“If I wear a facemask I’ll get tuberculosis” – a shopkeeper in a tiny grocery store in a village in central Ukraine argued with a local policeman. He was inspecting whether safety protocols were observed. The policeman had a right to demand a penalty up to 500 euro which is an incredible amount of money for Ukrainian countryside. Since there were no cases of COVID in the area (local doctor confirmed) a young officer decided a warning would be enough. Wearing masks indoors and inside the public transports has been mandatory in Ukraine since March.
In other shops in the village people wore masks mainly because it was already clear: both police and film-crew are in the area. Still off the screen villagers agreed that they do not want to wear masks due to stigma – others may think they are sick. Off the camera policeman himself admitted he doesn’t believe in COVID, though his father recently passed away because of pneumonia. By the end of summer I was finishing a documentary on how Ukrainian key-workers were surviving the pandemic. The local policeman was one of the protagonists.
The atmosphere felt extremely different from the early days of quarantine in spring when villagers were frightened by ‘a foreign disease’ and preferred to stay home. When the film had been screened my friends and colleagues from the capital were arrogantly laughing on ‘ignorance of people in the villages’. Yet treating corona as a hoax was not just a rural issue. Famous instagram blogger, who had previously publicly dismissed COVID-19, died due to its complications.
Yet the longer pandemic lasts and the more cases were diagnosed in Ukraine it felt more people were going out also in the capital. We’ve been filming an infectious disease unit anesthesiologist from one of the major Kyiv hospitals. In April she had to postpone her wedding, but in the end decided to have a modest ceremony in summer. While having her wedding celebratory make up the bride was complaining about the people not wearing masks properly while her hospital was packed compared to Spring.
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It looked as if people were overdosed with abundance of the COVID-info and decided to ignore the news. To be completely honest, I personally muted Telegram channels devoted to coronavirus run by the Ministry for Healthcare which was extremely popular when it was launched. Co-operating with Ukranian Public Broadcasters I mentioned how colleagues were struggling to report ‘another COVID-story’. The quarantine has become new normal; and its growing effect on individuals stopped to be news any longer.