Despite their non-recognition, the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected the breakaway regions of the post-Soviet space.

While they do not figure in most of the official statistics, the coronavirus pandemic has also spread to those areas of the world where separatist administrations are currently governing, but their legitimacy, recognition and independence is contested by most of the international community. Although not secessionist per se, Taiwan is, perhaps, the most important case of the paradox of those de facto states: it represents an outstanding model of COVID-19 contagion management, yet it is not a member of the World Health Organization (or, at least, not anymore). Most importantly, the Republic of China, Taiwan’s official name, is not recognised as an independent state by most of the members of the United Nations, as the People´s Republic of China continues to claim sovereignty over the “rebel” administration of Taipei.

Taiwan is not the only case of a so-called unrecognized or partially recognized de facto state that is affected by the pandemic. In the post-Soviet space, contested states arose when secessionist conflicts broke out during the collapse of the Soviet Union. The last conflict that broke out was the so-called Ukrainian Crisis of 2013-14 with the emergence of two secessionist entities in East Ukraine. Despite their existence, their borders, administrations and their statehood are, as mentioned above, contested through means of politics and international law. Yet, the populations of such entities have also been affected by the pandemic. As these de facto states have no direct access to international organizations due to their lack of international recognition, the way they are managing the pandemic is mostly ignored. This lack of recognition, however, has not prevented them from contagion, nor from undertaking measures in the struggles against the spread of the virus.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia

On February 26 the first case of coronavirus was registered in Georgia. Currently, Georgia had 420 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 5 deaths and 111 recoveries. However, 5223 people are quarantined and 584 are under hospital supervision. (( [retrieved on 13.04.2020])) Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the breakaway regions recognized as independent only by Russia and a handful of other states, further restricted their connections with Georgia the following day. ((“South Ossetia and Abkhazia close border with Georgia because of coronavirus”, Caucasian Knot, 27.02.2020, [retrieved on 06.04.2020])) Abkhazia closed its borders to every foreigner and stateless person, even though Russian citizens were initially exempted from this restriction. Borders between Abkhazia and Georgia have been completely closed since March 13, while the border with Russia has been closed only since April 8, after the first case of coronavirus was registered in Abkhazia. ((“First case of COVID-19 infection confirmed in Abkhazia”, Abkhaz World, 07.04.2020,   [retrieved on 08.04.2020])) On the other hand, South Ossetia allowed its residents to travel to Georgia for medical treatment, even though they had to stay in quarantine for 14 days upon their return. ((“South Ossetia allows emergency departures of its residents for medical treatment in Georgia” Caucasian Knot, 04.03.2020: [retrieved on 07.04.2020]))

Among the two breakaway regions of Georgia, Abkhazia appears to be more worried and open regarding information on the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic within its borders. The small contested republic on the Black Sea coast registered its first case on April 8, in the city of Gagra, and the patient is currently hospitalization at the Gudauta hospital. This facility has become the centre for analysis, testing and hospitalisation ever since the first measures were adopted. ((“Tsakhnakiya: according to all expert estimates, the incidence rate will progress until the end of April”, Apsny Press, 07.04.2020, [retrieved on 08.04.2020])) Before the first case was registered in Abkhazia, a Georgian woman travelling through the region from Russia to Gali district with an Abkhaz foreign passport tested positive and was hospitalized in Zugdidi, in the Georgian controlled area, on March 29. Those in contact with her during the journey were not infected. ((“Otritsatel’nyi rezul’tat: koronavirus ne vyyavili u kontaktirovavshikh s Khetsuriani”, Sputnik Abkhazia, 02.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) This latter case is not connected to the first one, who had travelled from Moscow. As the number of cases is expected to grow, the de facto Ministry of Health said that more than 700 beds will be prepared to face the emergency. ((“More than 700 places for the treatment of patients with COVID-19 may be made ready in Abkhazia” Abkhaz World, 07.04.2020, [retrieved on 08.04.2020])) As of April 11, Abkhazia has registered 3 official positive cases. ((“Informatsiia mezhvedomstvennogo operativnogo shtaba po zashchite naseleniia ot 11 aprelia”, Ministry of Health of Abkhazia, 11.04.2020, [retrieved on 13.04.2020])) No further case was officially registered, although tests are conducted daily.

