The day Russia invaded Ukraine, Max and his wife drove from their home in Germany to Poland and then crossed the Ukrainian border. With fear, they moved in the opposite direction of the long line of cars which intended to flee the country and which criss-crossed the roads for miles.
Traveling diagonally across the country on February 24, they encountered unmistakable signs of possible violence to come, coming from dozens of Ukrainian military checkpoints, tanks patrolling the roads and sandbags piled up in the street.
Not venturing into the country would have shattered the couple’s decade-old dream of having a family. Their Ukrainian surrogate was soon to give birth to their twin daughters.
“Just the fact that our kids weren’t with us was something we couldn’t live with,” Max said.
Now, when his daughters smile at him, the war fades away. They were born prematurely on March 4. But he knows that one day the war could come closer to his family. Air raid sirens sounded day and night, and much of the twins’ first days in the world were spent in the hospital’s underground shelter.
Max said he doesn’t know if, when and how his new family of four will be able to get home safely. He spoke on the condition that his last name would not be used as many of those close to him were unaware that he and his wife had turned to surrogacy.
The Russian war in Ukraine has devastated cities and killed more than 500 Ukrainian civilians, with no end of fighting in sight. The war has also swallowed up the lives of foreign couples seeking to become parents. Almost every day, Ukrainian surrogate mothers give birth to the children of foreign couples, and these parents struggle to evacuate their children or even meet them for the first time.
Commercial surrogacy is legal in Ukraine for heterosexual married couples who are medically unable to have children or who have tried several times unsuccessfully to become pregnant using in vitro fertilization. The country’s favorable laws – biological parents are listed on the baby’s birth certificate – and affordable prices, usually around $40,000, have attracted many aspiring parents.
Most parents travel to the capital Kyiv once before their child is born to visit agencies, possibly undergo in vitro fertilization and sign a surrogacy contract. Then, the process of getting a surrogate pregnant may take several attempts over the years.
At least a dozen companies offer surrogacy in Ukraine, and BioTexCom, one of Kiev’s leading agencies, estimates that it arranges at least a thousand births every year. The agency had planned to have 100 babies born by the end of the month. Many of these newborns will be born in Kyiv, where the fighting has moved closer to hospitals, away from parents anxiously waiting outside Ukraine’s borders to bring them home.
Sam Everingham, the founder of Growing Families, an Australia-based nonprofit that supports people navigating surrogacy, said he’s heard of around 90 panicked couples with newborns or babies expected soon in Ukraine. Surrogacy agencies, many of them Kiev-based, once courted parents with images of chubby-cheeked babies and ultrasound scans. Now, the agencies’ social media pages are filled with grim updates about the disrupted lives of staff members and their attempts to keep surrogates and newborn babies safe in dark shelters.
Some agencies, like New Hope Surrogacy, have transferred pregnant surrogates to safer parts of the country, or even out of it. However, if these women give birth in neighboring countries with different laws on paid surrogacy, the rights of the biological parents could be compromised.
The number of stranded babies is increasing. Denis Herman, legal adviser to BioTexCom, said the agency was caring for 30 newborns, most of them in Kyiv.
“We have a lot of babies born during this time,” Herman said. “We cannot stop this process. We have to find ways to deal with it. »
BioTexCom believes babies are safer in Kiev’s bomb shelters than being rushed, Herman said.
Mr Everingham has heard of a ‘continuous flow’ of relatives traveling to Ukraine despite the risk.
Televised scenes of Russian strikes have terrified parents, including a new Canadian father who spoke on condition of anonymity because his religion forbids surrogacy. Her son was born in Kiev shortly before the start of the war. He and his wife are in Turkey trying to come up with a plan to extract their son, mired in deep stress and depression as they follow the news.
“I don’t know what to do and where to go,” said the 41-year-old, who lives in Toronto. “The joy of our child took precedence over the fear of never being able to hold him and losing him forever.”
Parents who have successfully extracted their children through a combination of luck, connections and timing say they feel a huge responsibility to help evacuate their surrogates and others left behind in Ukraine.
Sasha Spektor, who lives in Chicago with her partner, Irma Nuñez, met her twins, Lenny and Moishe, for the first time on Tuesday. Her sons had just traveled from Kiev to Poland, a trip that took about 18 hours.
They were born two months prematurely in Kiev at the start of the war, on February 25. The couple, their friends and supporters made hundreds of calls to locate resources in Kyiv, such as formula and medical supplies, and to find a way for the twins. out of the war zone. The couple previously shared the story of getting their sons to safety for The Washington Post and NPR.
Eventually, they were able to secure an evacuation with the help of a volunteer Ukrainian ambulance team and Project Dynamo, a Tampa, Fla.-based nonprofit that conducts rescue missions outside Ukraine.
Meeting their sons was amazing, the new father said, adding that they were so sweet and so little.
Their surrogate, Katya, moved to Poland with the twins and another baby and her parents. A few days later, she returned to Ukraine to find her 6-year-old son in Lviv in hopes of fleeing the country together.
“There are other people I feel responsible for,” Mr Spektor said. “It was just as difficult for me to part with her and let her go back to Ukraine. She is one of us.