War leaves Ukraine's booming global surrogacy industry in turmoilMarch 16, 2022
Ukraine’s surrogacy industry in turmoil: Babies are sheltered in a basement clinic as parents risk their lives to reach them and couples are left ‘panicking’ over the fate of 800 foreigners’ babies yet to be born
- Ukraine is a global surrogacy hub and attracts parents from around the world
- Babies carried by Ukrainian women are being sheltered in a Kyiv basement
- Their parents are battling to reach them – but only a few have been successful
- A handful of couples shared how they risked their lives to rescue their children
These heartrending photos of surrogate babies in a makeshift basement clinic in Kyiv shine a light on the difficult situations faced by those involved in Ukraine’s booming global surrogacy industry as the country is ravaged by war.
The 21 babies were all carried by Ukrainian surrogate mothers for couples living overseas. They were born in maternity wards across the capital and taken to the ‘clinic’ – set up in the basement of a residential block – for safety.
Normally, parents re required to travel to Ukraine ahead of the birth and complete relevant paperwork before taking their children home.
But volunteer nurses said only two couples, one from Germany, one from Argentina, have so far made the journey to collect their children.
A handful of similarly happy endings have emerged, with couples from the US, the UK and Australia all safely making the journey.
Mother-of-two Jessie Miller Boeckmann, a cataract surgeon from Orange County, California, told how she walked eight miles to the Polish border with her four-day-old daughter strapped to her chest after she and her husband flew out to Ukraine to collect her days before war broke out.
The story of premature American twins who were evacuated in their incubators after being born to a Ukrainian surrogate also made headlines around the world.
But hundreds of other families are faced with the desperate situation of not being able to reach their newborns.
Scroll down to read the extraordinary stories of babies rescued from Ukraine
Waiting for their parents: These 21 babies were all carried by Ukrainian surrogate mothers for couples living overseas. They were born in maternity wards across the capital and taken to the ‘clinic’ – set up in the basement of a residential block in Kyiv – for safety
One of the lucky ones: German couple Heka and Gerhard, who travelled 12 hours by train to collect their newborn son, Leonard. He was carried by a Ukrainian surrogate
Bravery: Mother-of-two Jessie Miller Boeckmann, a cataract surgeon from Orange County, California, told how she walked eight miles to the Polish border with her four-day-old daughter strapped to her chest after she and her husband flew out to Ukraine to collect her days before war broke out. The family are now home safe
Low costs, willing women and favourable laws: Why Ukraine has become a global surrogacy hotspot for foreign parents
Commercial surrogacy has been legal for married heterosexual couples in Ukraine since 2000. It is now the second most popular destination behind the US.
Mr Everingham said that a shortage of surrogates in the UK drives couples to look oversees. While the US is popular, the relatively high costs exclude some parents.
In Ukraine, the process costs around $55,000. Costs rise to around $60,000 if the couple is using a donor egg or sperm. In contrast the US surrogacy services can range from around $100,000 to $200,000.
Surrogates in the UK cannot be paid. Intended parents can only pay for expenses the surrogate incurs.
Ukraine’s laws are another factor. The Family code of Ukraine law states that where embryos created by IVF by the intended parents are returned to the womb of another woman, the intended parents are the legal parents.
The law in Ukraine specifically states that the baby belongs to the intended parents and the surrogate mother has no prenatal rights. Both intended parents names appear on the Ukrainian birth certificate.
This might appeal to British couples concerned over the UK laws that automatically grant rights to a surrogate. Laws in the US vary state to state.
Countries including Thailand, India and Nepal, which used to allow compensated surrogacy for foreigners, have banned the practice out of fear it led to the exploitation of women.
However there are restrictions on how Ukraine surrogacies can operate. Unlike in the UK, surrogacies in Ukraine can only be ‘gestational’, meaning the woman cannot be biologically linked to the baby. Meanwhile at least one of the intended parents must be biological.
Ukraine is an international surrogacy hub. Growing Families, a charity working with parents seeking surrogacy, estimates there are 800 Ukraine surrogates pregnant with children to foreigners, with an estimated 40 carrying babies for British parents.
Its popularity is down to a number of reasons including the availability of surrogates, the high standard of medical care and the cost.
The entire process costs the equivalent of £42,000, roughly a third of what it costs parents pursuing surrogacy in the US.
The legal situation is also different to Britain, where the surrogate mother is automatically given legal rights. In Ukraine the ‘intended parents’ are the only ones with any legal rights.