The first restrictions to hosting events in the de facto state were adopted as early as March 12. Nevertheless, snap presidential elections took place in Abkhazia on March 22. The elections were won in the first round by the opposition’s candidate Aslan Bzhaniya. Thus, the upcoming weeks will be crucial in understanding whether the elections contributed to the diffusion of the virus. Starting from March 25 further restrictions were adopted, and since March 28 the de facto President ad interim, Valeriy Bganba, declared the state of emergency on the territory of Abkhazia to prevent contagion ((“I.o. Prezidenta podpisal Rasporjazhenie o merah po realizacii Ukaza «O vvedenii chrezvychajnogo polozhenija v Respublike Abhazija»” President of the Republic of Abkhazia, 27.03.2020, [retrieved on 13.04.2020])) On March 31 in the Gali district, bordering the administrative line with Georgia, a curfew was imposed. ((“Ispolniaiushchii obiazannosti Prezidenta Respubliki Abkhaziia Valerii Bganba podpisal Rasporiazhenie o vvedenii komendantskogo chasa na territorii Galskogo raiona”, President of Abkhazia, 31.03.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.220]))

Such a measure was also imposed in the Gagra district, on the border with Russia, on April 8. ((“Ispolniaiushchii obiazannosti Prezidenta Respubliki Abkhaziia Valerii Bganba podpisal Rasporiazhenie o vvedenii komendantskogo chasa na territorii Gagrskogo raiona”, President of Abkhazia, 08.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

The state of emergency was initially in force until April 20. At the beginning, Abkhazia imposed 14 days of self-isolation to those arriving from abroad and forbid all foreigners and stateless person to enter the territory of Abkhazia. Employees of foreign NGOs helping to fight the spread of COVID-19 were exempted from this measure. Cultural events, gatherings, demonstrations, and celebrations have been banned. Until April 10, preschools and universities were suspended, school holidays prolonged, and exams cancelled. No visas being issued to foreigners, and the tourism industry has been shut down for the enforcement period. Museums, theatres, cinemas, restaurants, canteens and caterings services are closed too, although delivery and take-away service is allowed. Gyms, hairdressers, beauty centers and spas, fashion shops and markets are also closed. Finally, public transportation, excluding taxis, is not operating, and even dentists provide services only in emergency cases. Those working in other jobs, such as in the dairy supply chain and distribution, continue only in accordance with the envisioned safety criteria. ((Supra 9))

On April 11, a presidential decree prolonged the measures already imposed until the end of the state of emergency, introduced pecuniary sanctions against the transgressors of the self-isolation rule and defined stricter rules. People can leave the house only for basic needs, such as buying groceries or drugs, going to work for those activities allowed to operate, throwing away their trash, and givinge assistance to the elderly and to people suffering from chronic conditions or those who are not self-sufficient. Law enforcement and emergency bodies such as firefighters, medical and pharmacy personnel, certain public employees, agricultural workers, and volunteers are operating. Moreover, purposely spreading false information in the media and social networks “under the guise of reliable reports” regarding the pandemic and the undertaken measures is sanctioned with a penalty from 15 to 50 thousand roubles. ((“Vvedenie Dopolnitelnykh Mer”, Gazeta “Respublika Abkhaziia”, 13.04.2020, [retrieved on 13.04.2020]))

The local administration of Sukhumi, the capital of the contested republic and the most populated area, has already implemented stricter measures since April 2. As reported by the press agency Abkhaz World, these include the prohibition of “public catering facilities […] except for contactless delivery of home orders” and “trade should be carried out without the visitor’s admission” to the stores. “Visitors waiting in line should maintain a distance of one and a half meter.“ Since April 3, the of bakery products without packaging has been prohibited, and the activity of non-food retail outlets, except for stores selling household chemical goods and other household products, has been suspended. ((“The Sukhum municipal administration has tightened measures to combat coronavirus”, Abkhaz World, 03.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) Some Abkhazian businessmen, the Abkhazian diaspora in Moscow, the UNDP, the Russian Federation and, allegedly, the United States of America, are currently sending aid to Abkhazia in the form of donations and medical equipment. ((“Pri Moskovskoi abkhazskoi diaspore sozdan Shtab pomoshchi Abkhazii”, Apsny Press, 06.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020], “COVID-19 and Conflict: Seven Trends to Watch”, International Crisis Group, 24.03.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020], “UNDP delivers second batch of medical supplies”, Apsny Press, 01.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) Starting from April 20, some of the measures implemented have been partially relieved: food and agricultural markets all over Abkhazia can reopen, while the curfew imposed in the districts of Gagra and Gali has been lifted. All the other measures have been extended until May 1, while educational institutions will remain closed or on holidays until May 4. ((“Ispolniaiushchii obiazannosti Prezidenta Respubliki Abkhaziia Valerii Bganba podpisal Rasporiazhenie ob izmenenii ogranichitelnykh mer po zashchite naseleniia Respubliki Abkhaziia ot koronavirusnoi infektsii.”, President of Abkhazia, 17.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

