WARSAW, Poland – Six months after Russia invaded Ukraine, 18-year-old Rosalina Hryhorychenko fled the war-torn country with her mother and two siblings. Just two months later, she made the difficult decision to return to her childhood home in Lutsk, northwestern Ukraine. There she would meet the father of her unborn son and await the birth.
Hryhorychenko is one of the 10% of women who have returned to Ukraine to give birth since the war began. According to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the main reasons women return are language barriers, loyalty to their home country and difficult living conditions. “With a young child far from home, they would have no one to rely on,” a spokesman for the organization told Yahoo News.
Data from the United Nations Sexual and Reproductive Health Agency says that as of April 2022, 265,000 Ukrainian women were pregnant. Hryhorychenko was unknowingly three months pregnant when she fled to Poland with her family. And in October she would be forced to make the journey home alone. “I traveled back to Ukraine for the birth as my child’s father is still there,” Hryhorychenko told Yahoo News.
Then, in February, Hryhorychenko gave birth to her son in a Lutsk hospital with few supplies and electricity that went out frequently. “I had a very complicated birth,” she said. “My son was born very small and we had to stay in the hospital for seven days. The power went out a lot, but luckily my son is here.” When asked how she felt being in an active war zone with her newborn son, she said, “I’m scared to be here. I fear for my baby’s safety.”
In Warsaw, Rada Hryhorychenko is eagerly awaiting the return of her daughter. She told Yahoo News how terrified her child would be going back to Ukraine. “There are constant electricity problems there,” she says of the city where her daughter lives. “There may be a day when you have no electricity at all, or even several days.”
Outside a refugee shelter in Nadarzyn, Poland, a local community counselor explained how she had to convince more than a dozen pregnant women not to return to Ukraine to give birth. “It happens very often,” said Patrycja Mroczek, a volunteer from the Roma community at the refugee home. These women wanted to give birth in Ukraine, explained Mroczek, so that their children would have Ukrainian and not Polish citizenship. However, babies born in Poland to Ukrainian parents would not become Polish anyway, due to the “Blood Law” which gives children their parents’ nationality, not that of their place of birth.
But many pregnant women are not aware of this and start the dangerous journey back to the Ukraine. “This is a misunderstanding resulting from a lack of knowledge of Polish law,” said Marta Siemion, the project manager of the Central Roma Council, an organization set up to help members of the ethnic Roma community.
dr Lyudmila Ivanova, the chief doctor at the Poltava Regional Hospital in central Ukraine, said she treated 12 women who returned to Ukraine to have their babies. Ivanova noted that all the women she met believed that they would not survive unless they returned home.
“In order not to cause problems for themselves or others, women took risks and even returned to Ukraine in the late stages of pregnancy,” she said. “The reasons for returning are not dissatisfaction but a lack of confidence … in one’s ability to care for oneself and one’s child, a lack of material, moral and psychological ‘safety’.”
And so Hryhorychenko and countless other women endure the difficult task of raising their children in a war zone, torn between the dangers of their homeland and the security of neighboring, unfamiliar lands.