Displaying items by tag: Ukrainian Surrogacy
Major steps in surrogacy:
- embryo transfer,
- Pregnancy care, and
- Birth and documentation.
We have carefully set up options that allow a choice of options and locations to protect against the potential expansion of the war.
At the currently we are using facilities in Lviv and Kyiv for IVF in Ukraine. We also have facilities in Slovakia and Albania with top international embryologists. You can do stimulation and egg retrievals if you are using your own oocytes in any of these locations. If you choose to do donor IVF outside of Ukraine, the oocytes would most likely be retrieved from your donor in Ukraine, cryopreserved, and shipped to Slovakia or Albania.
Embryo transfers must be done legally in Ukraine or Albania. As above, we have facilities in multiple locations to provide protection for any eventuality and ensure the very best success on the first implantation.
No matter what stage of the pregnancy, we have screened and approved facilities throughout Ukraine and Poland. During the worst part of the war, we moved all surrogates first to Lviv weeks before the war started and then to Poland. Our relationships with the top doctors at these facilities provided top care. Our surrogates always had more than enough medicine and never missed an appointment. They were under the constant supervision of our surrogate coordinators.
Today we have pregnant surrogates in Lviv, Jitomir, Poland, and some living at home and coming to the medical facilities as before the war started. This depends on the wishes of the intended parents.
Birth in Ukraine offers intended parents the greatest legal security and easiest exit process. Since the start of the war, nearly all countries have expedited their process and we are able to get parents out of the country within 3-5 days of birth.
Albania and Georgia are also options for birth. These are more expensive options, but they are there as contingencies should anything happen in Ukraine to make sure you have legal rights to your child and excellent care before, during, and after birth.
With all these contingencies, we have provided a safe and secure path for your Ukrainian surrogacy journey to be a success despite potential changes.
Reach out to us to learn more about these options and what would be best for you.
Now is the time to start.
We have been featured as the cover story in the New York Times Magazine and been covered by the Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, Deutsche Welle, and over 20 others highlighting our success and best practices.
We want to help you have a child and we have systems in place to give you the peace of mind and confidence you need for success.
Now is the time to start!
Set up a discovery call to learn about options and more.
- Existing Embryo(s) Surrogacy Program: $54,900
- Donor Egg Surrogacy Program: $59,700
- Own Egg Surrogacy Program: $58,300
- Guaranteed Egg Donor Surrogacy Program: $73,900
We have additional programs to choose from as well!
The war is now only in the very east of Ukraine. There has not been any fighting outside the east and southeast. We have kept our surrogates in the center in smaller areas close to major world-class clinics and in the far west of the country. You always have the option to move your surrogate within Ukraine or to Poland.
The Russian invasion has disrupted Ukraine’s $1.5 billion surrogacy industry and posed logistical and ethical challenges for agencies operating in the country. Susan Kersch-Kibler, founder of the Delivering Dreams International Surrogacy Agency, describes how she is managing to keep her operations running.
As the founder of an international surrogacy agency, I am in the business of bringing life into the world. Since the war broke out in Ukraine in late February, I’ve been working to ensure that none of the women who work for and with me dice with death.
I set up the Delivering Dreams International Surrogacy Agency six years ago. Having worked as a real estate developer in Russia and Ukraine in my 20s, I had deep ties to the region. When my husband and I struggled with infertility, we adopted our son from an orphanage in Kharkiv. After this experience, I founded an agency helping couples grow their families through adoption and, when the rules around international adoption tightened, I moved into surrogacy.
While nothing prepares you for running a baby business in a war zone, the regional expertise and contacts I gained when developing real estate to rehouse hundreds of families after the collapse of the Soviet Union have helped me navigate the logistical hurdles of transferring women, sperm, eggs and embryos to safety.
I have also learnt to manage emotions and expectations, to turn away potential clients who may be too hard to work with, and I have certainly found that war brings out the best – and worst – in people.
As early as October and November of last year, I started receiving messages from my clients, known as the “Intended Parents” in industry jargon. They’d been watching nervously as Russia started amassing troops near the Ukrainian border and wanted to know whether we had contingency plans. In early January, we rented apartments in Lviv, a city in western Ukraine close to the Polish border. People in Ukraine laughed at us; very few were expecting Russia to take any action. Then on 15 February, nine days before the invasion, we moved our surrogates there.