As for South Ossetia, the other small and landlocked breakaway region of Georgia, the website of the Ministry of Health and Social Development does not provide information on the spread of the coronavirus in the republic and is rarely updated: only a medical brochure for detection and treatment of cases is available, and it was originally published by the Ministry of  Healthcare of the Russian Federation. ((“Profilaktika, diagnostika i lechenie novoi koronavirusnoi infektsii COVID-19”, Ministry of Health and Social Development of the Republic of South Ossetia, 17.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) No case has been officially registered yet in the region since the outbreak of the pandemic. All the official news concerning the provisions regarding the pandemic are published on the website of the Government. From March 27 until April 12 the Government shut down businesses and institutions such as cafes, libraries, sports centers, educational institutions (which adopted distance schooling, as supported by the Government), public catering and food services, although take away and delivery are allowed, and all trade activity besides groceries, pharmacies, households chemicals and personal hygiene, as well as their supply chain. Weddings and other celebrations are prohibited until May 1. ((“Postanovlenie Pravitel’stva ot 27 marta 2020 goda № 13 «O meropriyatiyakh po preduprezhdeniyu zavoza i rasprostraneniya koronavirusnoy infekcii COVID-19»”, Government of the Republic of South Ossetia: [retrieved on 07.04.2020]))

Further restrictions were implemented on April 1, including the closure of hairdressers and beauty salons, saunas and spas. Remarkably, with the same provision, starting on April 2 South Ossetia has restricted movement across its border with the Russian Federation. ((“Postanovlenie Pravitel’stva «O dopolnitel’nyh merah po preduprezhdeniyu proniknoveniya na territoriyu Respubliki Juzhnaya Osetiya koronavirusnoi infekcii COVID-19»”, Government of the Republic of South Ossetia, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) The measures were prolonged until April 19, and restricting movement to satisfying basic needs has been envisaged. ((“Postanovlenie Pravitelstva Respubliki Iuzhnaia Osetiia «O prodlenii srokov ogranichitelnykh meropriiatii, sviazannykh s protivodeistviem koronavirusnoi infektsii COVID-19»”, Government of the Republic of South Ossetia, 10.04.2020, [retrieved on 13.04.2020])) People entering South Ossetia are subject to a medical examination and mandatory isolation for 14 days. As of April 12, the Government’s website reported 208 people in self-isolation, mostly students coming from Russia, and six of them are currently hospitalized. It is unclear whether these people have been tested and if South Ossetia possesses the adequate medical equipment to analyse the samples or if these need to be sent to Russia or, less likely, Georgia. ((“Na zasedanii operativno shtaba byli obsuzhdeny dopolnitelnye mery po protivodeistviiu koronavirusnoi infektsii”, Government of the Republic of South Ossetia, 12.04.2020, [retrieved on 13.04.2020])) In any case, on April 17 the measures were extended until the end of the month, and all suspended educational services, i.e. lectures, were transferred to online formats. ((“Postanovlenie Pravitelstva «O prodlenii srokov ogranichitelnykh meropriiatii, sviazannykh s protivodeistviem koronavirusnoi infektsii COVID-19»”, Government of South Ossetia, 17.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

Interestingly, the difference in the availability of information regarding the pandemic in Abkhazia and South Ossetia is mirrored by the news published on the websites of the local sections of the Russian Press Agency Sputnik. On the Russian version of the website of Sputnik Abkhazia, there is a full section dedicated to the spread of the coronavirus. On the other hand, the Russian version of Sputnik South Ossetia less focused on covering the pandemic’s impact on South Ossetia, while information regarding the rest of the world is available. This consideration, however, does not take into account the publication of articles in Abkhaz and Ossetian, which seem to publish different articles. Sputnik, however, is not a state agency of either of the contested states. The Abkhaz state medias outlets Apsny Press and Abkhaz World, also provide information regarding the spread COVID-19 contagion.


