The Wasted Weeks Of Ukraine’s Coronavirus Response

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When the coronavirus began bearing down on Ukraine in early March, Arsen Zhumadilov was in a key position to take action — and he thought he was ready, reports.

As director of the country’s new national medical-procurement company, it’s his job to ensure that Ukraine’s hospitals are well-stocked with tests, ventilators, and protective gear to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But he says he has been unable to do that job, stymied mainly by a now-dismissed health minister who seemed more interested in getting a chosen candidate installed as a deputy head of the procurement company — despite a recent conviction for shoplifting caviar, Snickers bars, and other items — than in launching efforts to obtain crucially needed supplies.

The result, Zhumadilov and others say: As coronavirus cases mount weeks into a lockdown in a country already facing economic pressures and the effects of a six-year war with russia-backed separatists in the Donbas region, the state company designated to procure supplies for the fight against COVID-19 has not ordered a single thing.

That leaves supplies that have come through private initiatives, humanitarian aid, and the efforts of local governments — a drop in the bucket compared to Ukraine’s real needs. On April 7, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said that $35 million has been spent on coronavirus-related procurement by other state agencies, but that the country would have to spend 10 times that amount to “fully implement the steps” needed to fight the pandemic.

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