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Ukraine revisited: A surge of COVID, a shortage of doctors

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In May, Germany-based video journalist Mstyslav Chernov traveled to Ukraine to document how the country and its health system were grappling with COVID-19. Chernov, working with Kyiv-based freelance photographer Evgeniy Maloletka, produced powerful stories about the country’s crumbling heath system and heroic work being done by medical workers amid a critical shortage of doctors.

As the virus recenlty made a fierce comeback in Ukraine, Chernov and Maloletka returned to cities and hospitals they visited five months ago, sadly finding that the situation had deteriorated even more.

Their five-day trip,in which the pair covered more than 1,500 miles by road,was made even harder as many of the individuals they relied on in May,including the director of a morgue, had since died of COVID-19. Chernov and Maloletka focused on a small hospital in the western part of the country that had been designed for 100 patients but already held 106. The AP team spent a night in the COVID unit capturing the haunting moment when a patient who died was taken away.

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Dr. Oleh Hornostayev speaks to a coronavirus patient at a hospital intensive care unit in Stryi, Ukraine, Sept. 29, 2020. Coronavirus infections in Ukraine began surging in late summer, and the ripples are hitting towns in the western part of the country while the area faces a “catastrophic” shortage of doctors, a hospital’s chief physician told the AP. – AP Photo / Evgeniy Maloletka
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A nurse checks the temperature of a patient with coronavirus at the only hospital in Stebnyk, a town of 20,000 people in western Ukraine, Sept. 29, 2020. As coronavirus cases increase, every bed in the hospital is in use and its chief doctor is watching cases surge with alarm and anguish. – AP Photo / Evgeniy Maloletka

Their coverage also focused on the powerful story of Ivan Venzhynovych,a 51-year-old therapist from the western town of Pochaiv,who was featured in their previous story,describing the challenges of dealing with the outbreak. Venzhynovych had died the previous week of double pneumonia,which his colleagues believed was caused by the coronavirus even though he tested negative for it. His widow reached out to Chernov to let him know what happened and to say she was grateful for the AP’s coverage earlier in the year. She said that the stories Chernov and Maloletka did in May were so widely published that the whole country knew of her husband and was mourning his death with her. She also said she was furious at the government for allowing the virus to rage out of control and for refusing to compensate her family for her husband’s death because he had tested negative. Chernov and Maloletka worked tirelessly to get all the interviews and elements to tell Venzhynovych’s story,including a heartbreaking interview with his widow.

Working with Belarus-based AP reporter Yuras Karmanau,who is currently working in Kyiv,Chernov and Maloletka produced a deeply reported text story,two exclusive video stories and a comprehensive photo package that gave an intimate look at the crisis in Ukraine.

The all-formats stories were used by numerous key customers,including Al Jazeera,ABC,Rai and Sky News and multiple Russian outlets. Al Jazeera used Chernov’s video as part of its digital package about the virus, while The Guardian directly quoted AP’s reporting and used Maloletka’s photos in its live blog.

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