Sunday, August 30, 2020

Covid-19 Situation in Ukraine

Ukraine health officials have registered another 2,096 new cases of COVID-19 as of the morning of Sunday, August 30.

Most of the new cases were reported in Kharkiv (198), L’viv (188), Odessa (173), and Ivano-Frankivsk (171) regions and the city of Kyiv. The total number of cases reported since the pandemic outbreak stands at 119,074. Of these cases, 56,734 patients have recovered, and 2,527 fatalities have been reportedSome 701 servicemen are now isolated (including self-isolation). 7,743 children and 11,084 healthcare workers have contracted the coronavirus (COVID-19) since the start of the pandemic.

In total, 42,828 tests were conducted in the country in the past day. In particular, there were 22,469 tests done with the use of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method and 20,359 with the application of the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) method.

On 11 March, a quarantine was enforced, with education institutions being closed down. On 13 March, Ukraine saw its first coronavirus death, cut off international travel and sealed its borders for foreigners. Internal public transport has ceased as well. Public transport in Kyiv is restricted to essential categories of employees – medics, bank employees, supermarket workers, etc. Non-essential shopping, as well as all restaurants and recreation, have been shut down, and public gatherings with more than 10 participating prohibited, religious gatherings included. On 26 March, an emergency situation was introduced. On 1 April, stricter quarantine measures were introduced,

Ukraine began relaxing in stages beginning May 22. Numbers of cases began to rise and on August 1, restrictions were introduced on a micro regional basis which will continue until November. (lots of good charts here)

Since Aug. 3, new rules for Ukraine’s COVID-19 quarantine have come into force: communities, rather than entire regions, are now divided into green, yellow, orange and red levels of severity of the spread of COVID-19. The authorities in districts, cities, and towns will have to tighten or relax quarantine restrictions in accordance with the new categories. The levels are based on four indicators that are reviewed every five days.

To contain the spread of the virus, Ukraine closed its borders to foreign citizens for a month on Aug. 28. The ban will last until Sep. 28.

Daily Testing and Confirmed Cases to August 29th

Confirmed cases by oblast (we are in Dnipropetrovs'ka Oblast)

Rolling 7 day averages for confirmed cases, recoveries and deaths

The data does not look positive since relaxing of restrictions. Most other countries are seeing the same thing. Clamping down with new restrictions for high incidence oblasts has resulted in the usual protests, especially in Kharkiv. I assume that this is fed by the usual trolls from the outside and multiplied by useful idiots inside the country. 

How much one can believe of the statistics is also questionable. Dnipropetrovs'ka Oblast shows low levels of infections yet Tanya says there are 20 active cases in Zhovti Vody, 10 in hospital. This is a former Soviet country with generations steeped in hiding bad news from their bosses and from the world in general. Some of that may be lingering on. I do not know.

Tanya mostly goes to town when she needs to and always wears a mask and gloves, going only to shops she must. When I have gone with her, I wear a mask and use hand sanitizer and wash my hands when I get home. My observation is that most people on the street do not wear a mask and in the supermarket, most people wear them, about half incorrectly.

I'm glad we live in a village on the edge of Zhovti Vody. Isolation is much simpler. Family, three neighbours and our taxi driver are all I come into contact with. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Mortality is the Inevitable Lot of Humankind

 A friend of mine commented on Facebook that some days they are burdened with grief for the world. I can understand that feeling. If you have been paying attention to what is going on around you, whether at home or abroad, and care at all about other people, you will be hard pressed not to feel the same.

Another friend commented to me that a song had reminded them of a car trip with three friends, all the same age and all of whom were now deceased. I said, “Now don’t you start because I have been thinking about death a great deal lately”. The news is filled with reports of death from Covid-19, state sponsored violence, street violence, starvation, disease, assassination, murder, and the list goes on and on.

It is normal to worry about other people’s death: relatives, loved ones and friends and I suppose we all think about our own death from time to time. Fortunately, our own death is usually viewed as in some distant misty future so not to be worried about. I am of an age and have been for quite some time, that my own mortality has become very real to me. That is natural as one gets older and a near-death experience three years ago, simply made it more real.

People fear death for two reasons (being dead, not the dying which is totally different). It takes away from us the possible pleasures of life. Very few people are anxious to give that up and ‘good health is the slowest possible way to die’. We do not know what happens to us after death. Do we simply cease to exist? Are we recycled? Religions that promote life after death in a better place are a quite popular way of dealing with the unknown.

I am in no hurry to die. While I could be hurled into the abyss any moment by the moving sidewalk of life, I prefer to think of it as 30 years away and need to plan accordingly. One chap said he preferred to die at 107, shot to death by a jealous husband. I do wish him luck. As to being dead, that doesn’t phase me a bit. I was not before I was born and did not worry, and I will not be after I am gone, so I will not worry about that.

