Moment is publishing regular updates from Helen, a Soviet American Jew living in Kyiv. Read all the diary entries here.
The war in Ukraine, I think, got people all over the world closer. And it also brought kindness and support in many different ways, sometimes absolutely unexpected.
In the first month of the war, my husband’s colleague Daniel drove his pregnant wife to the Polish border. As I wrote previously, Svetlana was already nine months pregnant when the war began in Ukraine: When the first air raid siren sounded, she and her husband Daniel froze in fear. The trip took days. The cars were not moving. Some nights they had to sleep on the floor of motels so overcrowded that not only were there no rooms available, but even finding a space on the hallways’ floors was challenging. Daniel himself couldn’t cross the border because according to Martial Law he is not age-eligible. So, a friend of his who fled early met Svetlana at the Polish border and they proceeded further to Europe so that she could deliver the baby in safety.
She ended up delivering a healthy baby boy in Versailles, France. Since the baby was the first Ukrainian refugee born in Versailles, he was given French citizenship and a story was somehow mentioned on the local radio or in a local newspaper.
A week or so later Svetlana received a letter with 50 euros enclosed. The letter read:
“Dear baby, we have the same birthday, and we are both Gemini, which is translated as twins. And though I was born 85 years prior to you, I do feel we are twins because the war in your country brought you here. We are both French now, and we are together, not only just because of the location but because of all the turmoil in the world. I don’t know how many members of your family could escape and are around you now. I want you to know that you have a family of Versailles’s many locals here. Please, accept my modest birthday present.”
Daniel did not have a chance to be with his wife during the labor, or to hold his newborn son. He has been watching the baby’s progress only through video channels like Skype or Zoom. The baby is progressing fast and it’s extremely sad that his father can’t be around. Daniel and Svetlana have been married for more than 15 years and during all this time the couple was striving to conceive going through a lot of treatments, miscarriages, and so on. Finally, they have this baby who has been wanted for so many years. It’s so sad that Daniel can’t be with his wife and baby son.
But it’s so touching that people individually or in groups support Ukrainian refugees and feel so deeply for them.
UNICEF estimates that two million children have fled Ukraine in search of safety abroad. A further 2.5 million children have been internally displaced, and 3 million children are now in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. Pregnant women who moved to other countries due to active hostilities from the Russian military and received refugee status have the right to medical care and give birth free of charge.
Inside Ukraine, many babies have been born prematurely. Some babies were born in basements or bomb shelters. In the first 100 days of the war, the Ministry of Health estimated that there were about 48,000 babies born into the war in Ukraine. Other estimates are much higher. Many babies were born in relatively safe areas of Ukraine, but in Kharkiv, for example, many health facilities have been destroyed and the supplies needed for delivery are scarce. Accorind to one Kharkiv doctor: “Sometimes, there are missiles flying above us, sometimes we hear explosions, sometimes there are air raid sirens, and this is all when there are surgeries or childbirths going on and we stay here and continue working.”
And so many babies have been born abroad. Recently a newborn was delivered in Northern Ireland. The Irish family that is hosting the mother with the newborn says it’s a privilege. This baby is believed to be the first newborn delivered by a Ukrainian refugee in Northern Ireland.
The words of gratitude said by the newborn’s mother to “the wonderful family of our hosts who have welcomed us so warmly into their home and provided such wonderful support every day” could be repeated by many mothers who have delivered their babies in Europe fleeing the war in terror and leaving their husbands behind.
The war goes on. But these newborns prove once again that life also goes on and will prevail!