Ukrainians refuse to give up birds

Government efforts to stem the outbreak of bird flu on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula are running into trouble, as poor villagers refuse to hand over their birds to be killed and question laboratory results that say the deadly strain has landed here. Alina Ametov hid her four hens in a shed. Some of her neighbors took even more drastic action: chasing Ukrainian officials away with pitchforks.

"Why should I give my hens to the authorities? I'm not scared," Ametov, 78, said Thursday. "I need to have food in the winter. I want to survive." Ukraine recorded its first case of bird flu on Dec. 4 when about 2,500 birds died on the Black Sea peninsula. On Wednesday, the Health Ministry confirmed that the H5N1 strain, which has decimated flocks in Asia and killed humans, was recorded in 11 Crimean villages, and that birds were dying in another 14.

An old, decrepit bus stood Thursday on the outskirts of the region, the words "Quarantine" written in red across it. Inside the villages, emergency workers, some in special suits, others in military camouflage, trod door-to-door, asking villagers if they had any birds.

"People are hiding birds, refusing to give them to us," said Andriy Tkachenko, an emergency official. "Some even take pitchforks and chase us out." He complained that villagers have the right to refuse to relinquish their fowl; all they have to do is sign a form acknowledging that they've been warned.

In Urozhaynoe, villagers insisted that their birds were healthy, and accused the government of mixing up test results in the laboratory. Officials denied that. "I have not slept for two nights," said Varvara Renesova, 72, tears running down her face. "I don't know what to do." She has 20 birds and doesn't want to give them up.

The Emergency Situations Ministry said it had culled 56,322 birds as of Thursday, completing the work in seven villages. Authorities have paid 1.18 million hryvna ($234,000, Ђ195,000) in compensation, the ministry said.

Maria Pugachova, 50, received 350 hryvna ($69, Ђ58) for her hens, but worried that it wouldn't be enough to buy chickens in the spring. Despite her misgivings, she said she had no choice but to surrender her 17 birds. She has an infant grandson and didn't want to take any chances.

Most Ukrainian villagers keep fowl, which they depend on for eggs and meat to get them through the long, cold winters. The chickens, ducks and turkeys traditionally have free run of the village courtyards. On Thursday, Urozhaynoe, crisscrossed with dirt roads, and dotted with small one-story homes, was unusually bird-free on the ground; wild birds filled the sky, however.

Veterinary experts have said that the virus was brought to Ukraine by migratory birds, and have expressed fears that it will spread in the spring when the birds fly north. In addition to the cull, Ukrainian authorities were disinfecting courtyards and had set up roadblocks to disinfect vehicles leaving the quarantine zone. Residents were also being given flu shots, reports the AP. I.L.

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