Coronavirus frontline: Meet Europe’s essential workers and hear their stories

While most citizens around the world are advised to stay home, there are also those who have to keep going to work, risking their health every day to fulfil their duties. Thanks to them, we can be treated if unhealthy, supplied with food or medicine and receive other essential services.

Euronews has sent out a call to collect the stories of its readers and their friends and loved ones who remain on the frontline of the fight against coronavirus, to discover what challenges they are facing and what helps them to get through.

Some are out there as volunteers to help those most in need, others are investing time to help cheer up those of us in confinement.

Scroll down for their stories and photographs below.

Nina Denoyel, nurse

“I keep working as it’s important for me to feel useful. Today I feel more useful than ever”, says Nina, 25, a nurse from France. She works in hospitals, clinics, paramedical and social medical centres in Lyon and its surrounding.

“Despite the risks, that’s what I do best, but the stress is everywhere, all the time, in all its forms. The hardest part is to think that I might bring the danger home, where my partner is quarantined.

I don’t know how long I will keep going, but as long as I am not sick, or too exhausted, I will continue to work.”

Thibault, intern in psychiatry

Thibault, who works as an intern in psychiatry in a French hospital, has kept a diary for Euronews since the beginning of March, when the first messages of coronavirus spreading rapidly through Europe had only began to emerge.

‘No masks to protect against coronavirus were being worn in the hospital for the first half of March, as no new pandemic-related rules had yet been established’ – Thibault remembers.

He was the first professional in his hospital to start wearing a mask, which later became mandatory for all the workers there. A system of checks for COVID-19 symptoms were established in the middle of March, with patients having to be assessed by a general practitioner in an airlock before they could get the psychiatric help that Thibault and his colleagues provide.

Now Thibault works remotely – a unified call platform was launched. He and his colleagues take care of the requests from patients coming via the website, and direct them to the psychiatrists who work remotely from home. A number of problems have been solved over time to help this process work, including getting access to the patients’ files, which was essential, he explains.

“I feel quite good about the work I’ve been doing since then,” he says. We communicate well within the team, no one feels left alone.

Iryna Bezzubenko, flight attendant

Iryna, from the Ukrainian airline SkyUp! and her colleagues are operating flights to bring Ukrainian citizens back home after the borders were closed.

“Our passengers can feel our smile even through the masks during this tense time, it feels very nice. Our team is trying to take care of the passengers’ comfort despite the circumstances,’ Iryna says.

According to her, the crew keeps a positive attitude. She and her colleagues believes they are doing something worthy. Even if it includes some health risks, they are bringing people back to their families.

Nadia, retirement home employee

Nadia (52) is a mother of 3 and a grandmother of 5. She is responsible for the laundry in a retirement home in France. It is just one of the many examples of the dire situation faced by this kind of establishment across numerous countries. Five inhabitants have died in the building, some employees have tested positive and many others chose not to come to work to keep their families safer. “Every day is filled with distress now, she says, that’s what is the most fatiguing”.

‘We are very worried for the inhabitants, who now feel isolated as their families cannot visit’, she continues. The staff are doing their best to maintain those family ties via online video conferences.

To protect themselves, Nadia and her colleagues have been wearing a special head cap, plastic blouse and another cotton one underneath. Since the 30 March she has been provided with a new, more protective, uniform.

Euguene Savvateyev, distributes food for homeless people

Radio show presenter Euguene Savvateyev (30) distributes food among homeless people in Kyiv, Ukraine. He and his wife Olga Makar are active in the ‘Youth for peace movement’ of the Community of Sant’Egidio (international Catholic association founded in 1968 and dedicated to social service). The volunteers distribute food every day now and are asking others to do the same.

“These times are very difficult for homeless people: the railway stations are closed, the paid recycling spots are closed too, there is nobody to ask for donations. The hunger scares people as much as loneliness,” Olya says.

‘There is no small help,’ she continues. Some bring 200-300 portions of food to the station, others prepare 5 sandwiches and give them out on the way to the store.

Jordi Díaz, a mechanic at a chemical production

Jordi from Spain kept working during the first weeks of the complete lockdown, commuting 50 km each day to and from his work. He says he does not feel like an important worker and wants to pay tribute to all the heroes, who work to keep everything going.

