Protesters in Kyiv demand to release anti-vaxx leader suspected of creating “anti-Ukrainian network”

"Compulsory vaccination is fascism" says the poster of a protester during a rally demanding to free anti-vaccination leader Ostap Stakhiv on 24 November in Kyiv. Photo: Pravda.com.ua 

Ukraine

On 24 November 2021, several thousand people protested near the Ukrainian Parliament “to stop the forced vaccination against COVID-19.” Their main demand is releasing from custody Ostap Stakhiv, the leader of the “Human rights movement” who is suspected of financial support from Russia and attempts to seize power.

Some of the protesters held banners with QR codes leading to the website of Russia’s ruling United Russia party; Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council has warned of a “Russian trace” in the protest.

He was detained by the Security Service on 18 November 2021, after agitating for the creation of “people’s police,” allegedly to resist vaccination.

It is noteworthy that some protesters were holding signs with QR codes leading to the website of Russia’s ruling United Russia party. In this regard, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council stated that it has found a Russian trace in the March of vaccination opponents.

Particularly, it stated that earlier, the Center for Countering Disinformation at the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine identified a Russian information special operation aimed at minimizing the level of vaccination of the population of Ukraine, which spread reports about alleged negative consequences of vaccination through social media.

It viewed the QR codes at the rally as a “confirmation of the implementation of special information anti-vaccination measures by the Russian Federation.”

Protesters hold signs with QR codes leading to Russia’s United Russia (Yedinaya Rossiya) partyand statements “I am a living person, not a commodity” and “Stop QR-code,” referring to the QR codes of vaccination certificates Ukrainians display in the Diya app. Screenshot from BBC News

The same signs were seen on an appeal of residents of the city of Tuva to the Russian government with criticism of limitations for unvaccinated citizens and, consequently, criticism of QR codes as proof of vaccination.

Screenshot from a video of an appeal of Tuva residents to the Russian government against the “segregation of citizens” through QR-codes of vaccination certificates

The organizers of the protest have distanced themselves from the signs. Meanwhile, BBC identified one woman holding the sign, who said it was taken from the internet, and that the QR-code was crossed out because “we are against, including against United Russia.”

Stakhiv was the co-organizer of Ukraine’s most numerous anti-vaccination rally on 3 November 2021 in Kyiv.

Amid Ukraine’s latest COVID-19 surge, on 26 October, the government restricted entrances to cafes, trade centers, and public transport for unvaccinated individuals without a PCR test, saying it will help to counter a new wave of COVID-19 in Ukraine and foster vaccination.

The latest COVID-19 wave brought record death rates to Ukraine but seems to have passed its peak at publishing date. In parallel, Ukraine has ramped up its vaccination efforts, with daily vaccination rates rising sharply in parallel with the lockdown measures.

Vaccination hesitancy in Ukraine remains high, but the latest polls show that the number of Ukrainians opposed to vaccination is falling.

According to the latest survey by the Rating sociological group, 36% of Ukrainian adults don’t want to take the jab (down from 43% in October and 56% in September).

The same poll shows that 55% of surveyed Ukrainians support compulsory vaccination of members of certain professions (teachers, doctors, civil servants), 35% are against.

Nearly 40% support the ban on visiting public institutions without a COVID certificate or test, while 53% are against it.

Almost 30% support a ban on the use of public transport, 65% do not.

Part of the bloggers who criticize current quarantine measures distanced themselves from Stakhiv. They gain more popularity on YouTube and Telegram as the government dismissed unvaccinated employees from state institutions, state enterprises, and service industries. About 10,000 Ukrainians in total were suspended from work because of the refusal to get vaccinated, with school teachers alone making for 3,415 suspensions. They can return to work only if get vaccinated.

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