Rich Vaughn, IFLG: Ukraine surrogacy babies stranded by COVID-19 travel bans

Babies Born via Surrogacy Stranded in Ukraine by COVID-19

As some parts of the world take halting steps to resume daily life in the face of COVID-19, a tragedy has unfolded in Ukraine, where dozens of babies born to surrogates there remain stranded, separated by travel bans from their intended parents thousands of miles away.

As reported by the BBC, after bureaucratic crackdowns in many East Asia surrogacy hubs in recent years, Ukraine became a popular destination for intended parents with promises of low-cost surrogacy—despite the fact that same-sex intended parents cannot become legal parents through surrogacy in the Ukraine, the lack of court ordered legal protections, and the absence of nationality-status at birth for children born there. In vitro fertilization and surrogacy in Ukraine is said to cost between $30,000 to $50,000, compared to two or three times that in the United States, BBC reports.

Ukraine is one of numerous countries that have closed borders to international visitors in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Since Ukraine closed its border in March, only fifteen intended parents awaiting surrogate births have been allowed to enter the country on special permits; however, obtaining those special permits, CNN reports, has become a “bureaucratic nightmare.”

CNN reported recently on an American dad who was able to make it to Ukraine in time for the birth of his son but is now stranded there while his wife waits at home to meet her newborn for the first time.

“We found a way, and we were lucky, but others were not so lucky,” Michelle Leineke told CNN of the scores of parents whose babies have been left in the care of strangers.

There is no official count of the number of babies born in Ukraine each year. CNN reports official estimates of approximately 100 stranded surrogacy babies in the country currently, but with many pregnancies already in progress, that number is expected to reach a thousand.

Ukrainian surrogacy agency BioTexCom Centre for Human Reproduction is caring for some 50 stranded newborns in a Kyiv hotel it owns, utilizing a rotating staff of nurses. "We have Chinese babies, Italian babies, Spanish babies, British babies," Denis Herma, spokesman for BioTexCom, told BBC.

According to the BBC report, 16 families from Argentina whose babies have been born or will soon be born are negotiating with Ukrainian authorities to obtain special permits. One couple, whose baby was born seven weeks ago, agonizes over their inability to bond with their son. If and when they succeed in getting travel permits, they will have another problem to contend with: Argentina has suspended all commercial flights into the country through September.

The reports from Ukraine, the video of rows of babies cared for by ranks of uniformed nurses, is heartbreaking. Every country in the world is in crisis at one level or another right now and struggling to implement policies and practices to protect the lives of their citizens. As we have reported, our IFLG team has succeeded in helping intended parents from all over the world get to the U.S. to attend their babies’ births, typically by going through the U.S. Embassies and Consulates in the parents’ home country to obtain special exemptions allowing travel to the US during the travel ban.

For intended parents undergoing surrogacy in Ukraine the situation is even more difficult. Emergency scenarios like this may require the official cooperation of both governments, and intended parents should work with their attorneys in their home country and in Ukraine in petitioning the government.

In helping international intended parents travel to the U.S., we have been successful in arguing that it is in the national interest of the United States that the intended parents be present to take responsibility for the infant rather than expending healthcare resources, already overburdened by the COVID-19 emergency, on the baby’s care. The same type of national interest argument might be effective in winning a waiver of the Ukraine travel ban.

Every day we learn more about the dangers of COVID-19 and about how the pandemic is impacting every facet of human life. In the space of a few weeks, the carefully made plans of intended parents, the months or years of screenings and procedures, the thousands of dollars of treatment costs, were all suddenly put at risk by a virus.

Here in the United States, the surrogacy community—physicians, surrogacy agencies, attorneys, advocacy organizations—responded to the COVID-19 crisis by sharing best practices, information and resources to help mitigate the impact on intended parents, surrogates and donors. (For our archive of information on COVID-19 and its impact on assisted reproductive technology, click here.)

Our hearts are with all whose lives have been disrupted, particularly those new parents who are separated from their babies in other countries. While the numbers of people in this situation are relatively small in the global expanse of the pandemic, the pain and desperation of these parents is monumental. We urge the governments of the world to have compassion for this small segment of families, find a way to unite them with their babies and help them get them safely home.


Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University which he received in 2013, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”


Kim has over 30 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

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Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.

Phoebe Sadler

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Alexander Espinoza
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Cara Stecker
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Katie Deaquino
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Elsa Jimenez
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.