Ukraine feels sting at back of Europe's vaccine queue

While vaccinations against the coronavirus gather pace across Europe, doctors at Kyiv City Clinical Hospital 17 are still waiting.

In the COVID emergency ward, three patients lie quietly on beds, breathing through ventilators.

Sergiy Dubrov is the head of the COVID department.

"I don't know all the details about the negotiations and all vaccine procurement procedures, but I can say as a simple doctor and as a Ukrainian citizen, that I don't think that Ukraine did a great job. Why? Because many countries and our neighbors between them already have the vaccine and started vaccinations, but we didn't. The goal is to get the vaccine in Ukraine, I don't know what the means are to reach it, but I think we should've got it together with Poland or our other neighbors."

One of Europe's poorest countries, Ukraine has found itself at the back of the continent's vaccine queue -- slower to procure them independently and unwilling to buy from Russia.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has appealed to the leaders of EU countries for help, while conceding that "this is very unpleasant to feel that you are standing there with your hand out."

The EU, while embroiled in its own problems to secure supplies, said it was willing to help, which it has done so far by funding the global COVAX scheme supplying COVID vaccines to poorer countries, including Ukraine.

Health Minister Maksym Stepanov is hopeful that EU negotiations will be successful.

"We were asking the European Union several times to give Ukraine a certain quota of the vaccine. We didn't ask them to give it to us for free. We were ready to pay, pay the same price as other European countries. Moreover, we were ready to pay even more to save the lives of Ukrainian citizens."

Ukraine plans to vaccinate 14.4 million people this year starting from February, when it expects 117,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses through COVAX.

It will also procure Chinese vaccines.

But progress could be slow. Ukraine and neighbor Moldova are the only countries in Europe likely to take until 2023 to reach widespread COVID vaccinations, according to a report by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

With relations between Kyiv and Moscow still toxic after Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine banned the use of Russian COVID vaccines.

That left Ukraine behind neighbors like Belarus - the first country outside Russia to register the Sputnik V vaccine.

Russian vaccines have also reached regions of eastern Ukraine controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.