Compulsory-voluntary vaccination: how Russia is testing “Sputnik V” in the occupied territories

Russia is compulsory-voluntarily vaccinating the population, including those in the occupied territories, with its own Covid-19 vaccines, which have not been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

At the same time, according to sources of the Ukrainian Security and Cooperation Center (USCC) in the Ukrainian special services, the Russian authorities have created such conditions in the occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions that it is almost impossible to avoid vaccination with doubtful vaccines.

The Russian-controlled authorities of the so-called “DPR/LPR” have pushed the economic situation to the wall, so residents are forced to leave en masse to the Russian Federation for earnings. But to enter Russia, having “certificate of vaccination” is obligatory.

Due to the aggravating epidemiological situation, the Russian authorities have set up posts of the State Traffic Police at the entrances in some regions, where these documents are checked around the clock. Vaccination certificates are also required for students studying in the Russian Federation. Russian universities will restrict access to the university buildings for students who have not been vaccinated against coronavirus or do not have the appropriate antibodies.

At the same time, even those residents of the occupied territories who registered for vaccination on their own in February are still waiting for the vaccine.

Therefore, Donetsk and Luhansk hospitals are already offering to buy Covid-19 vaccination certificates. The price of certificates varies from 4 to 5 thousand rubles (from 1360 to 1700 hryvnias), depending on the speed of production.

Vaccination with Russian drugs raises significant doubts about both quality and safety. It bears reminding that the Russian side has not yet provided the necessary information about the clinical trials of “Sputnik V” to the EMA. The regulator notes that the deadline for their submission has long expired.

In addition to “Sputnik V”, Russia vaccinates with other self-produced drugs – “EpiVacCorona” and “CoviVak”. They had been registered before phase III trials ended. According to WHO documents the developers of “EpiVacCorona” did not apply for a quality assessment of the vaccine (Expression of Interest, EOI).

Regarding the “CoviVak” vaccine, no international data is confirming its quality at all. 

Nevertheless, on June 21, Russia officially introduced mandatory vaccination of trade and service workers in the regions. 

However, information about compulsory-voluntary vaccination with Russian vaccines appeared long before that, in the fall of 2020. So the Kremlin was actually testing drugs on people.

Occupied territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions

In the Russian-occupied territories of the Ukrainian East, vaccination with “Sputnik” officially began on February 1. The vaccine was delivered under the guise of “humanitarian aid”. 

Yet in September there was information on social networks about vaccination of the Russian military of the 1st Army Corps of the Southern Military District dislocated in Ukraine. Russian drug, probably “EpiVacCorona” (allowed for use only in Russia and Turkmenistan), was used. Vaccinations were carried out by military infectious disease doctors and epidemiologists from the Russian Federation. In such a way, according to local doctors, “total” vaccination of all personnel with Russian-made serum was carried out.

Russians were vaccinated first, then the so-called “leadership of the republic, administrative and law enforcement agencies of the DPR”, then teachers and doctors.

At the same time, Russian military doctors recorded the body condition and reaction to vaccinations and possible side effects. So there was actually a compulsory-voluntary trial of the vaccine on humans. Upon hearing this, local doctors refused to vaccinate in the first place. 

Leader of the “DPR” militia Denis Pushylin was vaccinated in front of cameras at the beginning of the official vaccination launch, but in comments and on public pages, locals expressed distrust, doubting that Pushylin injected himself with a drug that did not pass the trial. 

Moreover, “Sputnik V” has many contraindications. The side effects include numbness in the hands, abscesses, heart problems among people 50+. According to information on social networks, leader of the “LPR” Leonid Pasechnik, who had a heart condition, refused to vaccinate due to the side effects of the Russian vaccine.

In the list, there is also a clause stating that “Sputnik” vaccination is contraindicated for people who have had Covid-19 in the last 6 months. However, in the so-called “LPR” mass testing for coronavirus was not conducted due to the extremely limited number of tests. And when in October 2020 hospitals ran off beds, the Ministry of Health of the “Republic” issued a directive to “write down pneumonia to everyone”. So now it is also a problem to define who went through an illness and who did not. 

