Ukraine: Flu Stats, Panic, Gauze Masks (and Some Lingerie)

Global Voices Online
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

GV's H1N1 Outbreak 2009 special coverage page is here. Last week's coverage of the flu epidemics in Ukraine: Oct. 31; Nov. 1; Nov. 2; Nov. 3; Nov. 4; Nov. 6; Nov. 7.

According to Ukraine's Health Ministry (UKR), 1,031,597 people in Ukraine have fallen ill with "flu, acute respiratory illness and their complications (pneumonia, etc.)" between Oct. 29 and Nov. 9 - and 174 of them have died.

According to World Health Organization, whose experts are currently working in Ukraine, "public health measures recommended by the Ministry of Health of Ukraine across the entire country include: social distancing (school closures and cancellation of mass gatherings); enhancement of surveillance activities; increased respiratory hygiene; and continuation of the vaccination campaign against seasonal influenza targeting at risk groups."

In the Ukrainian blogosphere, much of the discussion of the current medical emergency focuses on whether there are enough reasons to panic or not.

Maryna Reshetnyak, GV's Russian Language Health Editor, has just translated excerpts from one of the most widely read and discussed Ukrainian blog posts of the past week, written by Kharkiv-based pediatrician and author Yevgeny Komarovsky on Nov. 2. In his post (RUS), according to Maryna, Dr. Komarovsky has provided, among other things, "a balanced professional analysis of the flu epidemic" - and "shared his opinion concerning the hysteria surrounding the flu, the irresponsible appeals of politicians and the errors of public health officials." Here is one of Dr. Komarovsky's assessments:

[...] If we double the number of people sick with the swine flu (since no more than half the people with the flu go to a doctor) and compare it with other death rates, we will see that the death rate is even lower than with the regular flu. Pneumonia is the most common cause of death in every country at any time. Pneumonia often accompanies many other diseases and traumas. If each case of pneumonia was reported by the media, nothing good will happen. [...]

On Oct. 29, the day the epidemic was announced by Ukraine's Health Ministry, Lviv-based LJ user orestk carried out similar calculations (UKR) in an attempt to counter the panic:

In 2007, 205 adults died of pneumonia in Lviv region, in 2008 - 182 people. In the first nine months of 2009 - 105 people. There are 92 days in the last three months of the year. For the number of deaths to be no lower than last year, 182-105=77 more people have to die. That is, six people every week. And here we are having a panic attack because of four deaths (of adults, and there is one more - an 11-year-old girl) in the past week. Perhaps it's time to stop panicking? [...]

Two weeks later, Lviv region has 74 flu/acute respiratory illness/pneumonia-related deaths, which makes it the hardest-hit region of Ukraine so far.

On Nov. 5, Natalia Zhuravlova announced (UKR) the launch of an interactive map of flu dynamics in Ukraine, as well as a number of other related widgets, on the blog of the Ukrainian branch of the Russian web portal Yandex. Here is an excerpt from her introductory post:

Because of the epidemic, various scary rumors have been spreading rapidly in Ukraine - that we are having atypical pneumonia, or that we are having lung plague, or that there are more lethal cases due to swine flu than due to regular flu. The data on the dynamics of the disease often varies [significantly].

We at Yandex choose to look at things with calm. Yes, of course, we do not want to fall ill ourselves and are worry a lot about our dear ones. But we get flu epidemics every year, and each time we are told that there hasn't been a more horrible strain, but we are still alive and healthy (knock on wood). The most important thing is that actually the numbers of those sick with flu and acute respiratory infection aren't really high, they haven't reached last year's level yet. Unfortunately, people were dying from these diseases in the previous years, too, only no one was making the statistics public. So we should not panic. And, moreover, we should not trust the unconfirmed data.

So that our users could follow the official statistics of the spread of the disease and knew where to go to for consultation and help, we've developed several useful devices.


With the help of the map and the widgets, you'll see when the epidemic begins to subside. We hope that this will happen as soon as possible.

Stay healthy! And if you're feeling sick, call the doctor. And everything will be okay.

In a post about the flu info service offered by Yandex (UKR), Ukrainian Watcher - a blog covering "social networks, blogs and internet business" - also mentions's Flu Trends portal, which "uses aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity." According to this resource, "flu activity" is currently assessed as "high" in Ukraine, Hungary and Poland, and as "intense" in Russia and Bulgaria.

