Protests ukraine coronavirus

Ukrainian riot police gather to block protesters who planed to stop busses with passengers from the Ukrainian aircraft chartered by the Ukrainian government for evacuation from the Chinese city of Wuhan, leave the the gate upon their landing at airport outside Novi Sarzhany, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020
Ukraine had to resort to old-school police tactics to quash a protest by local residents of a small town when they closed roads after learning that a plane full of possible carriers of the new coronavirus was heading their way.

On Thursday, the Ukrainian government finally evacuated its citizens from the epidemic-stricken Chinese city of Wuhan. Four people were barred from boarding the plane by medics due to elevated body temperature, but 73 others boarded the charter flight. After a short detour to Kazakhstan to deliver two nationals to the Central Asian country, the plane flew to Ukraine.

But not everyone in Ukraine was happy for their 45 compatriots and 29 foreigners who were fleeing China. Some residents of Novi Sanzhary, in Ukraine's Poltava region, learned that they will be hosting the evacuees and crew members from the plane at a local medical resort. Much like similarly-minded people in Hong Kong, they said they didn't want to take the risk and resorted to street protests.

The demonstrators cut off the road leading to the medical facility and even gathered some tires and tested flammable tool used in street protests throughout the world. The authorities however were not particularly receptive to the people's demands. Dozens of police officers in riot gear backed by an armored infantry fighting vehicle were deployed, according to videos from the scene.

Some clashes took place as officers removed cars blocking the way. About a dozen of the "most aggressive individuals had the legal consequences of illegal activities explained to them," the police reported.

As tensions boiled over, President Volodymyr Zelensky took to Facebook to chastise the protesters.

"The attempts to cut off roads and block the hospital, to prevent Ukrainian citizens from coming to Ukraine, do not show the best side of our character," he wrote. "I realize that for several decades our policies created a bad habit of distinguishing between 'right' and 'wrong' Ukrainians. But that time is over."

Similar protests using roadblocks and threats to burn tires happened earlier this week in the Ternopil and Lviv regions of Ukraine, where local residents were agitated by a rumor that their communities had been chosen to keep evacuees in quarantine. The rumors proved to be false and no police action was required.

None of those who arrived in Ukraine from China have any symptoms of the coronavirus, or they would not have been allowed to leave the country. The disease however may surface at a later stage.

Kiev's plan is to keep the evacuees under observation at the Novi Sanzhary recreational site for two weeks. The president has assured people that every conceivable precaution is being taken to prevent the infection from spreading into Ukraine.