Already on February 11, the media reported on the mass refusal to vaccinate among civil servants of the so-called “LPR”. 79% of the personnel of the Pershotravneva military commandant’s office refused to vaccinate, while in Anthracite, 85% of the city’s doctors did not want to be vaccinated: “First of all, this is due to that people do not want to risk their health. The quality and medicinal properties of “Sputnik V” are doubtful”.

For refusing to vaccinate, doctors were threatened with not receiving allowances for work with Covid-19 patients, while law enforcement officers were intimidated by being sent to the frontline.

According to USCC’s sources in the Ukrainian special services, as of June 20, 2021, over 60% of the personnel of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in the temporarily occupied territory of the Donetsk region had been vaccinated with “Gam-Covid-Vak” (export variant of “Sputnik V”). In particular, up to 100% of the staff of the central office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the MIA Operational Service (external surveillance service) were vaccinated, as well as 50% of the staff of the MIA district and city departments of the so-called “DPR”.

Occupied Crimea

In mid-spring, the Crimean occupational administration launched serious preparations for the tourist season. The May holidays were the first phase. About 2 million tourists were expected on the peninsula at that time. The occupiers predicted 8-10 million visitors for the summer season.

Preparations for the reception of tourists started from compulsory vaccination. On April 23, the Crimean occupational administration announced the vaccination of more than 3 thousand employees of the sanatorium and resort sector, i.e. those who work in hotels, sanatoriums, and other recreational facilities. They also announced plans to vaccinate at least 4,5 thousand employees.

On June 9, the Russian-controlled Minister of Health of Crimea reported that only 7% of the peninsula residents received both components of the Russian vaccine against coronavirus. He also expressed surprise that 11 000 Crimean people had not come to get their second dose of “Sputnik V”. Already on July 7, this figure increased to more than 17 thousand.

On June 10, a successful vaccination of over 7 thousand employees of hotels and sanatoriums was reported. On the same day, information began to spread on the Internet that employees of the Bilohirsky district administration were threatened with dismissal if not vaccinated. Of course, the head of the administration denied the threats and explained that she had a “preventive” conversation with her subordinates.

On June 16, the so-called Minister of Health of the Crimea and the Deputy Prime Minister of Finance of the occupied peninsula, in an address to the heads of enterprises and businesses, asked to brief their employees on the need for vaccination, frightening with lockdowns and setting companies that pay bonuses to vaccinated employees as an example.

Following these statements, the management of the “Titanium Investments” plant in Armyansk announced that about 20% of employees had already been vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

On June 22, the occupiers, following Moscow and other regions, obliged service workers in the Crimea to be vaccinated against coronavirus. This decision applies to employees of the resort sector, eating establishments, tourist guides, employees of transport companies. 

The following day, a record number of vaccinations were announced on the peninsula: on June 23, 11 754 Crimean people were vaccinated against the coronavirus with the Russian vaccine. The plan to vaccinate the population with Russian COVID-19 vaccines is already 31% completed.

On July 7, the Russian-controlled Ministry of Resorts and Tourism of Crimea claimed that 65% of sanatorium employees had been vaccinated with “Sputnik V”. 

Crimean residents themselves are complaining en masse about forced vaccination. They say they have only one condition: vaccination or dismissal.

Interestingly, record vaccination figures in Crimea are recorded at the time when terrible weather was raging on the peninsula, and most cities, including medical institutions, were in a catastrophic condition.

The Mufti of Crimea Emirali Ablayev, controlled the Russian occupying authorities, urged the Crimean Tatars to vaccinate with the Russian vaccine, although there is no information whether the mufti himself received a vaccine. By the way, Emirali Ablayev is known for his pro-Russian stance and was even suspected of persecuting Crimean Tatars by Russian special services.

