Western Ukraine – Nine months is synonymous with new life—pregnancy usually lasts for about the same time. The war in Ukraine has been going on for exactly the same time, causing tremendous losses and damage and posing serious threats to pregnant women and new mothers.
According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), at the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, about 265,000 women in Ukraine were expecting. As of June, Ukraine’s Ministry of Health reported almost 50,000 newborn babies.
The ones recently born have never known peace. Children are being born in basements and bomb shelters, without access to proper medical care, in institutions that are often shelled, with electricity, water and heating being cut off due to massive artillery and missile attacks. Amidst these challenges, the UNFPA reports an increase in cases of premature births.
Pregnant women have been forced to flee their homes in search of safe haven, while others have been separated from their families. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at the end of October, six per cent of displaced households included pregnant or lactating women, and four per cent, babies under one year old. These families often report a need for baby food and diapers that they cannot afford to cover on their own.
Mother-to-be Alina and her eldest daughter were among those who needed urgent support.
Their house in Rubizhne in Luhansk Region was destroyed in the hostilities. Exposed to new risks, the family could not stay in the areas captured by Russian military forces. Alina looked for safety and arrived at the railway station in one of the cities in western Ukraine where volunteers redirected her to a ‘Mother and Child’ centre.
This social facility provides care for women from the seventh month of pregnancy until a child is 18 months old. Alina decided to stay at the centre and gave birth in a local maternity in June. Her eldest daughter was accepted at a local school nearby, thanks to the facility’s support.
The war has scattered Alina's family and friends across the country—finding support elsewhere was crucial.
Since March 2022, the centre has provided shelter to more than 40 mothers and children. Pregnant women who have been displaced can stay at the centre on their own or with their children and elderly female relatives—either temporarily or until the end of the war. Every resident has their own room with a bed, basic furniture, and a cradle, and has access to a communal kitchen.
Several staff are based at the centre, including a nurse, psychologist, rehabilitation specialist, social teacher, and administrators. In the vicinity, there is a women’s consultation room and a maternity ward, a medical family consultation office, and children and neurology clinics, so every pregnant woman can receive appropriate medical expertise in case any health issue arises.
Before the full-scale war started on 24 February, the facility could only host up to 10 people. Since then, the centre has extended its support to welcome all displaced women. Thanks to IOM’s partner European Dialogue, the ‘Mother and Child’ centre received winterization bed kits which include warm blankets, kitchen kits, and mattresses.
Svitlana from Ukraine’s Kharkiv Region is in her seventh month of pregnancy and plans to move to the centre as well. She used to work in a socio-psychological centre for children and was able to evacuate 30 children, bring them to safety, and enroll them in a boarding school. She found out about her pregnancy while she was relocating.
“Children are always a miracle — no matter what,” she says.