Ukraine is estimated to account for around a quarter of the $6 billion global surrogacy market with some 2,000 children of foreign parents born in the country each year. Compared to the largest surrogacy agency in Ukraine, BioTexCom, which reportedly has around 600 surrogates, we offer a boutique, high-end service. We pay our surrogates $24,000 per pregnancy, a lifechanging sum of money in a country where the average annual income is around $5,000.
When Russia rolled its tanks across the border into Ukraine on 24 February, I had 13 pregnant surrogates and five employees in the country and an equal number in preparation to start.
As Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities, I came under increased pressure from the intended parents to move the surrogates again, this time over the border into Poland. I was reluctant at first. Many of the surrogates, all of whom already have their own children, didn’t want to move further from their families, and the rules around surrogacy are more onerous in many of Ukraine’s neighbouring countries.
On 11 March, when Russia bombed two airfields close to the city, I was in Krakow, Poland, on my way to Ukraine. With the threat of war closing in, I decided it was too dangerous for the surrogates to stay in Lviv. I hastily arranged apartments in Krakow and asked one of the surrogacy coordinators to travel with the women to the city. But one of the surrogates, who was pregnant with twins, was deemed a high risk for premature labor. Doctors had put her on bed rest and wouldn’t let her be moved. I was faced with an impossible decision: Do I leave her alone in Lviv? Or do I ask a staff member to stay with her, potentially putting her life at risk, too? In the end, my employee Oksana Hrytsiv, a married mother of two, agreed to stay instead of fleeing with her family to the relative safety of the mountains.
I set up Delivering Dreams for two reasons: first, to give couples who have long struggled to get pregnant themselves a chance to have a biological child; secondly, to support Ukrainian women. The women that work with us want to use the money to get ahead; to buy a house or put their children through private schools. One woman used the funds to set up her own businesses.
Surrogacy is a topic that often divides people. Misunderstanding and stigma remain rife. Some people in Ukraine still believe that the woman is selling her child, while Americans have asked me whether the father has to have sexual intercourse with the surrogate. But there is no genetic connection between the surrogates and the child. The eggs of the intended mother, or a separate donor, are fertilized with the father’s sperm and the embryo is transferred into the surrogate. I’ve also heard criticism that it commoditizes the female body and goes against the wishes of God. Our response to that has been that Mary was, in fact, the first surrogate.
Ukraine is one of a handful of countries worldwide that allows for legal international surrogacy. Legally, foreign couples can conceive children in Ukraine provided they are married heterosexuals who can medically prove why they can’t have a child themselves. Parents’ names and nationalities are immediately listed on the birth certificate with no mention of the surrogate, avoiding legal complications prevalent in other countries, such as Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, where the surrogate is considered the child’s mother. The parents also have custody of the child from inception, meaning that if there is an issue with the pregnancy, as long as it doesn’t threaten the life of the surrogate, they can have the final say.
Those that sign up to become a surrogate understand that it’s a job with rules and contractual conditions. Our screening is intense. Only around one in 40 applicants is successful. The women must have already given birth and fulfil a list of criteria, encompassing their physical and mental health. We also ask that their close circle of family and friends be supportive of the surrogacy. Before signing the contract, we encourage them to have independent legal counsel and get them to speak with former surrogates to make sure they truly understand the process.
While the money is undoubtedly a major draw, the surrogates are also motivated by doing something for other people. From the very beginning, they talk to the fetus about their parents; we get baby buds to put on the stomach so that parents can read stories. In a way, it’s a kind of extreme babysitting.
Following the outbreak of the war, we stopped the program altogether for just over a month because we had to focus on security and didn’t know what would happen next. We had a harrowing experience with one surrogate trapped in Sumy, a city in the northeast of Ukraine that fell under Russian occupation, and we didn’t want to be faced with having to move other surrogates through dangerous areas to get them access to quality care.
The surrogate from Sumy had endured a 36-hour journey to Lviv, including a 12-hour drive in a minibus on unpaved roads and through fields to Kyiv. Before we transferred her, we received written permission from both the parents and the surrogate herself. During the journey, we kept in touch every 20 minutes to keep track of where she was. When she eventually arrived in Lviv, she had some bleeding. We rushed her to hospital, and the ultrasound showed that she hadn’t lost the child. She is now staying in Poland with her own daughter and is around 17 weeks into her pregnancy.
