Ukrainian mothers and newborns find sanctuary in city hospital

Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the Kharkiv Regional Perinatal Center has become a lifeline for thousands of women and children.

UNICEF
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UNICEF
26 May 2022

Tetiana was nine months pregnant when the war began in Ukraine. When the first air raid siren sounded, she and her eight-year-old daughter Hanna froze in fear.

“The siren was deafening. I looked out the window and saw people running to the subway to hide. I was 37 weeks pregnant, so I decided to rush to the hospital, as I was afraid that an ambulance would not come later because of the shelling”, says Tetiana.

As the smoke and sound of explosions drifted into their 14th floor apartment in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, the pair quickly began packing their bags. 

A taxi took them to Kharkiv Regional Perinatal Center. There, thanks to medical workers, Tetiana’s second daughter Alina took her first breath.

Since then, the hospital has become their refuge for almost three months.

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"When my daughter arrived, and doctors just put her on my chest, there was a big boom, like a terrible explosion," recalls Tetiana. 

The mother of two likes to joke that the explosion was in celebration of her newborn daughter. But her fear is plain to see. 

This is not the first time the family have fled their home – in 2014, after Hanna was born, gunfire and shelling forced them to flee Luhansk in eastern Ukraine.  

"So we moved to Kharkiv,” says Tetiana, sadly. “And when we decided to have a second child here, we got into the same situation again, the full-scale war had started." 

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Fighting for the future 

Little Hanna is the same age as the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. And her new sister Alina is the same age as the new war that swept the country in February.

Their father Yaroslav works as an anesthesiologist at the perinatal center.

"We were allowed to stay here as family members,” says Tetiana. “And we're grateful that we can remain here in safety, with medical and humanitarian assistance provided.” 

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Many of the other women here also call it home since they have nowhere left to return to.

All of the patients and medical workers are grateful for the obstetric kits and mobile intensive care unit (ICU) provided by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

"Since the war started, there is no neonatal resuscitation in Kharkiv anymore,” explains Iryna Kondratova, head of the Kharkiv Perinatal Center. “Only our center works with surgical and other pathologies. So this mobile ICU is really needed, as it allows mobility and helps children quickly – for example, with surgeries. We have to transport children to surgeons and we need to do it as quickly as possible.”

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These supplies are particularly important because many health facilities have been destroyed.

"Sometimes, there are missiles flying above us, sometimes we hear explosions, sometimes there are air raid sirens, and this all when there are surgeries or childbirth are going on,” says Iryna. “But we stay here and continue working.” 

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Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine in February, 235 healthcare facilities have either been destroyed, or damaged. During nearly the hundred days of war, more than 1,600,000 children and adults in Ukraine have had access to health care in hospitals that are regularly supported by UNICEF and partners.

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.

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