War babies: The surrogate newborns in Ukraine waiting for their parents in a Kyiv basement

Some of the war’s youngest victims are a group of babies carried by Ukrainian mothers for couples living overseas who are unable to collect their newborns after Russia’s invasion, reports Kim Sengupta in Kyiv

<p>One of the babies at the Kyiv clinic </p>

One of the babies at the Kyiv clinic

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The youngest one was just three days old, the oldest five months. They lay in rows of cots in a basement bunker to protect them from missiles and artillery strikes, innocents trapped by war, with deep uncertainty about what the future holds for them.

The babies were of surrogate mothers for foreign couples who cannot now come to Ukraine to collect them following the Russian invasion, while the violence makes it too dangerous to try to get them out of the country.

There were 11 nannies left looking after the 21 babies at the BioTexCom clinic in Kyiv out of 50 who were there before the conflict started and have now left to be with their families, many for safer areas out of Kyiv.

“It is hard work for those of us here, we are getting two to three hours sleep a night if we are lucky, that has been the case ever since the bombing began,” said Antonina Yefimovich. “My family have moved out of Kyiv. But I will stay here. What choice have I got? We are not going to abandon these babies.

“Most of the little ones would have been picked up by now. The five-month-old one has been here much longer than usual, but his parents are Chinese and sometimes the Chinese wait a bit longer than others to collect them, now of course they have got caught up in the war.

“We are living in this basement 24 hours a day apart from going upstairs for showers. There is bombing every night. Most of the babies normally sleep through it, but it is very worrying for us, not just for what may happen here, but to our families at home.”

The clinic is situated in a housing estate on the eastern edge of the city. The road out leads to towns like Irpin which have become battlefields, with ferocious fighting taking place as Russian forces try to encircle Kyiv. There are booms of artillery rounds as 37-year-old Ms Yefimovich speaks. “Do you think they are getting closer?” one of her colleagues asks.

The surrogacy market in Ukraine is one of the busiest in the world. Ukraine is one of a very small number of countries that offers this service to foreign couples. Many other states, mainly in Asia, that used to offer it have stopped after concern it led to the exploitation of vulnerable women by middlemen.

There are currently 21 babies being looked after

Ukrainian law, however, also stipulates that biological parents must confirm their nationality in person, creating great problems in establishing legal guardianship of the babies in the current turbulent circumstances.

Clients have been coming to Ukraine from countries including Britain and America, China and Japan, Argentina and Australia, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, as it became known as a reliable place for surrogacy.

Around 15 companies are in the business with BioTexCom the largest one. Surrogate mothers receive between £15,000 to £20,000 per birth, a relatively large amount for a country that has experienced economic malaise.

Around 2,500 children are born through surrogacy each year in Ukraine and it is estimated that around 500 women are currently expecting babies for foreign clients. The births will take place in nursing homes with the babies then being moved to specialist clinics.

Sofiye is three-and-a-half months pregnant with a surrogate baby. She had planned to move to Vinnytsia, 120 miles away from the capital, with her two children as the likelihood of war grew. But then had to cancel the trip because her mother became ill.

Most of the little ones would have been picked up by now. The five-month-old one has been here much longer than usual

Antonina Yefimovich, a nanny

The 28-year-old former shop worker, who did not want her family name published, said: “Of course I had no idea that a war was going to break out when the procedure took place, no one expected this to happen.

“I worry a lot about what is going to happen, I am very stressed, I have been sick and I worry it may affect the baby. It would have been better if we had left Kyiv, I think that is what the couple whose baby I’m having wanted, but my mother is not well so we can’t leave.

“I am doing this [surrogacy] because I want to help people who can’t have babies, I was told that the couple who want this baby have been trying for more than twelve years, so I feel good I can help.

“Also I am unemployed, I was only getting casual work. I am separated from my husband, I have to look after my son and daughter, my mother, and the fee was good. I know that the baby is my responsibility until the parents can collect them. The company I am working with has discussed the delivery with me. I am praying now is that the war will be over soon and I can give birth to a healthy boy or girl.”

Ms Yefimovich, whose work is not linked to Sofiye’s company, said, “obviously, new babies will mean more work for the clinics, but that is the situation and we must learn to cope with it”.

Pointing to shelves of baby food, medicine, packs of nappies, bottles and laid-out changing facilities, she continued: “The clinic is keeping us well supplied and I think they’ll continue to do so. The problem is more with the lack of staff and the impact that is having on us, we are...”

A colleague, Svetlana Stetsuik, cuts in: “Zombies, we are like zombies at the moment with the lack of sleep and tiredness, it is very difficult to stay awake, but you’ve got to do your job and look after the babies.

The surrogacy market in Ukraine is one of the busiest in the world

“My family are not in Kyiv, they keep on asking me to go back home, but there are so few of us left that will be unfair on my colleagues, and the babies, of course. We have to try and keep them safe until they can go to their new homes.”

Both Ms Yefimovich and Ms Stetsuik were bitterly angry at Vladimir Putin at the disaster that he had unleashed.

“We had so many links between the two countries, Ukraine and Russia, friends and families, all this has been destroyed, I cannot see us ever getting back to the way it was,” said Ms Yefimovich. “I feel angry at Putin for what he is doing, I feel angry at the Russians who believe the lies they are being told.”

Ms Stetsuik said simply: “The Russians are inflicting war on innocent people, on women, men, children and babies. That is the terrible thing that is happening here.”

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here.

To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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