"If we have a surrogate that is currently living in a dangerous area, we ask the intended parents if they would be willing to pay for her to live in accommodation elsewhere until week 25."
We also had to make evacuation plans for our clients’ biomaterials. We transferred all cryopreserved eggs and embryos to Slovakia and the sperm to Lviv. We also set up the option to give birth in Georgia and Albania. Now that Russia is focusing on the eastern front, we are in the process of resuming the embryo transfer in Kyiv.
Unlike other surrogacy agencies operating in Ukraine, which reportedly abandoned their surrogates or lost contact with them, leaving them without access to medicines, we stayed on the ground to ensure they continued to receive the very best care.
This has paid off, with couples who are looking for an agency with the highest legal and ethical standards continuing to opt for our services. We typically accompany between two and four pregnancies per month, and currently have 14 new couples matched with surrogates. In mid-May, we did our first embryo transfer since the war broke out.
Our 21 pregnant surrogates are spread out across Lviv, Krakov and Zhytomyr, a city in the middle of Ukraine around two hours west of Kyiv. Others, in the early stages of pregnancy, have decided to stay in their hometowns to be close to their extended families and protect their properties. In our contracts, the surrogates are required to move from week 26 to be close to the best medical care. If we have a surrogate that is currently living in a dangerous area, we can only work with them if the intended parents are willing to pay for her to live in accommodation elsewhere until week 26 when we start paying. This can add considerable costs to the process – the price of housing in Lviv, for example, is around $1,000 per month. But some parents are willing to pay.
“While the money is undoubtedly a major draw, the surrogates are also motivated by doing something for other people. From the very beginning, they talk to the fetus about their parents; we get baby buds to put on the stomach so that parents can read stories”
- Susan Kersch-Kibler
As an independent agency, we aren’t partnered with an individual clinic but work with several clinics which we audit yearly to assess their standards. This flexibility has paid dividends during the war. Because we aren’t tied to a bricks and mortar building, it has allowed us to move our surrogates and to hire the exact expertise we want as and when we need it.
The biggest challenge right now is still explaining the constant changes to parents. We try to think ahead, but the war is dynamic which means decisions must be constantly re-evaluated and re-assessed. Every time we want to move the surrogates and biomaterial, such as sperm and embryos, we have to get written permission from the parents. We have found that proactive communication works best. We send the parents daily logs on the situation on the ground and explain our decision making around any changes.
Our team consists of myself in New Jersey, one staff member in Krakow and four in Ukraine. To cope with the continued demand, we are looking to hire two to three people. Due to the extra costs of renting apartments in Lviv and elsewhere, we will shortly raise our prices.
Undoubtedly, the hardest part of my job over the past few months has been managing the emotions of parents. I’ve lost count of times people have asked me what’s going to happen next in the war. I’ve come to realize that all they want is for us to stop the fighting.
War brings out the best and the worst in people. It is common for pregnancy to be a time of worry for expecting parents, even more so for those who are thousands of miles away from their babies. For couples who have been through miscarriage after miscarriage, surrogacy is often a last-ditch attempt for a family. When their children are suddenly immersed in a war situation, it’s only natural that they will feel great stress.
Yet it is important to remember that the surrogates are women, who are facing their own worries; they are not just wombs for hire.
"We try to think ahead but the war is dynamic … we send the parents daily logs on the situation on the ground and explain our decision making around any changes."
At Delivering Dreams, we encourage our clients to build a relationship with the surrogates and stay in touch after the birth. Some of the intended parents have, however, let us down in recent months and caused distress to the surrogates, my staff and myself, by failing to show gratitude.
In Ukraine, it is customary to give a woman an odd number of flowers after birth. We had one set of parents who just came and took the baby and left. They didn’t even write to the surrogate to say thank you. Another couple failed to respect the wishes of the surrogate. She had to undergo an emergency procedure and requested that the parents remain outside the operating theater. Instead, the parents barged into the room and had to be escorted out by the medical team.
Another set of parents ignored our advice to stay in Poland until shortly before the birth and arrived in Ukraine two weeks early. Unnerved by the constant sound of air raid sirens, they started pressuring the surrogate to give birth early, even though this went against medical advice.
