15 Nov 2022 Surrogates Survive the War in Ukraine
It’s been over eight months since Russia invaded Ukraine, and the daily images of bombed buildings, bloodied survivors, military tanks, and a nation bravely fighting for its freedom have largely subsided. Western and central Ukraine have stabilized on a colossal scale, and, although fighting continues in the eastern part of the country, Ukrainians have forged a path of endurance and continuance, and with it have showcased the ability of surrogates and their agencies to navigate, adapt, and survive a war.
With its lower pricing and unregulated market, Ukraine has been an alluring destination for married heterosexual couples seeking surrogacy. With this unregulated market, however, there have always been risks including no laws to support surrogacy and no court orders declaring legal guardianship to the biological parents, and now adding the landscape of war into the mix has created some very harrowing times for the whole industry in Ukraine.
Faced with this continued presence of war, surrogates and their agencies have been forced to adapt to the desperate need for protection. In a state of uncertainty at the beginning of the war, many surrogates were left scrambling for a safe place to stay and a place to give birth. They found themselves sleeping in cars or in tunnels to avoid bombing and shelling. Some fled, but others stayed behind with their own families. Many intended parents wanted to evacuate their Ukrainian surrogates to other countries, but with many neighboring countries not supporting surrogacy and without any regulations, there was a risk those surrogates would be deemed the legal parents. For example, in Poland, The New York Times reported, if a surrogate were to go into labor and give birth there, she would be considered the child’s mother, and the intended parents would have to go through a lengthy adoption process in order to bring their biological child home.
Although some countries, such as the United Kingdom, provided refuge for a limited number of Ukrainian surrogates, it became apparent that for many others traveling to neighboring countries would not be possible considering the risks, so agencies and their surrogates began to adapt. They began finding new ways to stay safe and new places to deliver babies in cities that were not under attack.
Surrogate Viktoria, who requested only her first name be used for privacy, huddled in a basement for months to escape shelling. She was eventually able to escape with her family and move to a safer area in part because her employer was able to offer financial aid and an apartment in Kyiv, the nation’s capital. She told The New York Times, “I would not have left if the clinic had not persuaded me.”
Viktoria is not alone, as dozens of other Ukrainian surrogates have fled to safety with the assistance of surrogacy agencies, which have pulled them out of Russian-occupied areas, given them financial aid, and found them places to stay in safer parts of the country during the duration of their pregnancy. In some instances, intended parents have also sent money to help ensure the safety of their Ukrainian surrogate and unborn child.
Other surrogates have found safety on their own. Anna, carrying a baby for an Argentine couple, was supposed to be traveling to Kyiv to a clinic, but there was no transportation, so she hid in her mom’s basement in Russian-occupied territory for a month. Anna, who is also using only her first name for fear of prejudice, stated in The Globe and Mail, “If something goes wrong with the pregnancy and I’m bleeding, no one will save me in a war-torn city because doctors aren’t there, hospitals are occupied by soldiers, and you can’t go to a military hospital, because it could be bombed.” Anna was eventually able to leave and traveled via convoy with her husband and 3-year-old to Kyiv to the surrogacy clinic for safety. She went on to tell The Globe and Mail that talking to her intended parent couple from Argentina helped comfort her during her frightening and exhausting journey, and she promised them she would take care of the baby if the war prevented them from retrieving their infant right away.
Surrogacy Agencies Provide Wartime Infant Care
Many of the surrogates have also given birth during these past eight months. As a result, some of the surrogacy agencies have expanded their role of protecting surrogates during the war into the additional role of newborn caretaker. Svitlana Burkovska, an owner of a small agency in Ukraine, told The Times that she took care of two stranded surrogate babies at the beginning of the war, even sheltering them in a basement for a time. She eventually ended up with seven newborns in her care, while her own children helped her care for the children until their parents were allowed into Ukraine to retrieve them.
With the war and COVID restrictions still in place in other countries, intended parents have endured traveling delays to get into Ukraine. Adding to the complexity of taking home their child, both intended parents must be present to register for their child’s birth certificate and to establish the child's nationality in their home country, as we reported in February. After what must have been several agonizing and frightening months, most intended parents were able to pick up their children and take them home.
Julia Osiyevska, director and owner of New Hope agency in Kyiv, tells The Globe and Mail that the process for parents leaving Ukraine with their baby used to require an in-person appointment at an embassy, but now, because of the war and the international diplomacy efforts of many countries borrowing from the diplomacy lessons learned during COVID, embassies are issuing emergency travel documents allowing foreign intended parents to leave the country relatively quickly with their children.
These heartwarming, inspiring, and gut-wrenching stories of the courage and determination of surrogates, intended parents, agencies, international family law attorneys, and diplomats remind us that it truly takes a village of dedicated people to help families through the process of surrogacy. The war in Ukraine highlights the dangers of seeking surrogacy in foreign countries facing the possibility of war and political instability and the importance of seeking jurisdictions with clear laws and regulations governing the rights and obligations of all parties involved. This demonstrates the importance of careful research, and of consulting with medical and legal professionals who can provide expert advice on surrogacy and the best way to protect your family before moving forward with surrogacy.