Tempers flared as locals in the village of Novi Sanzhary in central Ukraine blocked roads using burning tyres and smashed the windows of at least two coaches carrying people to a sanatorium to be quarantined. Photos of the violent demonstrations showed rocks being thrown towards police vans and injured protesters being assisted. Police officers were also left lying wounded on the ground.
People living in the village feared they could become infected despite the authorities repeatedly insisting there was no danger and a special appeal from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for calm.
Ukraine has no confirmed cases of the virus.
The day-long stand-off which continued into the night saw concerned locals block a bridge leading to the sanatorium where the evacuees will be held for at least two weeks to make sure they are not carrying the virus.
Hundreds of helmeted police, police vans and an armoured personnel carrier had been dispatched to keep order.
Officers were periodically shouted at with cries of “shame on you” as the town waited for the evacuees to arrive.
In addition to 45 Ukrainians, there were 27 citizens of Argentina on the plane that landed in Ukraine on Thursday, as well as citizens from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Costa Rica and other countries.
One Ukrainian woman refused to be evacuated at the last minute because she was not allowed by the Chinese authorities to take her dog, a Ukrainian embassy statement said.
All passengers on board had been screened twice for the virus before being allowed to fly, but that was not enough to quell the protesters.
Yuriy Dzyubenko, who lives near the quarantine site, said: “Isn’t there any other place in Ukraine that can host 50 people, that is located in more or less remote villages or in far off areas where there is no threat to the population?”
One protester suggested taking them to parliament, while another said President Zelenskiy should house them himself if he really believed there was no danger.
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One man who gave his name as Yuriy said: “This is what I am telling him, telling the president: ‘Take 10 people, then I will take two.’”
The protest prompted President Zelenskiy to issue a statement reassuring Ukrainians that there was no danger, that the authorities had done everything possible to make sure the virus would not spread to Ukraine.
He said: “But there is another danger that I would like to mention.
“The danger of forgetting that we are all human and we are all Ukrainian.”
In western Ukraine, there were smaller protests by residents fearing the evacuees could be housed there instead.
Ukraine has recently also grappled with a measles epidemic amid a reluctance by some to vaccinate themselves and their children.
China reported a drop in new cases in the Hubei province at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday.
However, the death toll has reached over 2,000.
This figure makes it one of the biggest global health emergencies in recent decades.
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