In the other extreme, another couple who had long promised the surrogate they would be by her side for the birth sent a message three days beforehand informing her they were going to stay in Poland and asking for the baby to be brought to the border.
This may be a business and you are supposed to be objective, but you can’t help but let these things affect you. As a result we have established a new list of guidelines for intended parents, which includes not making promises in case they cannot keep them. If we think clients are going to be particularly hard to work with, we recommend that they hire someone else.
The war has also exposed the hidden courage in so many people. One of my staff members, who came across as shy and retiring before the war, displayed a real heroic streak. Fearing that the conflict might lead to a collapse in the banking system, we had stashed cash at various places across Kyiv. When the war broke out, this staff member had risked her life to go and collect this money and important documents before hitch-hiking for three days across the country to Lviv. When she arrived, exhausted, she told us, “I never knew I had this in me.”
With tensions rising in Ukraine, the Canadian government last weekend again urged its citizens to leave. But some Canadians – expectant parents working with surrogate mothers in that country – continued to make plans to head over. Their babies will be born in the coming weeks and months.
In surrogacy, a woman carries another person’s child for them until birth – babies typically conceived through in vitro fertilization and, in the case of Ukraine, using a parent’s own sperm, eggs or both. Only a handful of countries allow international surrogacy. Canada is one, but it’s not legal to pay for the service here. In Ukraine, it is. And as a result of a ready availability of surrogates, surrogacy-friendly parentage laws and relatively low prices, Ukraine has become a favourite for married heterosexual couples from around the world.
Susan Kersch-Kibler, founder of Delivering Dreams, a small New Jersey-based agency, said two of her Canadian clients will have babies born in the next month. Her agency typically recommends parents arrive about two weeks before the due date, and that means travelling soon.
But parents are really on edge, Ms. Kersch-Kibler said. They’re worried about the safety of their surrogates and their babies, and how they’ll get out of Ukraine in the case of a Russian invasion. “I’m spending almost all my time on the phone,” she said, “trying to talk people off ledges.”
Earlier this month, she held a Zoom call for her clients and outlined potential scenarios.
Ms. Kersch-Kibler advised people to prepare for cyberattacks. Telephones, cellphone towers, the internet, the power grid – all are vulnerable, she believes. All her clients and her Ukraine-based staff are being issued satellite phones.
ATMs and banks could go down temporarily too, so Ms. Kersch-Kibler advised packing extra cash. Heating systems could malfunction, so parents should bring warm clothing, she said. If possible, people should book accommodations with independent heating and water, and even electricity.
She also advised purchasing very flexible airline tickets – the kind that allow passengers to change not only dates, but destinations and departure cities as well. That’s because it’s not certain where surrogates will be when parents arrive.
It’s routine practice for Delivering Dreams to move surrogates closer to major centres such as Kyiv three months before the birth. But women living close to so-called “contested” areas of Ukraine were moved early, including one whose home is just 200 kilometres from the eastern city of Donetsk and who is acting for a Canadian couple.
After this past weekend, when some foreign governments elevated their concerns, the company moved surrogates further west, to Lviv.
If there is an invasion, Ms. Kersch-Kibler said, the agency had contingency plans to move surrogates out of the country altogether. Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Moldova all border Ukraine to the west, and could become safe havens for surrogates who leave.
One challenge is that these countries all have different parentage laws than Ukraine, and a birth there would mean additional complications in making the foreign intended parents the legal parents. For that reason, she said, surrogates due to deliver soon will be moved into the Czech Republic, which has laws similar to Ukraine that would recognize the foreign parents as legal parents right away.
An Australian surrogacy broker, Growing Families, which connects patients to agencies and clinics in other countries, is fielding similar concerns from its clients about Ukraine. Some have asked to transfer their embryos elsewhere, and couriers are being arranged. Others are worried about not getting clearance from their employer to travel to areas deemed by their government to be high-risk. Similar to Canada, the Australian government recently issued a “Do Not Travel” advisory.
“Such a blanket advisory is not helping [intended parents] expecting births or in Ukraine now,” Sam Everingham, global director of Growing Families, said in an e-mail. “The last thing we want is parents too afraid to travel, or panicking and leaving babies behind.”