Growing Families has been contacted by more than 100 couples from 12 countries seeking assistance. In addition to concerns surrounding their babies, there are also fears for the embryos they have in storage.
‘It is such a difficult situation and we are getting many calls daily from couples who have got surrogates or embryos in Ukraine who are desperate for information,’ Sam Everingham, global director of Growing Families, told i.
Volunteers: One of the nurses in the Kyiv bomb shelter told how she and her colleagues are working around-the-clock to care for the babies, pictured
Waiting for their parents: Four babies, all born to surrogates, lie on a mattress in the shelter while another is bottle fed by a volunteer
Round-the-clock care: Nurse Oksana Martynenko looks after surrogate-born babies inside a special shelter owned by BioTexCom clinic in a residential basement in Ukraine
How American premature twins born to a Ukrainian surrogate escaped the war in incubators
A set of American premature twin brothers born in a Kyiv hospital made it to Poland after being evacuated from the war in incubators by a US military veteran and team of medical experts in an extraordinary mission dubbed operation Gemini.
Lenny and Moishe Spektor were born on February 25th – hours after Putin launched his first assault on Russia – in a children’s hospital in Kyiv. The hospital floor they were delivered on no longer exists: it was shelled days after they were moved to a different facility.
The boys, who weighed 4lbs each when they were born, are the sons of Sasha Spektor and his wife.
Evacuated: Lenny and Moishe Spektor were born on February 25th – hours after Putin launched his first assault on Russia – in a children’s hospital in Kyiv. The hospital floor they were delivered on no longer exists: it was shelled days after they were moved to a different facility. They are shown above in the Polish hospital where they are gaining weight. The boys will return to the US with their father when they are strong enough
Sasha, 46, was born in Ukraine but emigrated to Chicago as a Jewish refugee in 1989. He now teaches Russian literature at The University of Georgia.
The couple worked with a Ukrainian surrogacy agency which matched them with Katerina, young Ukrainian mother with a six-year-old son of her own.
In an interview with DailyMail.com, Sasha told how Katerina was rushed to the hospital while 27 weeks pregnant with the twins due to complications.
Rescue mission: Sasha Spektor, the boys’ father, is shown center in a medical gown next to Lt. Commander Bryan Stern, who arranged the mission to get them out. To the right is Olga, the head of the ambulance crew
She was still there when the shelling began, and took shelter in the basement of a church with the premature babies at night.
Katerina was transported in ambulances under shelling and made it across the border to Poland. Sasha flew out to meet his newborn children and his wife followed shortly afterwards.
The babies were transported with the help of Project Dynamo founder Bryan Stern, a Lieutenant Commander of the US Army and Navy.
It is not known whether the baby remain in Poland but it is thought they required more care before flying to the US.
‘They are panicking and worried about what will happen to their babies and about getting them to safety. But it is a terrifying situation for the surrogates too as they have their own lives and are frightened and it is not just about airlifting them out.
‘Some of the surrogates don’t have passports and many of them are unable to leave because the Ukrainian government has banned men aged between 18 and 60 from leaving the country and they don’t want to leave them behind.
‘These women have their whole lives in Ukraine and some don’t want to relocate from their social and support networks.’
Under Ukraine law, surrogates are not allowed to travel abroad to deliver, although they can be moved to a city further from the Russian border.
One of the nurses in the Kyiv bomb shelter told how she and her colleagues are working around-the-clock to care for the babies.
Waiting for their reunion: Babies waiting for their ‘intended parents’ are cared for by nurses in a Kyiv basement shelter as the war rages on
Desperate: These heartrending photos of surrogate babies in a makeshift basement clinic in Kyiv shine a light on the difficult and distressing situations faced by those involved in Ukraine’s booming surrogacy industry as the country is ravaged by war
‘It is not their fault that it happened,’ Oksana Martynenko told Reuters of the babies in her care. ‘It is not their fault that parents cannot come to take them. So we stay here, we are coping and helping them with what we can.’
So far, Kyiv has been spared the worst of the fighting, but the Russian military is slowly closing in on the city and the shelling has intensified. At least five people were killed in shelling and air strikes on the city on Tuesday.
An exhausted Antonina Yefymovych, also a nurse, said that staff were trapped and working around the clock to care for the children.
‘We don’t have time to rest now… We try to take short naps, to swap. It is tough, tough,’ Yefymovych said.
Among the lucky ones are German couple Heka and Gerhard, who travelled 12 hours by train to collect their newborn son, Leonard.
