Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will not face a fine after violating lockdown measures by visiting a cafe in the city of Khmelnytsky thanks to his executive immunity under the Constitution.
The controversy began on June 3rd when President Office’s Telegram channel posted a photo showing Zelensky at a coffee shop with other officials, including his Chief of Staff Andriy Yermak, First Deputy Head of the President’s Office Serhiy Trofimov, the Governor of Khmelnytsky Governor Dmytro Gabinet, and the Mayor of Khmelnytsky Oleksandr Symchyshyn.
“President Volodymyr Zelensky had a walk around the central part of the city of Khmelnytsky and tried coffee at a local cafe,” the president’s press service said at the time.
“Nice coffee in Khmelnytsky! Fragrant and delicious!” Zelensky wrote on Instagram. “The first cafes are exiting from quarantine, we are rebounding from the coronavirus epidemic.” The post has since been removed.
People quickly pointed out that the government’s ban on eating in indoor public places was in effect until June 5, meaning Zelensky had violated the rules. At that time, only restaurants with outdoor seating could service clients, with no more than four people sitting at a table at one time.
Amid criticism of his actions, Deputy Interior Minister Anton Gerashchenko announced on June 4th that police would look into the violation of quarantine measures by Zelensky and his staff and force them to pay the necessary fine, which he said he was happy to do so. Yet Ukraine’s Chief Medical Officer, Deputy Health Minister Viktor Liashko, who was also present at the café, insisted that there were no violations of quarantine because he was there on an inspection visit.
On June 10, the National Police of Ukraine confirmed their intention to bring the officials to justice. The case was suspended by Khmelnytsky’s district court on June 19, 2020, on the grounds that Zelensky enjoyed presidential immunity against such charges.
Despite imposing nationwide lockdown measures, Zelensky has previously shown skepticism about the severity of the Chinese coronavirus. Last week, he revealed how he had considered intentionally infecting himself with the virus to prove that it was not as dangerous as people feared.
“I wanted to go through this stage myself. To make sure people perceive it less stressfully,” Zelensky told Ukrainian Pravda. “When we had a moment of depression, we gathered. I suggested the team: ‘Let me get infected and be immediately isolated on Bankova [The Office of the President]. And I’ll get through this alright.’ So that people understand it really is scary, you can get sick, you do feel bad. And I will let this go through me and show them.”
“But at the same time, people will understand that it’s no plague,” he continued. “That’s to make sure they aren’t depressed. At the very onset, there was a very scary moment when people thought we would all die.”
Zelensky eventually decided against the idea because his family would not support the decision. However, it emerged this week that his wife, First Lady Olena Zelenska, was taken to a hospital in the capital Kyiv after contracting the virus. Her condition is reportedly stable.
According to the latest statistics, Ukrainian health authorities have confirmed nearly 35,000 cases of the coronavirus and 810 deaths. Given its population of 42 million, this means the country’s infection rate is roughly in line with the global average, and well below that of Russia, which is now the third most badly hit country in the world with around 570,000 cases behind Brazil and the United States.