The world is watching in horror as images and stories from the Ukraine war zone come to light. Young citizens are enlisting to fight, even more are watching their families be torn apart, and violent bombings across major cities have killed and injured thousands of people.
And as the chaos of war continues, more unfathomable circumstances and cries for help are emerging—particularly among women and children who are being forced to make some of the most difficult decisions of their life.
Thousands of mothers fled west with their children as the Russian presence expanded from the east. Their husbands and sons aged 18 to 60 were forced to stayed back, conscripted to fight for their country—that separation is unthinkable in itself.
But some women weren’t able to leave at all either. Across Ukraine, 80,000 women are expected to give birth within the next three months, and for those who will be unable to escape the country (many of them won’t given that spaces on trains and other public transport is incredibly difficult to come by), their future is harrowingly uncertain.
And their perilous situation has grown more desparate following the devastating bombing on a maternity hospital in Mariupol on March 9. After the Russian air strike on the maternity ward, an image of a heavily pregnant woman who was gravely injured and being carried out of the disaster zone on a stretcher, was shared across the world.
The shocking snapshot was a reflection of the situation—two days later, the woman and her baby died in the aftermath of the attack on the hospital. Their names remain unknown.
Blogger Mariana Vishegirskaya, who was was also in the hospital when it was bombed and gave birth to a baby girl the day after the airstrike, told AP: “It happened on March 9 in Hospital No. 3 in Mariupol. We were laying in wards when glasses, frames, windows and walls flew apart.
“We don’t know how it happened. We were in our wards and some had time to cover themselves, some didn’t.”
Politicians have labelled the event a war crime, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky begged the question: “What kind of country is this, the Russian Federation, which is afraid of hospitals and maternity hospitals and destroys them?”
The tragic event poses a terrifying and confronting reality that pregnant women face if they cannot get out of Ukraine—now, or when they give birth. Per the UN, oxygen and medical supplies, including those that could assist in the case of pregnancy complications, are running “dangerously low”.
Over the weekend, The New York Times also published a searing report on 19 surrogate babies hidden in a basement in Kyiv, born on the brink of war and unable to be united with their parents who live overseas.
Ukraine is one of only a few countries that offers surrogacy services to parents who live overseas. Women can earn up to AUD $20,000 if they carry a child. But under Ukrainian law, biological parents must be present to confirm the nationality of their child—right now, they can’t get into the country, so the fate of hundreds of newborns are in the balance.
“[My family] want me to leave, but I cannot abandon my colleagues, I cannot abandon my work, I cannot abandon these babies,” said one nurse, Ms. Yashenko, who has been looking after the children in the basement.
There are also reportedly around 500 expecting surrogate mothers based in Ukraine who are nearing the end of their pregnancies—theirs, and the baby’s health is at risk with the health system already at its limit.
BioTexCom, a Ukrainian surrogate agency has recommended that parents overseas wait until a safer time to collect their surrogate children, promising to look after them in their own nurseries in bunkers.
According to Euro News, the agency currently has 30 babies in its bomb shelter, but that number is expected to rise to 100 by the end of the month.
“Every day we have one, two or three new babies,” a spokesperson at BioTexCom said.
It’s a desparate situation, it’s unfathomable, yet it’s devastatingly forced into fathom for mothers, both biological and surrogate across the country.
But even in these dark times, these women continue holding onto the one thing we know to be true when it comes to the bond between mother and child: “They are cared for, they are fed, they are loved,” Yashenko said.
For more on how you can help the people of Ukraine, visit our explainer here or follow the links below.
- Voices of Children – this charity aims to help children affected by the war by providing support through psychologists, video storytelling and art therapy.
Medical and essential supplies
- United Help Ukraine – this helps provide medical supplies and humanitarian aid, as well as raising awareness of the conflict
- Sunflower of Peace — providing assistance to paramedics and doctors on the ground, as well as mobilize support and aid for Ukrainian orphans and internally displaced people.
- Red Cross — the International Committee of the Red Cross delivers urgent assistance (food, fuel for heating, medical supplies, and support for housing) to people in Ukraine living close to the line of contact.
Mental health care
- Vostok-SOS – this charity provides assistance to victims of war in both Ukraine and Crimea, finding shelter and delivering psychological first aid.