‘We hope no missiles hit hospitals’: The Ukrainian woman caught between scared surrogate mums and panicking parents

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Julia Osiyevska’s phone has been ringing at all hours since the invasion began. As the director of a Ukrainian surrogacy agency, she is used to sometimes being the only link between worried parents and their unborn babies, but this is different. War in Ukraine has generated new levels of panic.

So, as she tries to ensure the safety of the pregnant women her agency is responsible for, not to mention survive herself, Julia finds herself coaching foreign families through the chaos. “Please stay calm” she will tell them, “because panic here doesn’t help.”

Sometimes she needs to be firmer, reminding them of the situation facing Ukrainians on the ground. “Please respect us and our feelings,” she will say, “we are in a much more difficult position than you are. At least you’re safe and don’t have any rockets and bombs going off. I understand that it’s very stressful for you, but it’s very difficult for us as well.”

READ MORE: ‘People are being left to die in hospitals, food is being rationed and no supplies can get through. I want people to know why Russians are silent’



Ukrainians at the border of Moldova sleeping on the floor as the wait to cross

Julia wasn’t prepared for war. Like many Ukrainians, she never thought Russia would actually invade and when it happened she didn’t even have a bag ready. “Within two hours, I packed my son’s and my stuff and quickly went to my mother region. It is safe here in central Ukraine,” she told MyLondon.

Responsible for pregnant women dotted across the country, Julia’s life has become a blur, she’s checking on the mums, arranging their safe exit from the country and, in some cases, figuring out how to get the children to their parents while war rages. It is an incredible challenge.

She spoke exclusively to MyLondon days before arranging a cross-country journey taking some of the mums to Moldova.

A surrogacy hotspot

The surrogacy-friendly laws in Ukraine have made it one of the top international destinations for parents. It’s legal to pay women and regulations recognise foreigners officially. When India banned transnational surrogacy in 2015, people flocked there in even greater numbers.

For Ukrainian women, particularly in poor rural areas, surrogacy offers the opportunity to earn a life-changing sum of money. Access to credit is incredibly limited and the cash earned from having a baby can help people buy property.

“In Ukraine, the salaries are very low […] if you did surrogacy then you can [do something like afford] buy accommodation,” explained Julia.“[but] I would say that it’s still very judged, so you cannot speak about it openly.”

Fears of prejudice are so strong women will often keep their pregnancies secret, Julia said. Mums will move away from home before it becomes visibly obvious and don’t tell people when they return. “If it’s a big city no one cares if you’re pregnant,” she added. “But small towns and villages, of course, they’re judgmental.”

For this reason, the mums cared for by Julia’s New Hope Surrogacy agency tend to come to Kyiv at around the 28-week mark. The capital’s superior healthcare facilities and transport links make it a better location for the latter stages of pregnancy. But war has thrown all of Julia’s tried and tested methods into chaos.

Staying or leaving



People wait in line to buy food in front of a supermarket with a damaged building in the background in Kyiv on March 1, 2022
People wait in line to buy food in front of a supermarket with a damaged building in the background in Kyiv

In some cases it’s impossible for women to leave the area they are based because they are occupied by Russian forces. “Two surrogates are located in dangerous areas where Russian troops are,” explained Julia, “they say it is safe in their homes and right now they don’t want to move at all. We understand there is a danger to their lives.

“I don’t think that someone will kill a pregnant woman and we just hope there will be no missiles [that hit] hospitals or that civilians’ houses will be damaged. We’re just hoping for the best because and we are in touch all the time.”

War makes what is an already stressful situation even more difficult. “It’s not even about surrogacy, it’s about all pregnant women,” added Julia “they have to deliver in the bomb shelters in the hospitals.”

As war rages around her and she is powerless to reach people Julia has to seek positives in the darkest places. “You just can’t kill everyone, right?” she said, completely serious,” I understand that civilians are dying, the numbers are just scary. I just don’t know what to say it’s so terrifying. I’m just hoping for the best, but it’s not in our control. We cannot do anything about it.”

Planning an escape



Roads out of Kyiv are gridlocked as Ukrainians flee the military assault
Roads out of Kyiv are gridlocked as Ukrainians flee the military assault

For those women who were in a position to leave the country, Julia was arranging transport to Moldova, the small country bordering Ukraine to the south where many refugees are fleeing. As well as providing mums with a safe place to give birth, getting them out the country stops parents from putting themselves at risk by entering Ukraine to collect the children. MyLondon has heard of several cases where people have gone against their own government’s advice to travel to dangerous locations to pick up babies.

“You cannot enter Ukraine, basically,” said Julia, “well you can by car, but it’s not safe for the foreign parents and I would never ask for them to do that.” But Julia knows in some cases she will have to find a way to get them to the parents.

“We will have to take the baby somehow,” she continued, “there are a lot of things to plan and think about, it’s very difficult to organise at the moment. It’s just horrible, we are in a horrible position.”



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Julia eventually managed to get three surrogate mums and their 10 children by bus across the border to Moldova. With the war raging the money they will earn is even more vital for them, she said.

“We want them to understand that they will be paid there because you cannot bring any money to Ukraine right now,” she continued. “You can’t withdraw cash in my town where I am all the ATMs are empty.

“And you never know what’s going to happen, maybe it’s going to be six months, maybe it’s going to be even more. Without the money, it’s going to be a huge problem. You can’t provide food for yourself.”

One thing which has made a difference is the messages of support from people, some of whom Julia hasn’t heard from for years, who’ve contacted her since the war began. She’s also found her own coping mechanisms.

“Sometimes you’re feeling up and sometimes you’re feeling down. The situation is traumatic because our lives have changed completely [and sometimes] you see no future,” she explained.

“You just live day by day, I think routine helps. I’m trying to concentrate on small topics, like brushing my teeth, just ordinary things you normally don’t pay attention to in your real life.”

Do you have a story about the war in Ukraine? contact [email protected]

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