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Fighting Covid-19 in central Ukraine

16 April 2020

Media platform ZMIST Poltava is at the centre of an initiative in central Ukraine focused on helping their city fight the Covid-19 virus. To date, over 200 volunteers have signed up to help.

Oleksei Serdyukov, co-founder of ZMIST Poltava, is a busy man. Since mid-March, his organisation has been at the centre of efforts to ensure that Poltava, a city of 300,000, is as well prepared as possible for the Covid-19 pandemic.

His team now coordinate the Poltava Volunteer Group, which in addition to ZMIST Poltava, includes the Poltava Battalion of the Not-Indifferent NGO, Poltava Business Association and the HelpGroup Charity Foundation. Thanks to this group’s unrelenting work in recent weeks, Poltava is probably in a better position to address the coronavirus crisis than most other cities in Ukraine.

Serdukov credits this success to a true sense of coordination and cooperation within this group and with the authorities, and to the groundwork achieved by ZMIST Poltava over the past eighteen months.

ZMIST Poltava was set up in late 2018 thanks to an EED-start up grant. As Serdyukov tells it, the team’s vision was to build a media outlet that would help encourage local citizens to become engaged members of the social and political life of their city, and to ensure better communication between the authorities, businesses and the community. They wanted to build a better future for their city, which in recent years has been marred by corruption and mismanagement.

As the only independent media outlet in the city, ZMIST Poltava provides unbiased and up-to-date information on local developments, with the emphasis always on community-based news and local politics. The portal includes civic activist resources such as a blogging platform, a platform for electronic petitions, a local events advertising section and a crowdfunding platform.

Today, ZMIST Poltava has a workforce of around 40, which manages the news portal, a creative agency, a Ukrainian-language bookstore and a café, and an analytical centre. And it was this analytical centre that was key to ZMIST’s fast response to the Covid-19 crisis.Zmist pic1

“When we saw the difficulties that other countries were facing with Covid-19, we began working with our researchers and analysts to see what actions we should take here. We were able to identify key issues, such as quarantine and protecting the vulnerable. We also understood that Ukraine might soon run out of vital Protective Personal Equipment (PPE) for medics and that there were shortages of specialised medical equipment like respirators. We began to procure as much equipment as we could. We were probably the first city in Ukraine to do so,” Serduykov relates.

Vital equipment for Covid-19

One of the volunteer group’s first actions was to set up a monitor to collect information on shortages of required items, such as PPE and ventilators and on other critical medical stocks needed in public health facilities and by paramedics. They identified businesses that could supply these goods, agreed the price and organised that partner businesses and authorities would cover the costs. A member of the group is also now working in the Regional State Administration and the City Council to coordinate procurement efforts with the authorities.

They also created a publicly-accessible Google form listing first priority items and any citizen can fill in the form to inform them where these items are available. As Serdyukov puts it, “We wanted to make it possible for all citizens to help their city, even when they are sitting at home.”

The team launched a website with simple pictograms providing a visual picture of current needs in local hospitals, the level of demand and the number of items currently available. A new Facebook account and a Telegram channel also give ongoing relevant updates on the epidemic.

As PPE equipment is becoming increasingly difficult to locate worldwide, the group sourced fabric and arranged for protective clothing is to be manufactured in a number of local factories, creating much needed employment during these difficult times. They launched a crowdfunding campaign on its website to fund this initiative, raising over 100,00 hryvna in just one week.

Looking after the vulnerable

The volunteer group has not forgotten the more vulnerable members of Poltava’s population at this time, and they have organised a group of volunteers to deliver food and medicines to the elderly, disadvantaged and vulnerable. They recently launched a high-profile advocacy campaign on social media with the hashtag #збережи_життя_60+ ( #save-lives of_60+) to encourage young people in the city to take on the responsibility for caring for the elderly.

Zmist pic2
A group of volunteers also run a call centre, where operators now work around the clock taking calls from elderly and socially vulnerable people with requests to purchase and deliver food and medicine. The callers cover the cost of the purchased goods, but volunteer couriers deliver these to their homes at no cost. The group has now set up an online platform to facilitate this process, ensuring that all orders are delivered within the hour. Serdyukov notes that all volunteers need to wear protective clothing when delivering these orders, and that they follow up each order with a telephone call to ensure quality control.

The Poltava Volunteer Group have put up notices on residential buildings around the city, at house entrances and in lifts, to inform people on Covid-19 and instructing them on disinfection of these public areas, ensuring that all residents, including those less likely to be on social media, are well informed on protective steps they should take.

Motivating medical personnel

Asked about the group’s plans in the next few weeks, Serdyukov emphasises that in these difficult times, it is the dedication of the medical community that will save lives. Ukrainian doctors and nurses are typically poorly paid and this can negatively affect their morale, particularly given the stresses of such a public health crisis. The group has now launched crowdfunding initiative to provide financial premiums to help motivate the hard-working medics who are at the centre of the Poltava Covid-19 response.


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