The situation in the Artek children’s camp deserves special attention. Mass vaccination was launched there on April 22. On June 20, isolated cases of coronavirus infection were recorded in the camp, which hosted 2 500 children.

The following day, Artek’s management announced that the total number of patients was 12, and another 60 schoolchildren (aged 9-15) and 12 counselors were isolated in the observation facility. Thus, 16 counselors who had previously undergone mandatory vaccination were isolated in total. At the same time, the camp continued to operate in a normal mode

The camp management had not provided information about the increase in the number of patients anymore. At the same time, parents of minor children who were in the Artek camp began to complain on social media that the children were isolated 100 km away in the former sanatorium “Prybiy” (Evpatoria), without any prior information, and unaccompanied by doctors or police. That’s where the children are quarantined in terrible conditions, according to the parents. Children are forbidden to leave the ward and are poorly fed. About 150 children were taken to the “Prybiy” alone. At the same time, their mass removal from Artek is ongoing.

Vaccination in Russia

Information about compulsory vaccination in Russia itself, particularly in Moscow, began to appear more than six months before the official mandatory vaccination was introduced. Information also appeared a few months before the official announcement of the mass vaccination launch in Russia in December. 

In September-October 2020, the management of one of the Moscow hospitals, referring to an order allegedly received from the Moscow Health Department, forced its employees to be vaccinated with “Sputnik V”. In case of disagreement, doctors were threatened with dismissal. Employees of the Moscow City Property Department also faced the same problem. 

In addition to compulsory vaccination, cases have also been reported that the vaccine was changed without warning the patient. In particular, instead of “Sputnik V” patients were injected with another Russian drug “EpiVacCorona” with doubtful effectiveness.

Given the widespread dissatisfaction with the introduction of official mandatory vaccination, Russia has decided to draw off the negative from the Kremlin’s head. On June 30, during a hotline, Putin stated that he opposes mandatory vaccination of citizens, turning a blow to the regional leaders “who exercised their right”.

Moreover, on June 24, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that “although vaccination against coronavirus remains voluntary, service representatives who do not want to be vaccinated should look for work in another field”. 

The Russian authorities have also decided to raise the stakes of Russia’s “Sputnik V”. During the same hotline on June 30, Putin announced he had been vaccinated with this drug. The vaccination itself, according to Peskov, took place behind closed doors, without photos and videos on March 23. However, during the press conference, Putin said that he was vaccinated “in February, it seems” and let slip that he was vaccinated with “Vector”. So, it is impossible to find out whether the Kremlin leader was actually vaccinated with the Russian vaccine.

Meanwhile, there is even more evidence that Russian vaccines are ineffective in the fight against coronavirus. On July 5, Russian TASS reported on the hospitalization of the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation Tatyana Moskalkova. On April 29, she posted a video on social media during the vaccination with a “domestic” coronavirus vaccine. The doctor noted that re-vaccination should be done in two weeks. So, Moskalkova had already received the second dose, but this did not save her from hospitalization. In comments to the post, the Russians suggest that she was vaccinated with “EpiVacCorona”, but the account of the drug itself denies this. 

Russia is now facing a problem that it has actually created itself. By spreading anti-vaccination fakes on social networks in different countries for years the Kremlin has launched a campaign to discredit Western coronavirus vaccines. Ultimately, this could cause the negative attitude of the Russians themselves to all drugs against coronavirus.

Moreover, the Kremlin understood from the beginning that the invention of the vaccine could be a good tool of geopolitical influence. That is why, rushing to be the first in the world to register a “safe” vaccine, Russia announced its drug before even starting the third phase of clinical trials. So, in fact, one can say that in the fall of 2020, the Kremlin compulsory-voluntarily tested its vaccine on people, including residents of Ukraine’s occupied territories.

Caricature by Sergei Yolkin

Authors: Oksana Kuzan and Solomiya Khoma

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