For Aljona Hawrylenko, it’s hard to separate joy and sadness right now. A few days ago, the 28-year-old gave birth to a daughter. Darina sleeps peacefully in a small cot next to her mother’s hospital bed. She still can’t believe how her life has changed from the ground up in the past few weeks. Alina was already heavily pregnant and was on maternity leave for a week when the Russian army invaded Ukraine on February 24. “Suddenly the sirens went off and we heard the first explosions,” recalls the young mother, who was living with her husband in the capital, Kyiv. “It was very scary because we didn’t know what was going on at all. There was no information on TV yet.”
pregnant on the run
Alona and her husband saw more and more neighbors who hastily loaded their packed bags into the car and drove away. They, too, decided to leave town in the afternoon. “It’s strange that we didn’t buy anything for the offspring: no crib, no changing table, absolutely nothing. It was as if we really felt something deep inside of us,” says Alina. After a week-long trip, the couple finally arrived in Lviv in western Ukraine, where they stayed with relatives. Air raid sirens can be heard almost every day here too, but the city is still considered a relatively safe place. Front, occupied territories, Russian artillery – all this is hundreds of kilometers away.
It is difficult to separate happiness from sadness: Alyona Hvrilenko takes care of her daughter Darina
For Alyona, eloping when she was very pregnant also meant abandoning her plans to give birth in familiar surroundings and with the support of her family. Arriving in Lviv, she searched on the Internet where to go as a pregnant woman, and went to the maternity clinic of the regional hospital in the city center. “Immediately after the first examination, they noticed that our daughter was growing very slowly.” Mum says this didn’t really surprise her. After the outbreak of the war, she fell into a deep pit and could not eat anything for weeks.
There are not enough bio-incubators
Aljona Hawrylenko and her husband were lucky: their daughter Daryna was born healthy and on time. Since the outbreak of the war, medical complications during pregnancy have increased rapidly. In particular, the number of premature births rose sharply. In some cities particularly affected by the attacks, health experts reported a threefold increase. According to local doctors, in the war-torn city of Kharkiv in the north-east, every second birth in the first weeks of the war was a premature one. In many hospitals, this has resulted in a shortage of incubators, which are often vital to the survival of premature babies.
The maternity clinic in Lviv is lucky – maternity incubators elsewhere in Ukraine have become a rarity
Also in the maternity clinic in Lviv, the number of premature births increased significantly, especially among mothers who had run away for a long time. A few rooms from Alyona is Halyna Holez. Her son Mishaglo was born more than a month early. “It still has to be artificially fed, it’s too weak to bottle,” Halina says. “But he can breathe on his own and I have a feeling he’s getting stronger.” After all, they feel relatively safe here in Lviv. Her hometown is in Mykolaiv in the besieged south of the country, a few hours’ drive from the almost completely destroyed city of Mariupol.
In the first weeks of the war, several people died when a maternity clinic was bombed. “The tension we have had to go through over the past few weeks has been unbelievable,” Halina sighed. And then I got infected twice with the Corona virus.
“Stress always has negative effects on a pregnant woman.”
These are exactly the typical factors that led to the increase in premature births, explains gynecologist Maria Malaczynska. The director of the maternity clinic in Lviv has registered more than 200 births in her facility since the beginning of the war – more than ever. “Any form of stress has a negative effect on pregnancy,” says the doctor. “And the current situation, the war, is of course very stressful. The outbreak of the war was a great shock, and now there is uncertainty about the future.” The difficult conditions while they were fleeing and the crampedness of many air raid shelters also increased the risk of infection.
Her ward is very busy: gynecologist Maria Malachinska, head of the maternity clinic in Lviv
In addition to medical care, many mothers primarily need psychological support. The gynecologist explains that she is trying to protect her patients from negative influences and advises them to follow the current events of the war as little as possible in the media. But of course this is not often possible. Many want to know how their loved ones are. At least there is enough medical equipment in the clinic in Lviv. This is also due to the fact that they sought support early – also from other European countries, according to the doctor Malattschynska. Three new incubators arrived just a few days ago. “But of course we can’t expect anything in the current situation, we still have to prepare for anything.”
Even young mothers do not know what everyday life with their children will be like once they leave the hospital. “We probably won’t be able to come home any time soon,” Halina says. “What’s all I can say about our future now.”