The first case of coronavirus in Nagorno-Karabakh, the non-recognised Artsakh Republic, was registered on April 7. The infected patient is a man from the Kashatagh Province, bordering Armenia and Iran, who had previously been in Armenia. He was hospitalised on April 2 and isolated with another person who also showed  symptoms but tested negative for COVID-19. Both samples were sent to Armenia for testing. People who were in contact with him have been isolated. ((“V Karabakhe zafiksirovan pervyi podtverzhdennyi sluchai zarazheniia koronavirusom”, Sputnik Armenia, 07.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020], Ministry of Health of Artsakh Republic, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) The Artsakh Republic introduced the state of emergency on April 13, after the number of cases in Nagorno-Karabakh rose to six on April 12. The state of emergency will remain in force for one month. ((“Rezhim chrezvychainoi situatsii iz-za koronavirusa vveden v Nagornom Karabakhe”, Kavkazkii Uzel/Caucasian Knot, 13.04.2020, [retrieved on 13.04.2020]))  As of April 22, the official number of positive cases in the Artsakh republic is 7. ((“Irazekowm”, Ministry of Health of Artsakh, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

There is a general lack of official available news regarding the spread of the coronavirus in Nagorno-Karabakh, whether in English, Russian or Armenian, the only language in which the Ministry of Healthcare provides information about the pandemic. Both the websites of the Government and of the President of the breakaway region provide a chronology of the meetings and discussion conducted to deal with contagion, but do not mention the measures hitherto implemented. On the contrary, information regarding restrictions to movement and foreigners are published, in Armenian, on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh. These include restrictions of visits to citizens of the republic as well as general visa restriction to foreigners, whose entries are restricted. The citizens of Nagorno-Karabakh are instead advised to strictly refrain from travelling abroad. ((Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Artsakh, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) Such recommendations include returning to Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia as well, where emergency measures have been implemented to stop the spread of the contagion. ((“NKR authorities warn about restrictions on Armenian border”, Caucasian Knot, 03.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020]))  To date, Armenia counts 1523 cases, 24 deaths and 659 recoveries. ((NCDC Armenia, [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) Armenia’s borders to Georgia, Iran and Nagorno-Karabakh are currently closed with the exception of trade, and an internal lockdown has been implemented. The borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey have been closed since Armenian independence due to the war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

On March 31, despite the ongoing pandemic, presidential and parliamentary elections were held in the Republic of Artsakh, surrounded by the international criticism and obvious non-recognition. During the presidential elections, none of the candidates reached 50% of the votes and the second round remained scheduled for April 14. ((Marilisa Lorusso, “Il voto in Nagorno Karabakh, fra pandemia e guerra”, Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa, 02.04.2020 [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) It was won by Arayik Haroutyunyan, the governmental candidate. According to the Constitution of Nagorno-Karabakh (article 132, part 1, article 76, part 2, and article 93, part 20), a state of emergency is imposed only if the constitutional order is threatened, and elections are not postponed if a state of emergency is imposed. Not only the international community of states, but also the opposition, refused to recognize the outcome of the elections. ((“Opposition refuses to recognize outcomes of NKR elections”, Caucasian Knot, 04.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) Massive violations were reported by Armenian and local observers during both rounds of the election. ((“Observers from Armenia point to election violations in NKR”, Caucasian Knot, 01.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020], Political analysts question legitimacy of NKR election, Caucasian Knot, 15.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) As security measures, the President of the Republic issued guidelines that were to be followed during the elections, such as “complex sanitary and hygienic measures in all the electoral precincts, administrative buildings of electoral commissions, [Central Electoral Commission] press center building, as well as providing voters and people involved in the elections with disinfectant, personal masks, gloves and pens.” ((“Bako Sahakyan chaired an enlarged meeting of the Interdepartmental Commission coordinating the prevention of the spread of the novel coronavirus”, President of Artsakh Republic, 27.03.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020]))

In Azerbaijan, 1548 cases, 948 recoveries and 20 deaths have been reported. ((“Azərbaycanda cari vəziyyət”, Koronavirusinfo, [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) The authorities of Nagorno-Karabakh have recently reported violations of the ceasefire agreement and strongly criticized Azerbaijan for carrying out shelling attacks despite the pandemic. ((“NKR counts 170 shelling attacks committed by Azerbaijan” Caucasian Knot, 05.04.2020: [retrieved on 07.04.2020]; “Statement of the Foreign Ministry of the Republic of Artsakh on the Cease-fire Violation by Azerbaijan”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Artsakh, 06.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) At the same time, Azerbaijan also reported shelling of villages in by the separatists the conflict area. ((“Azerbaijan announces shelling attack on its village in Karabakh conflict zone”, Caucasian Knot, 20.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

Remarkably, the website of the de facto Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Artsakh mentions the COVID-19 pandemic, but only in the context of the implementation of a global ceasefire called by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. ((“Statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Artsakh”, MFA of Artsakh, 16.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

The confrontation with Azerbaijan is covered more extensively by the authorities than the contagion.

