An appointment is made on a deserted downtown street, outside an elementary school that has been closed for almost three weeks. My benefactor, the father of a friend, is quietly waiting for me in his car. Blue gloves on his hands, mask lowered on his chin, cigarette on his beak, he comes out when he sees me, shakes my hand – I have no gloves, I hesitate for a second – and hands me his precious cargo before s eclipse. A dozen surgical masks, a few gloves, and a bottle of hydroalcoholic gel. Here I am equipped.
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Blues, whites, blacks or reds for the most charming: Kiev has adopted the mask, which has become commonplace since the first quarantine measures in mid-March. No strict confinement here, but streets sparse by the closure of cafes, restaurants, shops and most public transport. Ukraine had fewer than 1,000 cases of Covid-19 in early April, with little information on the extent of the epidemic, with fewer than 4,000 tests having been carried out over the same period. Ukrainians distrust the authorities, and protect themselves.
But where do these famous masks come from? On Twitter, a resident of the capital has fun: ” In the USSR, we laughed at the fact that people were still able to find food even when the shops were empty. In Kiev in 2020, half of the city wears a mask when they are almost impossible to find in pharmacies “
Resourcefulness pays. Some like me take advantage of the generosity of more far-sighted knowledge. Others ask pharmacies about arrivals, which are irregular but not completely dried up. Online sales of handmade masks have also exploded, even if they are almost always given the word “non-medical mask” to avoid the wrath of the authorities. Small business that does not happen only on the Internet: a piece of paper hung in a hurry on a wall in the center promises three “washable” masks for 50 hryvnias, just over 1.50 €.
If the wearing of the mask has become so widespread despite the supply difficulties, it is because of the quarantine measures that have made it almost mandatory for people to move outside. Supermarkets are now more often than not requiring their customers to wear masks, while the government may in the coming days simply ban presence in public spaces without masks. And if that doesn’t work, there will always be one last bastion: the affectionate admonitions of an old lady crossed in the stairwell of my building, a piece of white fabric across her face: “Why don’t you wear a mask ? There’s an epidemic, don’t you know? “