Life is finite. The Psalmist said, “As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more”. Shakespeare describes it as, “Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more…”. Nabokov is even more blunt, “Common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness”.

The fact that life is indeed finite is a good thing, really. It gives some shape to our life, knowing with have a finite time to live it, we make the best of it we can. I cannot imagine a worse punishment than living forever. Or even with a healthy body and mind, living for 800 years like the Bible says the Patriarchs of old did. Any time between now and 100 is good for me.

The Bible talks about living forever in happiness, singing praises to God, walking on Golden Streets, living in crystal palaces, etc., for all eternity They need to work on their marketing.

The idea of grass appeals to me as someone whose life has been dedicated to the people who raise grass and cattle. Grass is finite yet eternal. Think of grass as far as you can see in every direction. Constantly changing yet ever the same. Individual blades of grass grow and die and more grow in their place. Trees grow in the low spots, rivers and streams run through it. Lightening storms and fires, insects and microorganisms all have their role in the maintenance of the grasslands, as do ruminants which graze it down and don’t come back until it has regrown. Carnivores and herbivores live their life cycles. Clouds scud over head, rains and snow fall, the seasons come and go, the wind constantly stirs the grass. Ever changing yet ever unchanged over the eons. Is this where dogs go when they die?

As luck would have it, I ran into a wonderful article two days ago, referenced below, which confirmed many of my thoughts and greatly clarified others. I recommend it highly.

How not to fear your death.

Without death, life would be nothing but a dire repetition, pointless and endless. Immeasurably long lives would eventually deflate into the most banal tedium. Millennia upon millennia upon millennia would have to be lived out and, even then, there would be an eternity to go. Eventually the most sublime and wondrous experiences possible would become punishing in their drab familiarity. Fortunately, this isn’t a possibility that need concern us too much. But confronting the alternative to death brings home the point – no matter how terrifying it might be, the fact of death makes life more brilliant and precious. The time we have together in this place is fleeting: let’s spend it well.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Halifax Explosion 1917

The explosion in Beirut should have reminded Canadians of our own tragedy, the great Halifax explosion which occurred December 6th, 1917. Wikipedia has a good detailed article which I will attempt to abstract and illustrate with maps from several sources

Halifax was a major stopping off point between Europe and New York. The harbour was relatively safe as submarine nets protected it at night and were lowered to allow ships in and out in daylight. The inner harbour, Bedford Basin, was the main anchorage where merchant convoys were put together. The Narrows separated Bedford Basin from Halifax Harbour. 

Ships navigating the narrows were to keep to the right with the oncoming ship to their left. Speed was limited to 5 knots or 9.3 kmph. Ship traffic was very high and rules were sometimes ignored in the name of speed. The Harbour Master informed the authorities that he could no longer guarantee the safety of ships in the harbour.

Map of Halifax Harbour, the Narrows and Bedford Basin

The SS Imo was a Norwegian ship headed for New York to take on relief supplies for Belgium. Anchored in the Bedford Basin, she did not finish loading coal until after the submarine nets had been raised on December 5th and was stuck there until morning. The SS Mont Blanc was a French ship taking explosives from New York to France via Halifax. She carried 2,925 tonnes of explosives—including 62 tonnes of guncotton, 246 tonnes of benzol, a highly flammable liquid, 250 tonnes of TNT, and 2,367 tonnes of picric acid. She arrived too late to enter the harbour December 5th. No one was aware of the load she carried and though she asked for special protection, it was not given. 

Why the collision occurred

When the Imo was given permission in the morning to leave Bedford Basin, she set out fast to make up time but was forced to her left by oncoming boats. The incoming Mont Blanc, moving slowly signalled the Imo to move over but was initially refused. The Mont Blanc swerved hard left to avoid a collision just as the Imo also swerved right. The two ships collided and sparked ignited the spilled benzol. Firefighters rushed to control the flames, not knowing of the danger and 20 minutes after the collision at 9:05 am, the Mont Blanc exploded.

The area totally destroyed by the explosion

The explosion killed at least 1950 people and injured another 9,000. Thousands of people had stopped to watch the ship burning in the harbour. The explosion destroyed the north end of Halifax, left 6,000 completely homeless and 25,000 with insufficient shelter in damaged homes. A raging blizzard the next day helped put out the fires but hampered rescue efforts. 

Help came by train from all over Nova Scotia and elsewhere. Damages were estimated at $31million and about $30 million was raised from a number of sources including $750,000 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

One story I read some time ago, not mentioned in the Wiki article, was of a telegraph operator who stayed at his station frantically trying to reach the night passenger train from St John which would be pulling into Halifax at this time. He managed to stop the train just short of the damage zone but lost his life in the explosion.

