Ukraine asks EU neighbours for more help getting COVID-19 vaccines

KYIV, Jan 12 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Tuesday asked European Union countries for more help in procuring coronavirus vaccines after his government resisted turning to Russia for assistance.

The pandemic has killed more than 20,000 Ukrainians and plunged one of Europe’s poorest countries into recession last year.

Ukraine has agreed to buy some vaccines from China and also expects to secure some under the global COVAX programme for poorer countries.

But it has dismissed calls from a Russian-leaning opposition leader to buy vaccines from Russia. The neighbours are estranged over Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for rebels in eastern Ukraine.

“Today, for all countries of the Eastern Partnership initiative, in particular Ukraine and Moldova, the issue of obtaining vaccines is important,” Zelenskiy said in a televised statement while hosting Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Kyiv.

“The countries of the Eastern Partnership should be given increased attention by the EU states in matters of joint procurement procedures and accelerating the supply of vaccines.”

A week ago, 13 of the EU’s 27 member states jointly urged the bloc’s executive, the EU Commission, to do more to help combat the coronavirus in the bloc’s Balkan neighbours and in Ukraine.

Sandu came to power in November by defeating Moldova’s Moscow-backed incumbent president, Igor Dodon, and has promised closer cooperation with the EU.

Last month, while visiting Chisinau, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis promised to donate 200,000 doses of Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to Moldova as a gesture of solidarity following Sandu’s election. (Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Kevin Liffey)