Ukraine, the hidden drama: the fate of surrogate babies

Mykolas Sotničenka

Ukraine is the capital of surrogacy in Europe: it is estimated that at least two thousand children are born in Ukraine every year on commission. One of the less frequently discussed consequences of the war is the danger to the lives of surrogate mothers and the inability of biological parents living abroad to come to pick up their born children.

Paid surrogacy is legal in Ukraine; the country has for years been one of the world’s most affordable and hassle-free destinations for the practice. By some estimates, its industry is the largest in the world; The New York Times counts about 500 women are now pregnant in Ukraine as surrogate mothers for foreign clients. Buyers are attracted by the relatively low prices and the laws that allow them to become the father and mother of the new-born child from the moment of conception.

The biggest surrogacy clinic in Ukraine, BioTexCom, is now looking after some 30 babies and expects to have more than 100 on its hands by the end of the month, BioTexCom legal advisor Denis Herman told Euronews. It’s not the first time BioTexCom has had to look after stranded new-borns. In May 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when global travel came to a virtual halt, the clinic released footage of rows of babies in bassinets in a Kyiv hotel Venezia. The situation is repetitive: born in a warzone, the new-borns have spent their first few weeks in a makeshift nursery underground, in the bomb shelter, cared for by a team of nannies.

Couples abroad have no idea how they will pick up their babies. According to Ukrainian law, biological parents must be present to confirm the nationality of the new-borns. Therefore, some couples had been pressuring surrogate mothers to flee to safer parts of Ukraine, or even leave the country for Poland, or ask to bring new-borns to the western part of Ukraine. On the one hand, as the network Growing Families points out, if surrogate mothers end up in a country where surrogacy is banned, the surrogate mother would be the only one recognised as the baby’s legal parent. On the other hand, it’s too dangerous and is not safe to travel and to bring new-borns by road over there.

To make the situation even more dramatic, expectant surrogate mothers are trapped by the fighting, and the contacts have been lost with some surrogate mothers of whom no one knows anything anymore. They could be stranded in bombed cities, or they could go into hiding, because many of them do not want to leave Ukraine and be separated from their children, husbands, and parents.

Although in recent days, surrogacy agencies in the country have received many cancellations by those couples who had not yet started the process of fertilization of the surrogate mother, the surrogacy clinics are seeking help to transfer the thousands of frozen embryos, that belong to its clients to a secured location, possibly in another country. According to Euronews, there are over 3,000 couples globally who’ve put embryos in Ukraine – embryos that they were hoping would one day be their child – and there may be more than 6,000 such embryos.

Recently the European Parliament, which in a previous resolution had strongly condemned surrogacy, has toned down its positions limiting its “no” to commercial practice. Despite this, the surrogacy business will not stop, the map of Europe’s surrogacy hotspots will just be redrawn. “One of the issues we’ve seen over the last decade is that if one country closes down, the providers just move. They find a niche. Because they realise that the desire for infertile couples to have families is huge,” said Sam Everingham, whose non-profit Growing Families supports parents who opt for surrogacy.