As COVID Surges, Protesters Hit Streets of Ukraine to Decry Vaccine Mandates

Over a thousand people blocked streets leading to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on November 3 during an anti-vaccination protest, the Associated Press reported.

The protest was held to respond to COVID-19 vaccine certifications and new restrictions mandating that teachers, government officials and other workers have to get vaccinated before November 8. If they do not, their salaries will be suspended. Ukraine has recently recorded a record-high level of infections and deaths due to the virus. Despite this, hesitancy over the vaccine among the Ukrainian population is high.

Only 17.1 percent of the Ukrainian population is fully vaccinated, AP reported. The government attributes hesitancy to religious denominations and conspiracy theories that the vaccines contain microchips or cause mutations.

The rally comes in the wake of the detainment of Nadiya Savchenko, a former lawmaker in Ukraine caught with a fake vaccination certificate at an airport. She spoke at the rally, decrying the government measures.

"The authorities will only aggravate the situation further," Savchenko said. "You have the right to move freely around the country, this is everyone's right."

However, the Health Ministry is fighting back. During a briefing, Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said that "the anti-vaccination spirit quickly disappears in intensive care, and fake certificates do not work there. Calls not to get vaccinated are, in my opinion, a mockery of our doctors and families who have lost their relatives."

Ukraine has reported nearly 3 million COVID-19 cases and 69,447 deaths attributed to the virus.

To read more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

No to Mandatory Vaccinations
Anti-vaxxer protesters hold signs that read "Say "No" to Covid genocide!", "Say "No" to mandatory vaccinations!" and "Say "No" to experiments on children!" during their mass protest against the COVID-19 restrictions outside the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv on November 3, 2021. Photo by Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images

The protesters, mostly women and young people, didn't wear masks and held up signs reading "Say No to COVID Passports", "Say No to COVID Genocide" in front of the Ukrainian parliament building in Kyiv.

Last week, Ukrainian authorities also started requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results for people boarding airplanes, trains and long-distance buses.

Ukrainians can freely choose between the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, but the country has Europe's second-lowest vaccination rate after Armenia.

"I don't want to participate in an experiment on myself, but I am deprived of the right to choose," said Tamara Ustinova, 35, a teacher from Mariupol. "The authorities force Ukrainians to get vaccinated, creating unbearable conditions, but the danger of genetic mutations is much greater than the harm from COVID."

Savchenko and the protesters held several prayers in front of the parliament building.

New government regulations and restrictions have spawned a booming black market for counterfeit documents. Fake vaccination certificates are selling for the equivalent of $100 to $300, and there have been reports of a fake version of a government digital app with fake certificates already installed.

Authorities have opened 1,065 criminal cases over the distribution of fake certificates involving 80 doctors and 35 travel agencies. Police have blocked 40 websites that offered fake certificates.

Parliament has proposed to make the use and production of fake certificates a separate criminal offence, punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine of about $6,460. A bill to that effect has already been supported by lawmakers in the first reading on Tuesday.

Ukraine Protest
Demonstrators gather to protest against COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates in Kyiv, Ukraine, on November 3, 2021. The country has recently had record-high numbers of infections and deaths. AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky