Blocked from obtaining vaccines from the United States, its putative ally, and taunted in Russian propaganda, Ukraine turned to China.
A patient breathing through an oxygen mask in a hospital for coronavirus patients in Kyiv in November.Credit…Gleb Garanich/Reuters
Lyudmyla Boiko’s family has already had a harrowing, and lethal, encounter with the coronavirus.
Several family members fell ill, and her daughter-in-law’s mother died. Now, Ms. Boiko, a 61-year-old employee of a botanical garden in eastern Ukraine, is deeply worried about her husband, who has underlying health problems but has not yet caught the virus. She is pinning her hopes on a vaccine.
“I don’t care where the vaccine is produced as long as I’m sure it is safe,” Ms. Boiko said. “Safety should be the first priority.”
But in Ukraine, it is hardly the only consideration.
The country, already caught up in the broader tug-of-war between East and West in European politics, has now also become a focal point in the geopolitics of coronavirus vaccines — so far, to Ukraine’s detriment.
First, talks with Pfizer and other Western vaccine makers to obtain early shipments collapsed after the Trump administration banned vaccine exports. Now, unless the incoming Biden administration steps in, the earliest commercial purchases of Western vaccines will not be delivered before late 2021.
Not surprisingly, Ukraine’s plight has caught the eye of Russia’s state-controlled news outlets, which have highlighted the failure of Ukraine’s Western allies to step up in a moment of need — and offering Russia’s vaccine as an alternative.
Ukraine’s leaders, who have raised worries about the safety and efficacy of the Russian vaccine and would, in any event, almost literally die before accepting help from Russia, their blood enemy, turned to China, buying its first vaccine in a hurried negotiation in the final two weeks of December.