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Battles raging above, Nadezhda gave birth in a bomb shelter

By Sven G. Simonsen

‘Of course we thought about evacuation, many times’, Nadezhda (33) says. But when war came to her home town Debaltseve, she was already out of options. Nadezhda gave birth to her son Piotr in an overcrowded, shallow bomb shelter.

                             UNICEF Ukraine / 2015 / Alexey Filippov
Conditions were the worst possible the night Nadezhda gave birth to her son Piotr.

A geographically strategic position has made Debaltseve, in what is now a non-government-controlled part of Donetsk region, the scene of some of the most fierce fighting in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Through 2014, Nadezhda, her husband and their daughters Liza and Taizia, now aged 7 and 13, endured hard times. But when the fighting was again closing in on Debaltseve, in November 2014, Nadezhda was eight months pregnant.

Seeking shelter

Late in the month, the family started spending nights in a bomb shelter. ‘It was too dangerous to stay here’, she says, now back in the family’s crammed apartment with lively Piotr on her lap.

‘If a shell hit the building, there was a risk that the gas pipes would be damaged, and the building would explode.’

Sometimes, after they had gone to the shelter for the night, continued shelling would prevent them from leaving for two or three days. The stress was already affecting her pregnancy; she was bleeding, she explains, and she was very anxious.

Nadezhda was due to give birth on 14 December, and in practice they had already given up on evacuating.
‘There were so many uncertainties – where would we go, for how long, how would we support ourselves – so in the end we stayed here’, she explains.

Walls shaking from explosions

The birth began, with little warning, on 8 December. The conditions were the worst possible: it was night time, and intense fighting above their heads, so no midwife or doctor could come to her assistance.

‘The walls were shaking so hard from the explosions, we were afraid that a direct hit would make them collapse and we would be buried alive’, Nadezhda says.

Some time earlier, people had collected 10 hryvna (0,30 USD) from each family using the shelter, to buy a metal door for the entrance, which gave a little more protection.

Nadezhda and her husband had made some preparations for the birth. They had a backpack with necessary products, and people in the shelter prepared warm, clean water. Fortunately, a nurse was present, and Nadezhda had the benefit of having given birth twice before.

Telling the story now, Nadezhda seems remarkable composed. But when we ask of she was afraid for the child and herself, she replies, ‘Of course I was. It was a very dangerous situation.’

                              UNICEF Ukraine / 2015 / Alexey Filippov
Liza (7) and her sister Taizia (13) are back at school now, but they are still affected by the conflict they experienced.

No privacy

There was no privacy for Nadezhda that night. The shelter, designed for up to 1000 people, was bursting with people. Many of then were children.

‘It was so full, I could not even count how many were there. It was too dangerous even to go outside to breathe some fresh air. Once a woman did go outside, and she got killed.’

Inside, it was cold and damp. Some people were burning firewood for heating, filling the air with smoke. There had been periods when they had no light, no power, no toilets and no water. That night, at least, they had light.

Family affected

Nadezhda stayed in the shelter with her baby for two more days before taking the chance to leave the shelter. She herself has recovered from the birth. But her family is still affected by what they have gone through.

Little Piotr, several months old now, is happy and healthy, thanks in part to UNICEF-donated hygiene supplies and pampers. But the brutal conditions in the shelter are still affecting him. Doctors tell Nadezhda he suffers from back dystrophy.

‘They say it’s because he should have been placed in a proper cradle after he was born. But we had no possibility to do that, so we just carried him around.’ The parents have been instructed to give the baby boy massages, to help his back heal.

Only last week, the burden of the entire situation came down on Nadezhda’s husband, who had a nervous breakdown. It is still not clear how well he is recovering, and when he will be able to go back to his job as a train conductor.

Since Nadezhda is staying home with the children, his salary is the family’s only income. The humanitarian aid they are receiving at the local distribution center is becoming every more important.
In the town, some normality has returned. The girls, Liza and Taizia, are back at school – albeit, one with no glass in the windows.

But the girls still have difficulties sleeping, Nadezhda says. ‘And they are ready to run every time they hear shelling.’ The frontline remains only kilometers away.

In the midst of adversity, Nadezhda is keeping her mood up. And she and the family are grateful to be in their own house. This is home, and this is where they will stay.

 

 
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