While Belarus is not being monitored by's Flu Trends, here is what LJ user budimir wrote (RUS) on Nov. 3 about the situation there in a comments thread on a post by Kyiv-based LJ user kermanich:

[Here] they are using good old methods in their attempts to fight [the flu outbreak] - by hushing it up. They are not allowing any information whatsoever, even the most necessary.

And the panic is raging here already. Maybe even more than in Ukraine.


EVERYTHING that is even distantly related to the treatment of flu has been swept away from the pharmacies.

And yes, Minsk is wearing masks. No one is explaining to Minsk residents, however, that it is not necessary to wear masks outdoors.


In my work-related [RSS feed] that I got myself when I started doing reviews of the Belarusian blogosphere, nearly every second post is about swine flu.

There are also plenty of reports from friends and friends' friends, who are saying that "people are burning down like candles."

And there is some first-hand info - from hospitals. [The situation is grave] there, as far as I understand.


They aren't blogging about Ukraine here, are focused on local matters instead. [...]

But the government, it seems to me, is trying to portray Ukraine as the source of the infection - the first officially confirmed swine flu death of a Belarusian citizen turned out to have its origin [in Ukraine].

But this is a lie - there have been more deaths. Not from flu, of course - because they don't die of it, but of its complications - pneumonia, etc.


Here's how blogger Ivanko of Fructus temporum described the situation in the Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk (pop. 173,700; Donetsk region, where, as of Nov. 8, 48,263 people have been officially confirmed to have flu) in this Oct. 31 entry (UKR):

[...] First of all, lines in pharmacies. Not too long, some ten people on the average, but considering that we have a pharmacy every 20 meters, and sometimes pharmacy kiosks stand right next to each other, it was hard not to notice such a sharp increase in demand.

After my question, "What's happened?", people looked at me as if I... well, they looked at me unkindly.

After I learned the reason of the anxiety, I decided to buy Amizonum and Oxoline ointment [anti-viral drugs popular in Ukraine], because I didn't remember if we had them at home.

But I was too late. Amizonum had been sold out the day before, they've run out of gauze masks today, and bandages were almost gone, too. The pharmacist was dispensing her expert opinion on how to make two gauze masks out of one bandage.

I stopped by at a few more pharmacies - same thing everywhere.


Today, people were even lining up to buy medicinal herbs from an elderly lady [at the local market].

I don't know, maybe things are really that bad?

Then again, my neighbor still has a sack of overpriced salt that she bought during the latest salt anxiety. [At some point, there were false rumors in Ukraine that salt would disappear from the stores, which urged many people to store up on it in advance.]

And here is what LJ user e_grishkovets (Russian writer Evgeny Grishkovets) wrote on Nov. 5 about Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, where his shows were canceled due to the flu situation:

[...] In general, I can't recall Kyiv ever being in such a gloomy, suppressed and exhausted state. Though, of course, it would have been hard for me to perceive the city differently, considering the problems that have occurred.

[...] Theaters are closed. Ministry of culture has made this decision. But events scheduled to take place in sports facilities have not been canceled... The concert of Todes dance group at some palace of sports hasn't been canceled, a football game took place at a huge stadium yesterday, and today there is Aleksandr Rozenbaum's concert [...], at the Ukraina Palace (4,000 seats). [...] If someone could explain to me why these events are taking place while the theaters are closed... Where is the logic here, where is the truly thoughtful and well-justified fight against the epidemic?... [...]


On my way to the airport, the driver said that for the fourth day in a row there were no traffic jams in Kyiv, and there are a lot fewer cars and people in the streets. "Everyone looks kind of beaten," the driver said and smiled bitterly. [...]

On a lighter note, Ukrainian women's organization Femen held an "anti-stress" event at Kyiv's Independence Square on Nov. 9: to cheer Kyiv residents up, a group of activists put on self-made gauze lingerie and masks. LJ user drugoi (RUS) has posted three photos from the event, and there are six more photos at Femen's LJ blog (RUS). (Natalia Antonova's Sept. 11 interview with Femen's leader Anna Gutsol is here.)

While the undressing part of Femen's prank may or may not have been an allusion to the Nov. 2 protest against Ukraine's anti-pornography law (WARNING: graphic content), carried out by the Voina radical art group, the masks do seem to be turning into a fashion item in Ukraine: here, for example, is a selection of user-designed masks on sale at one of the Ukrainian online shops. And here's a link to LJ user ellustrator's gauze mask cartoon, which may or may not allude to this photo of PM Yulia Tymoshenko wearing a mask.

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