- A crowd of Ukrainian protesters on Thursday attacked buses ferrying evacuees from Wuhan, China, to a quarantine hospital.
- The buses were transporting 45 Ukrainians and 27 foreign nationals through Novi Sanzhary in central Ukraine.
- Nobody on board has been confirmed to have the novel coronavirus. They are being taken to a two-week quarantine as a precaution.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked the protesters to show empathy, saying, “We are all human.”
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A crowd of Ukrainians ambushed and attacked a fleet of buses transporting 72 evacuees from Wuhan, China, to a coronavirus quarantine hospital in Ukraine.
On Thursday morning, 45 Ukrainians and at least 27 nationals from South American countries landed at Kharkiv International Airport, in the central region of Poltava, after departing from Wuhan.
They took buses from the airport to a hospital in Novi Sanzhary. As they neared their destination they were set upon by dozens of protesters who had blocked a bridge and put burning tires in the road, according to Reuters.
The crowd then began hurling stones and bricks.
At least three buses had their windows smashed. Hundreds of armed police officers intervened to push back the protesters, and the buses were eventually able to pass and reach the quarantine.
Some of those aboard the buses waved Ukrainian flags in an attempt to plead for solidarity, according to Agence France-Presse.
As they clashed with the police, protesters chanted “shame on you” at the officers trying to prevent their attack.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleaded for the protesters to show empathy. He said “we are all human,” according to AFP.
“Most of the passengers are people under 30,” Zelensky said. “They are almost like children to many of us.”
None of those on board have been confirmed to have the virus,the BBC said, citing Ukraine’s health ministry.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov arrived at the scene and tried to calm protesters.
“We are not talking about infected people – we are talking about healthy people,” he told a crowd, according to reports.
“So far,” one of the protesters replied.
Health Minister Zoryana Skaletska wrote on Facebook that she would be joining them in quarantine as a show of solidarity.
“I hope that my presence there will calm those in Novi Sanzhary, as well as the rest of the country,” she said. “I want to emphasise: These people are our fellow citizens, they are not strangers to us. We live in the same country and we have to take care of their health and safety.”
Ukraine is yet to record a confirmed case of COVID-19. More than 2,200 have died of the disease, with more than 76,000 recorded infections, the vast majority in China.
The protests appear to have been fuelled in part by a fake email purportedly from the health ministry which claimed that there were coronvirus cases in Ukraine.
“Attention! The reports about five confirmed cases of COVID-19 coronavirus in Ukraine are UNTRUE,” the Centre for Public Health said in a statement.
The email, which according to BuzzFeed News was sent to the Ministry of Health’s entire contact list, originated from outside Ukraine, according to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU.)