People´s Republics in Donbas

While still waging war against Ukraine, the People´s Republic of Donetsk and Lugansk have both been hit by their first cases of COVID-19. The first was registered in Lugansk People´s Republic (LPR) on March 30, ((“LPR reports first case of COVID-19 – Health Authority”, Lugansk Media Centre, 30.03.2020, [retrieved on 08.04.2020]))

while Donetsk People´s Republic (DPR) registered its first infection on the following day. ((“DPR records first COVID-19 case – Healthcare Ministry”, Donetsk News Agency, 31.03.2020, [retrieved on 08.04.2020]))

As of April 22, 67 cases have been registered in the DPR, with 64 active cases, 2 recoveries and one death. ((“Po sostoianiiu na 17:00 22 aprelia v DNR zaregistrirovano 7 sluchaev infitsirovaniia COVID-19”, Ministry of Healtcare of Donetsk People´s Republik, 22.04.2020,  [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) In LPR, on the same day, the registered cases amounted to 48, with one death. ((“Mediki zaregistrirovali 48 sluchaev zabolevaniia COVID-19 v LNR – Minzdrav”, Lugansk Media Centre, 22.04.2020,  [retrieved on 08.04.2020])) Different statistics are however referred to by Ukrainian authorities, which on March 13 claimed that 12 positive cases were already present in Horlivka (Gorlovka in Russian), which is under separatist control, although no source was mentioned. ((“COVID-19 pandemic: what is going on in the occupied part of Donbas and in Crimea?” , Ukraine Crisis Media Centre, 27.03.2020, [retrieved on 08.04.2020])) Both of the unrecognized, contested republics took their first measures later than Ukraine, the claimant state, and Russia, their supporter. Kyiv introduced quarantine measures on March 16 and imposed special rules for crossing the line of contact. The DPR blocked transit through the checkpoints with Ukraine starting March 21, while the DPR suspended the operation of the only pedestrian checkpoint through the contact line with Ukraine on March 23. The border with Russia remains open. Russia has exempted those living in the areas controlled by the People´s Republics de facto authorities from the restrictions applied to foreigners. ((“Coronavirus Further Complicates Life At Line Of Contact In Eastern Ukraine”, RFE/RL, 24.03.2020, [retrieved on 08.04.2020]))

In the DPR, all educational institutions switched to distance learning on March 19. A decree by the head of the Republic Denis Pushilin shortened the opening hours of cafes and restaurants, banned mass events as well as the entry of citizens without registration or a certificate of permanent residence, and imposed mandatory self-isolation for 14 days to those entering the republic. Besides, residents of the DPR are obliged to observe social distancing. ((“V DNR chislo zarazivshihsja koronavirusom dostiglo treh chelovek”, RIA Novosti, 03.04.2020, [retrieved on 08.04.2020])) Pushilin has also said in an interview that there are currently four alternative packages of measures to be taken for introducing the quarantine regime. In the same interview, the head of the self-proclaimed republic also underlined the shortcomings of medical equipment and personnel that the DPR is facing and mentioned precious Russian support. Such aid includes medical support and test kits. He also claimed that the republic is self-sufficient in terms of mask production. ((Marina Tretyakova, “Kak boriutsia s koronavirusom na Donbasse”, Parlamentarskaya Gazeta, 06.04.2020, [retrieved on 09.04.2020])) The Ministry of Healthcare of the DPR is also taking strict safety measures to avoid the spread of the virus in medical facilities and laboratories, whose functioning is essential to preduce the risk of contagion. ((Prikaz „Ob usilenii mer biologicheskoi bezopasnosti v meditsinskikh laboratoriiakh“, Ministry of Health of Donetsk People’s Republic, 23.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