Canada’s advice to citizens last weekend was to “avoid all travel to Ukraine” because of Russian threats and the risk of armed conflict. “If you are in Ukraine, you should leave while commercial means are available,” the advisory said. The Canadian embassy has moved consular services to Lviv from Kyiv. The U.S. embassy advised parents to travel by land to Poland, where American officials will issue travel documents.
Even so, Ukrainian fertility clinics continued to offer services, screen surrogates, perform fertilizations and transfer embryos into surrogates.
VittoriaVita, a large surrogacy agency based in Kyiv, wrote in an e-mail last week that while it understood the concerns of foreign parents, news outside the country doesn’t reflect the reality within. “Unfortunately, many news abroad are too exaggerated, which leads to a distorted perception of this informational war,” wrote Alina Bashynska, a manager with the company. “Therefore, we kindly ask everyone not to panic, but to consider the situation soberly and with a cool head.”
VittoriaVita counts five Canadian couples among its clients.
One surrogate, Nataliia, who is carrying a baby for Canadians due to be born in May, last week called the idea that Russia would invade “complete nonsense.”
Another, Maryna, who is carrying twins due in mid-April for a Canadian couple, said it was all just political posturing. She added that she speaks regularly with her Canadian family and they don’t talk about politics.
It’s not clear how many Canadian citizens turn to Ukraine for surrogacy each year. But according to Immigration Canada, in 2021, 45 passports were issued to infants younger than 12 months of age who had been born there. Given that both parents of a child need to be present to complete the paperwork, that means that some 90 Canadians – or 135, if you count the babies – could be in Ukraine this calendar year as a result of surrogacy.
The Russian invasion has put surrogate mothers in a desperate position – and left foreign couples fearing the worst.
Since Russian tanks began rolling over the Ukrainian border, the international media have reported on the plight of foreign couples using paid Ukrainian surrogate mothers. Usually, these articles make scant reference to the surrogates’ wellbeing, instead being written up as breathless tales of derring-do, as plucky couples launch daring raids to bring their babies to safety.
The Irish Independent, for example, reported on a County Kerry couple who had brought their son back from Ukraine without making any reference to their surrogate, presumably left postpartum in a war zone. Sometimes, the couples appear indifferent to the plight of the women left behind: one American parent recently wrote a 1,257-word Instagram post about getting her newborn out of Ukraine in which she thanked her gym for keeping her “fit enough” to make the journey and the travel agent who had arranged her hotel, but did not make any reference to the woman who had carried her baby.
Olga Danchenko, a surrogacy lawyer from Kyiv who fled to western Ukraine with her family on the first day of the invasion, has been inundated with emails and phone calls. In their worry for their babies, many of her clients forget her own predicament. “The parents who are facing problems getting their babies don’t care about us,” she says. “They say: ‘Hi, Olga, give me the documents.’ ‘Hi, Olga, please draft this.’ ‘Hi, Olga, I need a birth certificate, I need my baby, I signed a contract with you.’ Not a single question about how I am doing.” She sounds exhausted. “We have nightmares during the day and during our dreams at night,” Danchenko says. “Can you imagine? Everything is broken in one day.”
Not everyone is focused solely on the babies. “I want to look after our surrogate,” says Annabel (not her real name), a teacher in her 40s from Suffolk. “Not just because she is carrying our baby – but because she is a human being I have formed a connection with.” Annabel and her husband have been trying for a baby for a decade. In that time, they have endured four miscarriages and the death of a prematurely born daughter. Annabel researched surrogacy carefully and picked an agency she felt was ethical. “We didn’t go into this to abuse or take advantage of anyone,” says Annabel. “We entered into an agreement with a person to change our lives – and financially we can change hers.” She considers her surrogate, a 33-year-old mother-of-one who is 12 weeks pregnant, a friend. “We made a connection straight away,” Annabel says. “It’s hard to explain what that feels like, when you meet someone who will change your life.”
Even before the war, Yana Belozor, who is 32 and lives in Kyiv, had seen how badly some surrogates are treated. A former surrogate herself, she says the agency she used to work for gave her no emotional support and that she had to chase her salary (most surrogates are paid a lump sum and then a monthly stipend). When she gave birth in 2019, she says the agency sent her to the worst hospital in Kyiv. “I still have nightmares about it,” she shudders. “I was treated like an animal. All the surrogates were placed away from the women having their own biological children and treated differently.”
