Giving Birth and Being a Mother During War: What Is It Like?

January 11, 2023
Read about what it is like to become a mother during war in the stories of Yulia and Kateryna from Kyiv and Yulia and Lina from Chernihiv.

Since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion, more than 102,000 babies have been born in Ukraine (according to the Ministry of Justice as of July 2022). Many of these babies were born in bomb shelters and hospital basements, to the sound of shelling or falling rockets, often without the help of doctors. Some women fortunately managed to leave for safer regions of Ukraine or abroad and give birth to a baby there.

Read about what it is like to become a mother during war in the stories of Yulia and Kateryna from Kyiv and Yulia and Lina from Chernihiv.

Childbirth on February 24, 2022

For Yulia and her husband it was the first, long-awaited pregnancy. Until the 8th month, Yulia worked as a makeup artist. She loved her job and was preparing to meet the baby. The doctors gave her a due date of March 1.

February 24 morning. Kyiv, left bank. Yulia and her husband woke up at the same time to loud explosions. She looked at him with scared eyes. He took the phone, read something and said that the war had begun. At that moment, panic and fear came over Yulia.

She grabbed her stomach and went to the bathroom to breathe. At that moment, she was thinking only about the child. "You can't panic!" she told herself. But these words hardly had any effect. Then her husband said to quickly collect their necessary things.

They got into the car and thought about what to do. The city began to panic, and there were queues at gas stations. It was risky to go to the West of Ukraine. At that time, Yulia could have gone into labor at any minute. So they stayed in Kyiv.

Yulia’s husband decided to move to the right bank of Kyiv and stay in a hotel near the maternity hospital. They got there quickly, checked in, and had breakfast. An hour later, they were asked to move out, because there was a military base next to the hotel, which meant a high risk of missile strikes.

They went to another hotel. The couple got out of the car, and Yulia’s first contraction began. She was breathing. "Probably false. But very painful," she thought. The second contraction, and a third half an hour later.

Yulia and her husband called the doctor and went to the maternity ward. Yulia was glad that it didn't happen on the road and they made the right decision to stay in Kyiv. They reached the hospital in 5 minutes.

An air raid alarm began, but the doctors continued delivering to the sound of the siren. Yulia is very grateful for this, because many women had to give birth in bomb shelters. It all happened very fast. Yulia’s son probably understood that the situation was urgent. 15 minutes after they were moved to the ward, the siren sounded again. The medical staff urged everyone down to the bomb shelter. Pregnant women and women who had just given birth were all sitting there. Yulia was holding her baby tightly in her arms, wrapped in a blanket. It was cold. Her husband was always by her side.

After 2 hours, they were allowed to go up to the ward and have a rest. After 20 minutes, they all ran to shelter again. Fear for their children overwhelmed all mothers. Tired, exhausted, just after giving birth, and some with contractions, they were all in the dark basement, sitting on wooden benches. Women who had difficult births lay on the floor moaning.

In the morning, new parents with a baby were discharged and sent home, because the maternity ward was overcrowded. New pregnant women were constantly arriving. The bomb shelter couldn't accommodate everyone, and no provisions were coming in at all.

Yulia, her husband and son went to her mother outside the city. Every night they went down to the cellar. She breastfed her baby covered with a blanket in the freezing cold. This lasted for two weeks.

Her husband couldn't stand it and decided that their son and Yulia should go abroad. Yulia didn't want to leave without her husband, but her maternal instincts kicked in. After a very long and difficult journey with a baby, they reached the Czech Republic. There she fully realized what had happened and cried a lot. She was in denial and felt constant anxiety inside. But the main thing is that they were already safe.

Premature labor due to stress

On February 24, Kateryna Kondratiuk was 7 months pregnant. She woke up at 5 am and went to the toilet. But she couldn't fall asleep because the neighbors from above were running and shouting. The woman ran out of the entrance with her child and ran somewhere.

It was strange, so Kateryna started reading the news. She was in shock: explosions in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Vinnytsia. The war had started. Russia had attacked Ukraine, cruelly at night, while everyone was sleeping.

She woke up her husband, and they turned on the TV: everywhere was on fire. They began to think about what to do, and then heard something flying. Not like a plane. Suddenly something exploded, Kateryna thought the windows would fly out. She ran to her daughter's room to pick her up. The girl didn't understand what was happening.

They stayed in Kyiv until March 4. At the first air raid sirens, they went to the basement, but it was so damp and cold that Kateryna couldn't stay there with her pregnancy. Before the war, she got sick with Covid, and in the basement she got sick again. They decided to stay at home.

Kateryna cried every day, out of fear for her daughter, her unborn son, and her loved ones. Sometimes there were days of despair, and her husband calmed her down as best he could.

They decided to go to a safer place. 18 hours on the road, sitting, without being able to rest, is not easy for a pregnant woman. But they arrived and for the first time since the beginning of the war were able to sleep peacefully.

They stayed in Ukraine, Kateryna wasn't going to go abroad under any circumstances. She simply couldn't leave everyone she loved. For her it would be worse than living in fear of rocket attacks. So the family lived in the village with relatives.