Halifax was rebuilt and international rules about identifying dangerous cargo were strengthened. In 2000, my late wife and I visited Halifax and saw some of the markers commemorating the explosion, a rather sobering experience.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Ammonium Nitrate - nitrogen fertilizer and deadly explosive

 Ammonium nitrate has the chemical formula NH₄NO₃. Produced as small porous pellets, or “prills”, it’s one of the world’s most widely used fertilisers, referred to by its NPK formula of 34- 0-0. It is made by combining ammonia gas with liquid nitric acid, which itself is made from ammonia.

It's use as a fertilizer in Canada is declining as urea (46-0-0) and anhydrous ammonia (84-0-0) are more economical and so more popular.

Ammonium nitrate is also the main component in many types of mining explosives, where it’s mixed with fuel oil and detonated by an explosive charge. I first heard of ammonium nitrate as an explosive when I was living in Ontario in the early 1970s. Highway construction in many parts of the province requires a great deal of blasting of solid rock to create a road bed in the Canadian Shield.

Highway construction crews used big trucks with compartments of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel. Holes were drilled in the rock to be blasted, then the ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel were pumped into the holes, mixed while pumping. Large anti-blast mats made of tires were dragged over the spot and the explosive mixture detonated. 

Ammonium nitrate is classified as dangerous goods and all aspects of its use are tightly regulated because it can be used in the making of bombs. Two tonnes of Ammonium nitrate mixed with diesel fuel were used by Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma city bombing in 1995 which killed 168 people, injured at least 600 others and destroyed or damaged 324 building and 86 cars within a 16 block radius.  

The amount of ammonium nitrate which exploded in Beirut was over 10 times that, making the blast the equivalent of several hundred tonnes of TNT.

Ammonium nitrate does not burn on its own. Instead, it acts as a source of oxygen that can accelerate the combustion (burning) of other materials. In order for an accidental explosion to occur several things have to go wrong.

For combustion to occur, oxygen must be present. Ammonium nitrate prills provide a much more concentrated supply of oxygen than the air around us. This is why it is effective in mining explosives, where it’s mixed with oil and other fuels.

At high enough temperatures, however, ammonium nitrate can violently decompose on its own. This process creates gases including nitrogen oxides and water vapour. It is this rapid release of gases that causes an explosion.

Ammonium nitrate decomposition can be set off if an explosion occurs where it’s stored, if there is an intense fire nearby. The latter is what happened in the 2015 Tianjin explosion, which killed 173 people after flammable chemicals and ammonium nitrate were stored together at a chemicals factory in eastern China.

The following is a true story. The names have been redacted to protect the guilty. About 30 years ago, long before Oklahoma made it impossible to buy this stuff across the counter, a friend of mine decided he needed a dugout in a coulee a good distance east of his farm site to water his cattle when the grazed there. He had heard of using ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel as an explosive. With that very limited knowledge (not that it had ever stopped him before) he bought a 25 kg bag of 34-0-0 and with a can of diesel fuel went down into the coulee. He set the bag where he wanted the dugout, poured the diesel into it, added a dynamite cap and 30 minutes of fuse, then covered it with mud.  He then retreated about 750 meters (1/2 mile) away on the highway where he could watch the action.

And action he got. Far more than he bargained on. The explosion rattled windows in the town a few km away, as well as in his own yard. His truck was showered with stones and dirt. The RCMP showed up in minutes and chewed him a new one. But he was happy. He had a dugout, and learned something new while having fun.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Kizhi Island - an outdoor architecture museum

The Hagia Sophia post sparked Diane Henders' memory of a History of Architecture class she once took. That would be a most interesting class as it must have covered many of the architectural wonders of the world, of which several must have been in Russia and Ukraine.

I have visited two outdoor museums of historical architecture in Ukraine, the Pyrohiv Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine near Kyiv, and the Pereyaslav National Historic-Ethnographic Reserve at Pereyaslav Khmelnitsky. These are easily visited from Kyiv and need at least a very long day to see everything. 

Click to enlarge
One outdoor museum I would live to visit that is NOT easily accessible is Kizhi Island 6 km by 1 km, in the middle of Lake Onega in Karelia. One travels by plane or train to Petrozavodsk a city of 260,000 on the shore of Lake Onega, which is worth a visit all on its own. From there a hydrofoil takes you 68 km to Kizhi Island, the home of more than 80 historical wooden structures.

The island was settled since at least the 1400s but only one small settlement remains. In the 18th century two large churches and a bell tower were built. They are now known as Kizhi Pogost and are a UNESCO Heritage site.

In the 1950s many wooden structures from Karelia were moved to the Island for preservation. Someday, I should like to visit.

Kizhi churches.jpg
Kizhi Island churches

Kizhi Island P7110088 2200.jpg
Kizhi Island Settlement

Kizhi 06-2017 img12 StMichael Chapel.jpg
Chapel of the Archangel Michael