Ukraine's president takes COVID-19 vaccine to reassure sceptics

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Ukraine's President Zelenskiy receives a dose of a vaccine against the coronavirus disease in eastern Ukraine
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KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had a coronavirus vaccine shot during a visit to the frontline in the eastern Donbass region on Tuesday, hoping to reassure sceptics that the vaccine is safe and effective.

Lagging behind the rest of Europe, Ukraine has only just started vaccinating its 41 million people after receiving its first batch of 500,000 Indian-made AstraZeneca shots last month, prioritising frontline healthcare workers and the military.

But the government faces a battle against vaccine scepticism and has cited data showing 47% of the population did not want to take it.

"Got vaccinated against #COVID19. Did this on the frontline with our soldiers as Supreme C-in-C [Commander in Chief]," Zelenskiy said in a tweet that was accompanied with a picture of the shirtless president taking the shot.

"The same Oxford/AstraZeneca (Covishield) from India, which was delivered 1st to UA (Ukraine) & received by millions of people in the world. Vaccine will let us live without restrictions again."

Zelenskiy, whose government has blocked the use of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, has urged European Union leaders to send vaccines to Ukraine and other countries on the periphery of the EU as a gesture of solidarity, and as a matter of "politics and geopolitics".

Ukraine has registered 1.3 million cases with more than 26,000 deaths from COVID-19.

He was accompanied by European Council President Charles Michel who, in televised remarks, reiterated the need for Kyiv to tackle corruption. Michel also called on Twitter for peace in Donbass, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed forces since 2014.

"The shameful reality is that people continue to die here and face dire consequences of the conflict," Michel said.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk and Matthias Williams)