In the LPR, residents must observe a physical distance of at least 1.5 meters, including in public places, and on public transports whenever possible; use respiratory protection equipment (masks, including self-made ones) in public places, trade facilities, services, and transports. The Emergency Sanitary and Anti-epidemic Commission of the LPR decided to extend the previously adopted measures, which had been limited to April 12 2020, until further notice. These measures include the switch to distance learning by all educational institutions, the for children to participate in mass events, and the temporary suspension of all public catering activities, except for the preparation and delivery of ready meals. The Commission also decided to in favor of a temporari suspension of events, as well as a shut-down of night clubs (discos) and similar facilities, cinemas, beauty salons and gyms, libraries, and cultural institutions. Public services that can be provided in electronic form are being provided exclusively this way. Business activities that do not involve selling food, animal products, veterinary drugs, household chemicals, or personal hygiene products have been suspended, as have those that do not provide remote retail business delivery. Pharmacies or gas stations, have remained open. ((“V sviazi s ugrozoi COVID-19 v respublike vvedeny dopolnitelnye ogranichitelnye mery (obnovleno)”, Government of Lugansk People´s Republic, 31.03.2020, [retrieved on 15.04.2020])) Other forms of business were exempted from such restrictions on  April 3. ((“ChSPK vnesla izmeneniia v priniatye ranee resheniia”, Government of LPR, 03.04.2020, [retrieved on 15.04.2020]))  Two cities were also put under isolation: Krasny Luch and Antratsit. There, a strict regime of self-isolation for citizens, with mandatory compliance with the requirements for the use of respiratory protection and the prohibition of all types of public transport (urban, suburban, intercity, international), except for specialized, emergency and food delivery transport, was enforced on April 4. ((“ChSPK vvela dopolnitelnye ogranicheniia v dvukh gorodakh respubliki”, Government of LPR, 04.04.2020, [retrieved on 15.04.2020])) Those measures were lifted on April 22, ((“ChSPK Otmenila Ogranicheniia dlia Gorodov Antratsit i Krasnyi Luch”, Government of LPR, 22.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) while in the city of Pervomaisk strict isolation was enforced on April 17, as the virus was still spreadings. ((“ChSPK Usilila Strogii Rezhim Samoizoliatsii v Pervomaiske”, Government of LPR, 17.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) Since April 22, visits to patients in hospitals and medical institutions have been prohibited in the whole republic. ((“ChSPK Vvela Dopolnitelnye Ogranicheniia v Sviazi s COVID-19”, Government of LPR, 21.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

The website of the Ministry of Healthcare provides an interesting insight inviting the population to „take responsibility for [their own] health“, insisting that the incidence of SARS infection, as well as flu, can be attributed to seasonal variations. ((“Budte otvetstvenny za svoe zdorove!” Ministry of Health of LPR, 08.04.2020, [retrieved on 09.04.2020])) Admittedly, the advice reads unclear, as there is no apparent distinction between the SARS virus and the current COVID-19 pandemic, which itself bears the coded name of CoV-SARS-2. Moreover, Ukrainian authorities claim that a significant number of people in the separatist-controlled areas, especially the LPR, show the symptoms of a COVID-19 infection, such as pneumonia, but they are not registered as infected. Indeed, Ukrainian media claim that the de facto authorities are hiding the real number of positive cases and deaths, which are instead registered according to the symptoms they showed. ((“V „LNR“ skryvaiut fakty zabolevaniia koronavirusom: prokuratura otkryla delo”, KP V Ukraine,  03.04.2020, [retrieved on 09.04.2020])) Although a lack of testing kits might not allow registering of  positive cases, on April 10the government of LPR stated that almost 20,000 people had been tested, and the de facto Minister of Healthcare, Natalia Pashchenko, declared that testing kits are currently available. ((“ChSPK vvela dopolnitelnye protivoepidemicheskie mery”, Government of LPR, 10.04.2020, [retrieved on 15.04.2020]))

The pandemic is taking place in the usual context of the war between Kyiv and the separatists, and any unclarity regarding information on the spread of the virus could well be part of the never-ending information war that both sides are waging. War nevertheless remains a priority for both sides, in a situation where the medical capabilities remain extremely precarious and risk being overburdened by losses due to both the war and the pandemic, and where a potential humanitarian crisis pile up. RIA reports that the DPR committed to the French and German call to stop the hostilities, blaming Ukraine for its unwillingness. ((“V DNR podderzhali prizyv k peremiriiu v Donbasse na fone COVID-19”, Ria Novosti, 31.03.2020, [retrieved on 15.04.2020])) One tragic example of the protraction of the conflict is the death of a 25-years-old woman resident of Horlivka, killed by Ukrainian shelling according to reports from the People´s Republics. ((“V Gorlovke poproshchalis s pogibshei Miroslavoi Vorontsovoi”, Eurasia Daily, 12.04.2020, [retrieved on 15.04.2020]))