On March 14, they quietly celebrated their daughter's 10th birthday. They started to think where to go to give birth. There was almost a month and a half left before the birth. Kateryna and her husband had to buy some things for it, because they took almost nothing from home.

But on the night of March 20, Kateryna’s water broke. She was in her 8th month. The ambulance took her first to one hospital, then they took her to another one, which could accept a premature baby.

On March 21, during childbirth, when Kateryna couldn't get up and go anywhere, an air raid alert began. Doctors had to deliver in the hospital, not in the bomb shelter. And so at 4:10 pm her son Yaroslav was born. "We spent 2 weeks in the hospital. During air raid alarms, I grabbed my son, turned off all sensors, drips, wrapped him up warmly, and we ran to the shelter. Sometimes we sat there for 5 hours, and we ran there many times each day. This is a great stress for premature babies. We heard explosions and rockets flying." Kateryna recalls.

The family returned to Kyiv when Yaroslav was not yet a month old because a premature baby needs doctors, supervision, and medicine. All this was almost absent in the village where they lived.

"9 days and 9 nights of fighting for my son's life"

On the first day of the war Yulia’s youngest son woke her up. The teacher wrote to the children that there was no need to go to school today because the war had begun. At first, the family stayed at home, and then they went to the basement of the school, where they lived for 5 days.

Then they returned home because Yulia was late in her pregnancy, and her kidneys had started hurting from sleeping on the floor in the basement. During the bombing, they hid in the corridor.

One day they were hiding in the basement and Yulia’s son went to the store across the street. Suddenly, automatic bursts began, she was incredibly scared. She didn’t know what to do: run after her eldest son under fire or hide as far as possible with the child she carried under her heart.

When the war started, Yulia was 36 weeks pregnant. It was difficult for her to decide on evacuation at such a late stage of pregnancy. And she didn't want to leave her husband, who joined the territorial defence. She wanted him to hold their newborn baby in his arms at least once.

Yulia was afraid that she would have to give birth in the basement or at home without medical help. Thank God, she was able to be delivered to the hospital. There she gave birth in the hallway on the bed. It was impossible to give birth in the delivery room because there were windows there.

Less than an hour after the birth, shelling began near the maternity hospital. The windows shook, there was a strong blow. Everyone had to run. Someone from the staff took Yulia’s child, and they helped her get to the bomb shelter.

"I am very grateful to the doctors and nurses of the hospital. They are on duty endlessly, they have no substitution, they live there. They just do their job, because no one else will do it. I really look forward to when I can return to my hometown and bow down to them," Yulia said.

Caring for a newborn baby was not easy for her. It was hell, 9 days and 9 nights of fighting for her son's life. In such conditions, he could simply get sick and die. There was no water, heating or light. And there was nowhere to buy medicines if they were needed.

In order to eat something, Yulia, unfortunately, had to send her teenage sons to stand in lines for humanitarian aid and risk their lives. Russian soldiers were very fond of bombing crowds, so it was very risky.

They left Chernihiv on March 19, at the peak of the shelling, 2-3 days before the road bridge was destroyed. They rode in a column of cars and prayed to all the saints. Thank God they got out.

"I unconditionally believe in Ukraine's victory. Now life around me goes on, and I see the smile of my little son. I dream that the war ends and we return to our hometown. I have no other wishes," Yulia said.

Russian rocket hit a house with a newborn baby

Lina Bulka was not supposed to give birth in February. But the stress of the war provoked her premature birth. And already on February 25, Damir entered the world.

The boy was born a month early, small - 1 kg 980 grams in a cold maternity hospital in Chernihiv. Lina spent the night with the child in a bomb shelter, as the city has already begun to be shelled.

The next day they were discharged home because it was dangerous to stay in the hospital. She and her husband lived in a rented apartment. Without water and heating. The baby was wrapped in what they could find. They could barely find water to make the baby formula. It was impossible to bathe the baby.

The Russians began to ruthlessly destroy Chernihiv. When a rocket hit Lina's house, and she saw neighbors hiding on the balcony from the flames in their own apartment, she decided to leave the city. For the baby's sake. Her husband stayed in Chernihiv.

In a few days, after the true danger had passed, they reached Rivne. Here the boy finally calmed down, because he was also under stress. He was bathed for the first time in his life. Lina received a birth certificate of her child at the Rivne Registry Office.

At the age of one month, Damir's weight was 2 kg 400 grams. He spent several days in the Rivne Regional Hospital under the supervision of doctors. They conducted a full examination and concluded that the child was healthy. He just needed to eat and sleep. And gain weight.

Lina is an orphan. So, apart from her husband, who remained in Chernihiv, she has no relatives. Lina and her baby temporarily moved to one of the dormitories in Rivne. She is very grateful to local people for their help and warm attitude.

This article is produced within the project «EU Emergency Support 4 Civil Society», implemented by ISAR Ednannia with the financial support of the European Union. Its contents are the sole responsibility of Internews Ukraine and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union.

Olha Tatokhina
Analyst and journalist at UkraineWorld