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Village doctor in Ukraine faces coronavirus challenge

by MSTYSLAV CHERNOV AND YURAS KARMANAU THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | January 17, 2021 at 2:07 a.m.
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych rides an old-fashioned horse-driven cart to visit a patient with COVID-19 in Verhovyna 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 -- 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.

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"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."

Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, walks on country road to attend to her patient near 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)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, walks on country road to attend to her patient near 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)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing face mask against coronavirus, writes down in her notebook while visiting an elderly patient with COVID-19 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)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing face mask against coronavirus, writes down in her notebook while visiting an elderly patient with COVID-19 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)
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)
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)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing face mask against coronavirus, writes down a note as she visits a patient with COVID-19 in Verhovyna village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing face mask against coronavirus, writes down a note as she visits a patient with COVID-19 in Verhovyna village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
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. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
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. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, poses for a photo prior to her interview with the Associated Press in Verhovyna village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, poses for a photo prior to her interview with the Associated Press in Verhovyna village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing face mask to protect against against coronavirus, prepares an equipment to visit patients with COVID-19 in Verhovyna 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)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing face mask to protect against against coronavirus, prepares an equipment to visit patients with COVID-19 in Verhovyna 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)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing face mask against coronavirus, measures a patient's with COVID-19 pressure in Verhovyna 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)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing face mask against coronavirus, measures a patient's with COVID-19 pressure in Verhovyna 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)
A neighbor helps Dr. Viktoria Mahnych to wear a Hutsul's traditional colorful clothes preparing to attend the Orthodox Christmas celebration in Iltsi village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 7, 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)
A neighbor helps Dr. Viktoria Mahnych to wear a Hutsul's traditional colorful clothes preparing to attend the Orthodox Christmas celebration in Iltsi village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 7, 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)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing a Hutsul's traditional colorful clothes, crosses herself holding a face mask in her hand because other worshippers forced her to take off her mask " in order not to remind about the contagion" in the Holy Trinity church during the Orthodox Christmas celebration in Iltsi village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing a Hutsul's traditional colorful clothes, crosses herself holding a face mask in her hand because other worshippers forced her to take off her mask " in order not to remind about the contagion" in the Holy Trinity church during the Orthodox Christmas celebration in Iltsi village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
An ethnic Hutsul man, an ethnic group spanning parts of western Ukraine, wearing traditional colorful clothes, kisses a priest's cross during the Orthodox Christmas celebration in the Holy Trinity church in Iltsi village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Hundreds of maskless parishioners in Verkhovyna lined up at the local church to kiss the icons and the priest's cross during the Christmas service. 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)
An ethnic Hutsul man, an ethnic group spanning parts of western Ukraine, wearing traditional colorful clothes, kisses a priest's cross during the Orthodox Christmas celebration in the Holy Trinity church in Iltsi village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Hundreds of maskless parishioners in Verkhovyna lined up at the local church to kiss the icons and the priest's cross during the Christmas service. 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)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing a Hutsul's traditional colorful clothes, center, crosses herself holding a face mask in her hand because other worshippers forced her to take off her mask " in order not to remind about the contagion" in the Holy Trinity church during the Orthodox Christmas celebration in Iltsi village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Dr. Viktoria Mahnych, wearing a Hutsul's traditional colorful clothes, center, crosses herself holding a face mask in her hand because other worshippers forced her to take off her mask " in order not to remind about the contagion" in the Holy Trinity church during the Orthodox Christmas celebration in Iltsi village, Ivano-Frankivsk region of Western Ukraine, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. Mahnych fears that a lockdown in Ukraine came too late and the long holidays, during which Ukrainians frequented entertainment venues, attended festive parties and crowded church services, will trigger a surge in new coronavirus infections. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
After a long working day Dr. Viktoria Mahnych and her two daughters walk to her parents to celebrate an eve of the Orthodox Christmas 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)
After a long working day Dr. Viktoria Mahnych and her two daughters walk to her parents to celebrate an eve of the Orthodox Christmas 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)

Karmanau reported from Kyiv, Ukraine.

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