Crimeans Refuse To Give Up Birds, Frustrating Efforts To Fight Bird Flu

UROZHAYNOE, Ukraine -- Impoverished villagers in southern Ukraine are putting up strong resistance to authorities who want to kill their domestic fowl in an attempt to prevent the spread of bird flu.

Veterinary workers disinfect a farm in the settlement of Lastochkino near the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Bird flu, including the H5N1 strain dangerous to humans, has spread to new villages in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, officials said

Some residents of this village in Ukraine's Crimean peninsula on Dec. 15 even chased off emergency workers with pitchforks. Others hid their birds in sheds.

With the government destroying thousands of birds, some of Ukraine's poor are refusing to give up the chickens, ducks, turkeys and other fowl they depend on for eggs and meat to make it through the former Soviet nation's long, cold winters.

Many say they are willing instead to take their chances in the fight against a strain of bird flu that has killed humans in Asia and decimated flocks of birds there.

On Dec. 14, the Health Ministry confirmed the outbreak was the deadly Asian strain H5N1, which has been recorded in at least 11 Crimean villages. Birds are dying in another 14 on the peninsula.

In Urozhaynoe, Lena Sidorova refused to hand over her 20 ducks and hens. She says she fears for her children's health, but she's also desperate to feed her family.

"All my family has are these 20 birds and my mother's Hr 330 ($65, 55 euro) pension," she said, crying.

An old, decrepit bus with the word "quarantine" written in red across it stood on the outskirts of the Urozhaynoe region Dec. 15. Inside villages, emergency workers - some in special suits, others in military camouflage - went door-to-door, asking residents if they had any birds.

But not all are cooperating.

"People are hiding birds, refusing to give them to us," said Andriy Tkachenko, an emergency official. "Some even take pitchforks and chase us out."

The Emergency Situations Ministry said it had culled 56,322 birds as of Dec. 15, nearly two weeks after the country recorded its first case of bird flu when about 2,500 birds died in marsh lands on this Black Sea peninsula.

Tkachenko said villagers have the right to not relinquish their fowl; all they have to do is sign a form acknowledging that they have been warned.

The rules were not consistent, however; in the village of Nekrasovka, one of the first hit by the outbreak, authorities were enforcing a mandatory cull, residents said. On Dec. 15, about a week after the cull began, bird feathers still covered a part of a village road.

Sergey Mirokhin, pushing a cart filled with firewood through Nekrasovka, said the measures were excessive and worried that the 300 hryvnas ($60, 50 euros) he received for his 15 hens and two geese will not be enough to buy new birds in the spring.

"My birds were not dying, but they took them without asking me," he said.

Some villagers complained that the government acted too slowly. They noticed birds dying months ago.

"My son came to me desperate as all his ducks died in a day," said Antonina Tonlikh, 78, her voice trembling. "Initially we thought that they were poisoned."

In Urozhaynoe, villagers insisted that their birds were healthy, and accused the government of mixing up test results in the laboratory, something denied by officials.

Veterinary experts have said the virus was brought by migratory birds, and they fear it will spread in the spring when birds fly north.

International experts fear the H5N1 strain of bird flu could trigger a human flu pandemic if it mutates into a form that is easily spread between people. Since 2003, the virus has killed at least 71 people in Asia - most of them farm workers who came into close contact with infected birds.

No cases of human infection have been recorded in Ukraine, health and emergency officials said.

Source: AP