‘It’s horrible. Horrible. We want to take him home to where he is safe,’ Heka told the BBC.
Gerhard added: ‘I can later tell him what happened at this time. We risked our lives for him.’
‘I was afraid she would freeze or starve’: American couple carried their newborn daughter eight miles to the Polish border four days after she was born to a surrogate in Kyiv
American couple Jessie and Jacob Boeckmann, both doctors in Orange County, California, have also been able to take their newborn baby home.
Their daughter, carried by a surrogate, was born in Kyiv on February 22, two days before Russia invaded Ukraine.
The couple made the journey to Kyiv a few days prior because the geopolitical situation was already so uncertain.
On February 24, the day of the invasion, Jessie and Jacob were still in hospital with their daughter when they woke to the sound of explosions. The airport closed, they phoned a driver to immediately begin the journey to a temporary US Embassy in the western city of Lviv, despite the protests of nursing staff.
Sharing her story on Instagram, Jessie wrote: ‘What started off as a six hour car ride turned into a 27 hour trip. It took us four hours alone to get out of Kyiv because of the massive exodus of people.
Fleeing Ukraine: American couple Jessie and Jacob Boeckmann, both doctors in Orange County, California, have also been able to take their newborn baby home
‘A few hours into our trip, we found out that the temporary US embassy had closed and that we would have to make the trip to Poland.
‘Our driver, Val, who only spoke Russian, agreed to take us. We had many angels who helped us during our journey, and our driver was our first one. He could have dropped us off on the side of the rode, but he stuck with us despite the angry calls from his family and his uncertain return home.
‘Once we approached the border, traffic came to a stand still. At this point it was 2am. We all slept in the car overnight for a few hours. The next morning, traffic started moving again, but at nine 9am it completely stopped again.’
Jessie and Jacob made the decision that they would brave the freezing temperatures and walk the remaining eight hours to the Polish border. Jacob pulled their suitcases while Jessie cared for their newborn daughter, who was strapped to her chest.
‘The walk was like walking through a parking lot or the worst travel jam seven and a half miles long,’ Jessie continued. ‘No cars were moving for the entire three hours journey. We constantly stopped to make sure the baby was breathing and was warm.
‘The smell of car exhaust was overwhelming. No cars moved the entire trip. We realized when we reached the end of the walk that the border had stopped letting cars pass, if we had stayed in the car, I think it would have taken us days or weeks to get across.’
Long journey: Their daughter, carried by a surrogate, was born in Kyiv on February 22, two days before Russia invaded Ukraine. When war broke out, they made the long journey to the Polish border, by car (pictured) and on foot
Strangers stopped to help the couple, carrying their luggage, offering support, and helping to make bottles for their baby.
The whole time, Jessie was worried her baby would ‘freeze or starve’.
The mother continued: ‘She was only four days old. If we had to stay outside the gate overnight, I am not sure what would have happened.’
Jessie and Jacob became separated while trying to cross the border into Poland.
‘It was complete chaos. We somehow made it into the front area of the “line” which I will refer to as the death pit,’ she wrote. ‘People were desperate to cross the border. Children were crying, women were screaming. There was no order or crowd control.
‘After waiting for about two and a half hours, the crowd pushed me and the baby through, but the border control was preventing males from passing. Jacob was unable to pass through the gates with me. As the crowd was pushing me through, I had to keep my arms out and push people to prevent the baby from being crushed.
‘I made it through the gates only to find another line waiting. I got in line because I did not know what else to do, but Jacob was carrying the baby’s food and my passport.
‘I waited for about thirty minutes when I realized that he was not going to get through the gates. I asked the people behind me if they spoke English, and I met my second set of angels. They agreed to save my spot in line so I could go back to the gate.’
With the help of new friends, Jessie was able to get the crowd to pass her the baby’s food, suitcase and passport from Jacob, who was stuck further down the crowd and unable to pass.
‘Walking into Poland, was a complete opposite situation,’ Jessie continued. ‘The Polish government and Red Cross set-up food stations, currency exchanges, and transportation.’
By the time Jacob crossed the border and joined his family, he had not eaten for 36 hours. They eventually made their way to Warsaw and are now safely home in the US with their two daughters.
Jessie added: ‘My biggest saddest is for the people of Ukraine. As an American, I get to go home and watch my children play. These people are living in a nightmare. They have little food, no supplies and their homes are being destroyed because of a senseless war.’
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