In this context, UNDP and EU are currently providing medical aid to the areas in the Oblasts of Donetsk and Lugansk under the control of the central government. ((“EU and UN help medical workers combat COVID-19 pandemic in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts”, UNDP Ukraine, 31.03.2020, [retrieved on 09.04.2020])) Currently, Ukraine has registered 7170 positive cases, with 187 deaths and 505 recoveries. 21058 tests have been administered. ((KP V Ukraine, homepage, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

Transnistria/Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic

Among the contested post-Soviet states, the Pridnestrovian Moldovan Republic (PMR) seems to be affected the most by the spread of the coronavirus. This could be due to the lesser extent of isolation on the right bank of the Dniester river from both Moldova and Ukraine. The first two positive cases were registered on March 21 in the cities of Rybnitsa and Bender-y (or Tighina) ((“V Pridnestrovie zaregistrirovany pervye sluchai zabolevaniya koronavirusom“, Novosti Pridnestrovia, 21.03.2020: [retrieved on 06.04.2020])). As of April 23, 338 cases of infection, 16 deaths, and 24 recoveries have been registered in Transnistria. Most of the infected people (57%) are from Tiraspol, the de facto capital of the breakaway region, followed by the Slobozia district (20% of the infected), 20 km southwards. ((Ministry of Internal Affairs of PMR, [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) The hospital of Slobozia has become the Transnistrian hub for the management of those infected with COVID-19, while tests are also being sent to Chisinau to detect the virus. ((“Shest bioprob dali polozhitelnyi rezultat“, Ministry of Internal Affairs of PMR, 06.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020]))

The de facto administration on the right bank adopted the first preventive measures against the contagion on March 13, when no infections in the PMR had yet been detected. These included a ban on “mass events [and] an enhanced disinfection regime” while local public transportation could still operate as usual. ((“Quarantine announcement – preventative measure“, Novosti Pridnestrovia, 12.03.2020, [retrieved on 06.04.2020]))Additionally, educational institutions were closed on March 16 and, from March 17 until May 1, the state of emergency wasdeclared in the whole republic. Important restrictions were introduced on April 2, including the closure of borders to foreign citizens and stateless people, and a restriction of movement within and outside the republic, with some exceptions for funerals, assistance, and supply. A 14-days regime of self-isolation has been imposed on all residents entering the republic from abroad (which of course includes Moldova). All public transportation, excluding taxis, were ordered to stop operating, although several checkpoints with Moldova and Ukraine keep functioning. Events are banned and most business activities have been shut down, with the exceptions of supermarkets and their supply chain as well as pharmacies. Others forced to shut down include food markets which cannot grant a physical separation between the activities and vendors. Many businesses are allowed to operate only if they can establish and maintain such physical barriers and ensure enough space for workers to maintain the safety measures. ((“O vvedenii ogranichitelnykh meropriiatii (karantina) po predotvrashcheniiu rasprostraneniia koronavirusnoi infektsii, vyzvannoi novym tipom virusa (2019-nCoV)”, Government of the PMR, 02.04.2020, [retrieved on 14.04.2020])) Citizens are advised to stay at home and go out only in exceptional cases, such as official needs, to buy essential goods and to help those in need. On April 7 the President of PMR Vadim Kransoselsky took charge of all the prerogatives regarding healthcare in the republic. ((“Vadim Krasnoselskii prinial obshchee upravlenie sistemoi zdravookhraneniia na sebia”, Novosti Pridnestrovia, 07.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) As of April 22, mechanics are allowed to work in safety conditions, citizens must wear masks in crowded areas, while vehicles, commercial areas and the delivery of postal items, including periodicals published outside of the PMR controlled areas, remain suspended, unless it follows the directives of the Operational Headquarter (Operativnii Shtab) agreed beforehand. ((O vnesenii izmeneniia i dopolnenii v Postanovlenie Pravitelstva Pridnestrovskoi Moldavskoi Respubliki ot 2 aprelia 2020 goda № 96 «O vvedenii ogranichitelnykh meropriiatii (karantina) po predotvrashcheniiu rasprostraneniia koronavirusnoi infektsii, vyzvannoi novym tipom virusa (2019-nCoV)», Government of the PMR, 22.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))