Commercial surrogacy is outlawed in most of the world, although it is legal in some jurisdictions including certain US states. The Ukrainian ombudsman for children has said he believes it should also be banned in Ukraine, where an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 children are born via surrogacy each year. The human rights group La Strada receives 100 calls a year from distressed Ukrainian surrogates. “They send us their contracts so we can assess how legal they are,” says Yuliia Anosova, a lawyer for the organisation who is currently a refugee in Poland. “They’re a total disaster. Often, they’re not even legal.” She recalls one contract in which a woman was forced to relocate mid-pregnancy and told her salary would be docked if she refused.
But advocates for Ukrainian surrogacy argue that the overwhelming majority of agencies behave ethically. Before the war, says Danchenko, the system was “amazing” and acted in the “best interests of children and parents”.
Belozor became a surrogacy coordinator for another agency, Delivering Dreams, to make sure other women had a better experience than she had. “This is my calling,” she says. Before the war, she was responsible for the wellbeing of 14 pregnant surrogates, mostly in Kyiv. By law, clients – or intended parents, as they are known – must be married, heterosexual and medically unable to have children.
These couples, and their surrogates, are caught up in the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. “Things have got insanely hard,” says Sam Everingham, global director of Growing Families. He has a list of 70 intended parents with Ukrainian surrogates at various stages of pregnancy. Natalie Gamble, a British fertility lawyer, is helping 23 British couples, with surrogates ranging from eight to 39 weeks pregnant, get across the border. “In every case, parents are worried about whether surrogates will be able to access medical care and give birth safely, and what will happen if the couples can’t get there when they do,” she says. “Will the babies be left in a war zone with no one to look after them?”
Compounding the chaos is the fact that few agencies expected Russia to invade, meaning that they did not make contingency plans. “The situation in Ukraine is stable,” one agency reassured clients on Facebook in late January. “There is no increased or unusual military activity.”
Belozor’s American boss, Susan Kersch-Kibler, felt differently. In the second week of February, Kersch-Kibler persuaded 13 of her 14 surrogates, and Belozor, to move to Lviv in western Ukraine. None wanted to go. “They were arguing with me,” Kersch-Kibler says. “It was hard. In the end, I had to sell it like a paid holiday.” Kersch-Kibler offered to move the surrogates’ families with them, but only two of the surrogates, and Belozor, brought their children. They thought they would be going home soon and didn’t want to uproot their families.
For now, these surrogates, at least, are safe. But, under Ukrainian martial law, male citizens aged between 18 and 60 are not permitted to leave the country. Surrogates may soon face a terrible dilemma: evacuate and leave their partners and even children behind, or remain in a country under attack. To compound their worry, their family and friends back home are not safe. Belozor’s husband is a firefighter in Kyiv. “For 11 days, he hasn’t been able to change his clothes or take a shower,” she says. “All day long, he is inhaling smoke.”
Despite her worries, Belozor keeps working. “My biggest job is to keep the women all emotionally stable,” she says. If they start to feel anxious, she takes them to a doctor, to confirm the baby is OK. The day before we speak, Belozor’s best friend from childhood, Alexi Semenyk, was shot in the head by Russian forces near Luhansk. He was 35. Like many Ukrainians, Belozor is desperate for western countries to implement a no-fly zone over the country. “The world needs to help,” she says, sobbing. “There won’t be any peace in this world, because Putin is so sick and unpredictable and dangerous.”
Annabel’s surrogate and her son are now safe in Poland. The journey took three days. “She told us when she got on the train, but then her battery died,” says Annabel. “I was literally sick with fear for her and her son. You’re watching the news to see if there have been any attacks on trains, or at the border. When I got her message to say she’d crossed the border, I cried.”
Annabel hopes that her surrogate will be able to join her in the UK – if that is what she wants. “We want her here so we can look after her,” Annabel says. “And not just until the baby is born. We want to look after her until she can go home, or wherever she chooses for home to be. If she chooses to stay here, then we will help establish her here.” Annabel and her husband will drive to Poland to collect their surrogate and her son, if they can get them emergency travel documents and she is willing.
However, there are no legal routes for surrogates and their families to resettle in the UK. Ukrainians are allowed entry only if they have family members already resident. (A mooted “humanitarian route” has become mired in confusion.) By contrast, Ireland has removed entry requirements for Ukrainian refugees. “This is a small group of women who are carrying British children,” says Gamble. “The UK has a responsibility to protect them.” Gamble wrote to the home secretary recently, asking her to make provision for surrogates who are pregnant with British children, and their families, to come to the UK. The Home Office has not responded.
