled with a fake certificate, but many Ukrainians only learn about it in intensive care,” Molchanov said.
The Interior Ministry said 1,200 groups had been sent across Ukraine to verify the authenticity of medical documents. Police have already identified several illegal printers who created fake certificates.
Doctors say fake certificates make their jobs harder.
“We are working to the limit, but we are tired of struggling not only with disease, but also with stupidity,” Molchanov said.