The Ministry of Healthcare has published guidelines to help the citizens to detect symptoms and avoid the spread of the virus. ((“Coronavirus: ofizyalnaya informatsiya”, Ministry of Health of the PMR: [retrieved on 06.04.2020])) The PMR’s authorities and media seem to cover developments related to the virus in the self-proclaimed republic relatively extensively, providing daily updates on the websites of the Ministry of Healthcare and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The state online media “Novosti Pridnestrovia” has a full section dedicated to the progression of the pandemic and the measures undertaken on the right bank of the Dniester and abroad. Currently, the Republic of Moldova, whose belonging of the Transnistrian region is internationally recognised, has registered 2926 cases, 80 of which have died and 661 have recovered. ((“148 cazuri noi de COVID-19 au fost înregistrate astăzi în Republica Moldova”, Ministry of Health, Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Moldova, 23.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) Ukraine, bordering the unrecognised de facto state, closed its borders as early as March 16, while Moldova followed on March 17. Due to the Ukrainian closure, Transnistria has found itself in an emergency situation due to the lack of regular supply of drugs, which currently arrive through Moldova, despite the presence of  pharmaceutical companies the right bank. ((“President Held the Meeting on Assuring Food and Medicine Supplies to the Pridnestrovian Territory”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of PMR, 25.03.2020, [retrieved on 14.04.2020])) 5.000 test kits have also been sent to Transnistria from Russia. ((“V Pridnestrove prishli 5 000 testov na opredelenie nalichiia v organizme koronavirusa”, Novosti Pridnestrovia, 06.04.2020, [retrieved on 07.04.2020])) Compared to the situation of the other breakaway regions, the authorities in Chisinau and Tiraspol show a discrete level of cooperation amongst each other in fighting the spread of the virus, although the surrounding political dispute means that relations between the two banks of the Dniester. ((“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the PMR Statement”, MFA of PMR, 11.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020], “Comment by the PMR’s Foreign Ministry”, MFA of PMR, 17.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020])) Interestingly, the website of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Moldova reports the cases registered in Transnstria, albeit separately.

The authorities are currently involved in establishing hospitals dedicated exclusively to COVID-19 in PMR. The largest is being prepared for opening in Rybnitsa, while in Tiraspol Krasnoselsky himself decreed that a new building was to be assigned to become a COVID-19 hospital. According to PMR authorities, this separate building, which uses modern equipment, furniture, and inventory, would provide capacity for high-quality treatment for at least two hundred patients in isolation. ((“Sostoialos zasedanie Operativnogo shtaba”, Presidency of the PMR, 13.04.2020, [retrieved on 14.04.2020])) Currently 90 ventilators are available and 12 more have been repaired and returned to service. The shortage of personnel and a clear lack of respirators are two problems that concern almost all heads of medical institutions, and Transnistrian laboratories will be operating during the weekends to speed up the testing process. Rapid testing kits should also help to detect the spread of the virus. ((“Vadim Krasnoselskii provel rasshirennoe zasedanie Operativnogo shtaba”, Presidency of the PMR, 23.04.2020, [retrieved on 23.04.2020]))


In the already highly complex context in which post-Soviet countries and their breakaway regions find themselves, the COVID-19 pandemic has paid no heed to these political disputes and contested border as it has spread. However, it seems that their differing degrees of isolation have also influenced the management of the outbreak. Transnistria, compared to other post-Soviet de facto states, has been hit hard. On the contrary, in the South Caucasus, the crisis tends to be more contained, although, with the partial exception of Abkhazia, the information remains more nebulous. It is unclear how the pandemic will affect the relations between the central states and their breakaway regions. What remains clear, however, is that the contagion has not prevented the most heated conflicts from continuinge, as the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh and East Ukraine remains extremely tense. Nevertheless, even these largely ignored areas, whose supposed borders normally do not figure on any maps, must deal with this worldwide emergency. Some of them are doing it more efficiently and transparently than others, even with often extremely poor sanitary conditions, and without any access to most external aid due to their unusual situation that has resulted from their secessions.

Featured image: The border between Transnistria and Moldova. Source: Clay Gilliland via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0