Relatively speaking, Annabel is lucky. Some non-Ukrainian couples have lost contact with their surrogates. “I’m totally heartbroken and losing it,” writes one on a Facebook group. “The agency … is not responding to my emails … I do not have direct contact with the surrogate so I’m unable to reach her. Not sure if she’s OK. Would like to do anything I can to help her and her daughter.”
Fabiana Marcela Quaini, an Argentinian lawyer, knows of one client who has lost contact with their surrogate, who is due to give birth next week. Kersch-Kibler and her team are assisting surrogates and parents contracted to other agencies. “We’re trying to help anyone in this situation,” she says. “The parents are desperate to contact the surrogates. One surrogate got in touch to say that her agency was trying to make her get an abortion and she couldn’t get in contact with the intended parents.”
Kersch-Kibler understands the parents’ despair. All of the couples using Ukrainian surrogates have tried for years to have families. “This is their last chance,” she says. “For them, that child is precious beyond all words. It’s hard for them to cope with the pictures on TV, knowing their child is in the same country.” Some clients are catastrophising. “I only sleep a few hours a night,” says Jorge, a 48-year-old lawyer from Buenos Aires. He was in a WhatsApp chat with 60 people in the same situation, but left the group. “The group was making me really crazy,” he says. “I can’t avoid watching the news, but the group was too much.”
Jorge and his wife tried unsuccessfully to have a baby for a decade. Their surrogate, Katerina, is four months pregnant. She is in Kyiv with her husband and sons and is unable to find a safe route out of the city. “I can’t imagine how a pregnant woman can live in a war with explosions,” says Jorge. “For this reason, I’d prefer for her to come to Argentina, but I can’t decide for her. She’s free. She’s not a slave.”
Because Katerina doesn’t speak Spanish and Jorge doesn’t speak Ukrainian, they usually communicate via the agency, but Jorge is trying not to hassle staff there. “I don’t want to disturb them by calling all the time,” he says. “They’re in a war and I have respect. I know the men at the agency have to take up guns to defend their country.”
Dmytro Pugach, a 48-year-old fertility lawyer from Kyiv who is coordinating the evacuation of dozens of surrogates, is one of these men. “I have to combine work for life and work for death,” he emails. “I’m helping pregnant surrogates to deliver safely, and fighting in the territorial defence. My Kalashnikov stands beside me as I type this.”
Surrogates are being allowed to exit Ukraine with minimal documentation. But this exodus has significant legal ramifications. Under Ukrainian law, intended parents are automatically viewed as the legal parents of children born via surrogacy, but this does not apply in the UK, Ireland or much of Europe. “Some embassies are friendly to surrogacy, but in Austria and Germany surrogacy is not permitted,” says Danchenko. “Parents and surrogates need documents that it’s impossible to provide, as administrative offices are closed.”
Parents don’t understand why they can’t fly their babies home without documents. “They are aggressive,” says Danchenko. “They cry. They say: ‘Give me my baby.’ I ask about their documents and they don’t care. I’m a lawyer. What am I supposed to do without documents? That is human trafficking.”
Of course, not everyone can leave. One of Pugach’s surrogates is in a town that has been blockaded by Russian forces. She is trapped. Should she need medical attention, her options may be limited. Hospitals and clinics have been attacked. A maternity hospital in the city of Zhytomyr was bombed on 1 March; a Kyiv maternity hospital was hit the day after. On 9 March, a maternity and children’s ward at a hospital in Mariupol was reportedly destroyed by a Russian air strike. At the time of publication, fatalities were not confirmed, but unverified reports indicated that children were buried under the rubble.
It is a terrible situation for all involved – and unlikely to be resolved soon. “I pray for the health of Katerina, her sons and her family,” says Jorge. He can’t stop thinking about the last time he saw her, in Kyiv. She was walking to a tram stop, holding a box of chocolates. “I will always remember that image,” Jorge says. “Kyiv was beautiful and peaceful. Now, on the news, I can’t believe what I see.”
This article was amended on 11 March 2022. Sam Everingham is global director of Growing Families, not a fertility lawyer as an earlier version said.