“He is a child of war”: giving birth in chaos in Ukraine

Special for New York Times Infobae.

Kyiv, Ukraine — Before the war, Alina Shynkar’s gynecologist advised her to avoid stress during her pregnancy, suggesting that she spend her time “watching cartoons and not doing much.” It was pretty simple advice, but it wasn’t so easy to follow after air raid sirens sounded, artillery blasts rattled windows and fierce street fighting broke out a few miles away. of her motherhood.

So staying calm for her baby’s sake became Shynkar’s quiet personal battle during the war in Ukraine. Before the war started in late February, Shynkar checked herself into the No. 5 Maternity Hospital in the capital, Kyiv, to rest due to the risk of premature delivery, but weeks later she was witnessed the hospital collapse into a state of chaos and panic.

“The girls were so stressed that they started giving birth” prematurely, he said. Doctors at his hospital moved frightened pregnant women, some of whom were already in labor, in and out of an air-raid shelter several times a day. Some were crying and others were bleeding.

“They were scared,” Shynkar recalls. “It was hard to watch”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a nightmare for expectant mothers, especially in cities like Mariupol, Kharkiv and Chernigov which have been bombed almost constantly since the start of the war.

Last month, in the besieged city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine, Russian artillery struck a maternity hospital, killing a pregnant woman and injuring other pregnant women, according to Ukrainian authorities.

Women in war zones across the country have been forced to give birth in cold, dilapidated basements or crowded subway stations safe from bombardment, with no electricity, running water or midwives for babies. to help. .

And the recent respite from the withdrawal of Russian forces will not do much good in many places. By the end of March, Russian missiles, bombs and artillery had destroyed at least 23 hospitals and health centers.

Even pregnant women who were lucky enough to flee war-torn areas could not avoid the stress, either because they had to rush in and out of shelters or because they had to undertake journeys arduous and dangerous to relative safety. from western Ukraine or neighboring European countries.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, the organization’s sexual and reproductive health agency, about 265,000 Ukrainian women were pregnant when the war broke out. About 80,000 births are expected in the next three months.

War poses immediate and long-term risks to mothers, fathers and newborns. Among them are premature births, which can lead to a series of immediate and subsequent complications.

“Because of wartime conditions, premature motherhood predisposes the baby to death or complications for the rest of its life,” said Jeanne Conry, president of the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Although the data is not yet available, the doctor said doctors in Ukraine are reporting an increase in the number of premature babies being born, who are more likely to have respiratory, neurological and digestive problems in the future.

Conry said lack of access to drugs to prevent postpartum hemorrhage could lead to increased maternal deaths. Babies are at risk, he said, because doctors may not have immediate access to the equipment needed to resuscitate them and only have a few moments to breathe them for the first time after birth.

When an anti-aircraft siren sounded at the hospital on a recent day, the stairwell filled with women from the maternity ward clutching their bellies and dragging themselves to the shelter, a maze of low ceilings and get rid of. One of the rooms has been transformed into a makeshift neonatal and postoperative observation room. Another, still cluttered with filing cabinets, has been converted into a delivery room. The women were lying on mats on the ground.

Dr. Olena Yarushchuk, deputy director of the maternity ward at No. 5 Hospital, directed the women to benches along the walls, where they sat almost silently in the dimly lit space, waiting for the few minutes of imminent danger pass.

Yarushchuk said he made video calls to help women give birth in the basements of apartment buildings in the kyiv suburb of Bucha, a few dozen kilometers away, but at the time the suburb was cut off from the capital by fighting.

“Our job has changed,” he said.

Yulia Sobchenko, 27, said she gave birth around midnight on March 20 and was taken to hospital by an ambulance. But the Ukrainian soldiers at the checkpoints delayed their arrival and, fearing the terrorists, insisted on opening the door of the ambulance to check that it was indeed a woman who was going to give birth.

Her son was born at 2:55 a.m. and after two hours she was taken to the basement due to an air raid.

“Me, in a nightgown and with a towel between my legs and a tiny newborn, and my husband with all our suitcases, we had to go to the basement,” she says.

Her son, Mykhailo, was born healthy and weighed 5 pounds, she said, and “is a son of war”.

After birth, these families face other problems. New mothers recently discharged from the maternity ward of No. 5 Hospital said they were unable to breastfeed, which Yarushchuk attributed to stress.

Finding calm was the strategy of Shynkar, who worked as an event planner before the war. Her maternity ward in Kyiv allows women, their husbands and children to enter three weeks before their due date to avoid being separated from the medical center by changes in the war front.

From her hospital room, days before giving birth on March 25, the woman was smiling broadly and looking so calm she seemed to ignore the maelstrom of deadly violence outside. He said he had not seen or read any news about the war.

“I try to focus on the baby,” he said. “Can I help fight the war? I want to, but I can’t, not now. But I can’t panic,” he said. “I can protect myself. That’s what I can do.”

Shynkar gave birth to a daughter, Adeline.

“It was a natural birth in a very nice and intimate setting,” she said of her hospital birth. “My husband was present and cut the umbilical cord. To be honest, I have no idea if there were air raid sirens because I was completely immersed in the process.”

It was a small personal victory in the midst of a much larger battle raging around him.

For herself and her country, she gave her baby the middle name of Victoria.

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