Jordi had a certificate from work that allowed him to travel, as remote working was not possible in his case. At work it was mandatory to disinfect hands and use protective masks and gloves. It was also obligatory to keep at least a 1.5 metre distance from other colleagues.

In his free time he only went out to walk his dog for 15 minutes, complying with the lockdown measures.

Jordi planned to keep going to work as long as supplies and customers remained open for business, but at the end of March there was an order to halt production and now he is out of work.

Helena Llibre llonch, pharmacist

Helena Llibre works in a pharmacy in Catalonia, Spain. ‘Our establishment has to be open during the coronavirus crisis because we are a health centre and people are coming here to get their medicine. We serve patients with a plastic protection on the table and also with gloves and masks to prevent both our and their contagions,’ Helena told Euronews.

‘We are worried about being infected and also about infecting our families. Anyhow we know its our job and we have to do it for society,’ – she added.

Hilda Younessian, delivery person

Hilda Younessian works as a delivery person. She started this job few years ago, to help finance her home with a son who has special needs. It gave her more flexibility in managing her time and errands connected to her son’s wellbeing. It also helps Hilda pay for her studies and family bills.

This job is a necessity, but she likes it a lot too. She says she gets to meet many different people and usually receives positive responses to her work.

‘During the strange days of corona pandemic, I am still happy I can do this, despite the risks. Those smiles and kind faces are very important,’ Hilda says.

I do protect myself, keeping a distance from other colleagues. I disinfect the car, wear masks and gloves. I put the package in front of the doors, then ring the door and distance myself from it. Now clients have to lift their packages themselves. They are still kind to me and sometimes seem even kinder. I love helping them.’

Georgiy Pevtsov, musician and architect

Since the beginning of the lockdown in France, every evening Georgiy Pevtsov, who lives in Lyon, makes a tour around his neighbourhood playing bagpipes, which has been his big passion for many years.

“I need to practice anyway and like this I can help keep the neighbourhood a bit more lively,” he says. Sometimes Georgiy puts on the traditional costume, but since it takes a lot of effort, most of the time he leaves home dressed casually. He says he chooses new melodies each time so that no one gets bored.

Every day at 20.00 French people look out of their windows to clap to acknowledge their gratitude to the health professionals and others out there at the frontline of coronavirus crisis. Georgiy’s music adds a lot to that moment. People film him on their mobile phones, clap, or even play along with other musical instruments from their balconies.

Jaap Arriens, visual journalist and Suresh Goyal, restaurateur

Jaap lives and works in Warsaw, Poland. He is photographer and videographer who works on assignments with different agencies. As with many other journalists during this time, he works on the frontlines of the pandemic to deliver accurate information about the situation in the country.

“Working on the frontline of an epidemic can be a scary thing, says Jaap. Any journalist working in these risky circumstances can take as many precautions as he or she likes, however you are also dependent on the vigilance and attentiveness of the people you meet when covering events. Being in close proximity to them brings both known and unknown risks. You don’t know who is infected and who isn’t.”

Jaap thinks that despite the obvious risks that reporters are taking on a daily basis in these times, they should keep being the eyes and ears of the public. Having access to information is especially important in the countries in Central and Eastern Europe where there is a traditional distrust of government and its ability to communicate clearly, he adds.

On one of his assignments Jaap filmed the initiative of Suresh Goyal, who is a restaurant owner. His establishment helps Warsaw’s hospitals by delivering free food for medics dealing with coronavirus-infected patients.

Lyubov Berndyk, salesperson in a supermarket

Lyubov works in a dairy department in a supermarket in a residential area of Kyiv, Ukraine. ‘It’s very unusual to work in masks and gloves, we can’t go out to the shop floor without the protection, there is constant supervision. The work surfaces are now more regularly washed with some new chemicals,’ she says.

It’s scary to see the clients in the masks, sometimes even children are wearing them. Scary to catch it, since you don’t know if the person behind is ill or not.

Prices get higher overnight, there are a lot of products, but people buy everything out. There is a big rush.

Adina Agakishieva, pastry chef

Adina is a chief pastry chef in a French desserts shop in Prague, Czech Republic. Wearing the face masks in public has been made mandatory there. The business is trying to show they care about their customers during the time of crisis. The clients get the face masks for free when buying the products, that they also can get delivered.

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