Village doctor in Ukraine faces coronavirus challenge

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Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing face mask against coronavirus, checks on a COVID-19 patient with a stethoscope at at his home in Iltsi village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Ukraine is struggling to contain the coronavirus pandemic that has inundated its overburdened medical system, as Dr. Viktoria Mahnych goes door to door providing much needed help to patients.(AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

VERKHOVYNA, Ukraine (AP) — Riding a horse-drawn cart, Dr. Viktoria Mahnych trots along country roads to attend to her patients in several villages nestled in the Carpathian Mountains in western Ukraine.

The country of 42 million has recorded more than 1.1 million confirmed COVID-19 infections and nearly 20,000 deaths. Mahnych, 30, now fears that the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented restaurants and other entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections and make her job even more difficult.

Starting Friday, Ukraine imposed a broad lockdown aimed at containing a surge in infections, but many medical workers say that the move came too late.

The streets of Ukrainian cities swarmed with festive crowds during the holidays and thousands flocked to churches to attend Christmas services Thursday in the mostly Orthodox country without worrying about social distancing or wearing masks.

“If they had imposed the lockdown before the holidays, it would have had a positive impact on the number of coronavirus infections,” said Mahnych, who noted that the holidays significantly expanded social contacts. “Let’s see what comes after the holidays.”

Hundreds of maskless parishioners lined up at a church in the village of Iltsi to kiss the icons and the priest’s cross during the Christmas service. Mahnych, who also attended the service, said other worshippers forced her to take off her mask “in order not to remind them about the contagion.”

Ukraine’s new lockdown closes schools, entertainment venues and restaurant table service through Jan. 25. Some regions, however, have refused to comply. The mayors of Ternopil and Cherkasy — each with a population of more than 200,000 — said their cities won’t observe the restrictions.

Mahnych said she currently has to tend to 2,030 patients in three villages, but didn’t specify how many of them have COVID-19.

“I feel panicky at times, but I try to mobilize myself and have reason prevail,” Mahnych said. She lamented the state of the nation’s health care system that has remained underfunded and weakened by widely criticized reforms.

Mahnych’s husband sometimes gives her a lift in their old family car, and on other occasions, she rides a bike or a cart to visit her patients.

She doesn’t wear full personal protective equipment while visiting coronavirus patients, fearing she’ll spook locals.

“The first time we came to a patient to take a PCR test fully dressed in protective costumes,” she said, “neighbors almost beat us up.”

She and other doctors pin their hopes on the vaccination effort, which is expected to start in March.

“I don’t have any time or energy left,” lamented Mahnych, who said she has to work day and night without any time off. “My family is practically not seeing me.”

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Karmanau reported from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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