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European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Born under fire: despite the war, new life in Ukraine prevails

A premature born child in an incubator.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer: Oleksandr Ratushnyak)

A year ago, this maternity hospital in Chernihiv, northern Ukraine, was surrounded by Russian forces. But despite the shelling, the maternity ward did not stop its operations for a single day. Not even when it was almost completely cut off and essential supplies had to be delivered by boat.

Now, over a year after the Russian troops left the Chernihiv region, this hospital continues to work. The EU, together with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), supports its staff and patients with special C-section sets and dignity kits for women.

According to the Ukrainian Ministry of Health, Russian forces destroyed 174 medical facilities in Ukraine and significantly damaged another 1,106 during the first year of the full-scale invasion.

The Chernihiv maternity hospital was also on this list. In March 2022, Russian artillery struck it 3 times, damaging walls, roof and more than 100 windows. But even then, women continued to give birth inside the ward’s shelter.

People standing outside a colourful maternity ward.
Colourful and bright, the maternity ward in Chernihiv still bears the scars of war on its walls.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer: Oleksandr Ratushnyak)

“Patients were stressed. Unfortunately, the number of premature births increased from 7% to 11%. The number of newborns in the intensive care unit has increased as well. But mostly, deliveries went quickly and efficiently. Within 3-4 hours of admission to the hospital, the women gave birth,” recalls Dr Vasyl Husak, the hospital’s General Director.

A doctor in a shelter with hospital beds.
In the midst of the hostilities, the hospital not only continued to work but also provided shelter for more than 100 local residents who were hiding from the shelling.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer: Oleksandr Ratushnyak)

According to UNFPA, around 265,000 women in Ukraine were expecting a child at the beginning of Russia's invasion. Many of them were forced to give birth with limited medical access, in facilities that were under shelling, without electricity, water or heating.

Giving birth in basements or metro stations became a sad and common reality.

View of a maternity ward inside the bomb shelter.
During the first months of the full-scale war against Ukraine, 143 children were born in Chernihiv maternity hospital. Some of them had to be delivered in a bomb shelter.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer: Oleksandr Ratushnyak)

Amidst the ongoing war in Ukraine, pregnant and lactating women, as well as maternity hospitals, required additional support.

To improve the quality of reproductive medical services and enhance the conditions for childbirth and breastfeeding, UNFPA, with EU financial support, distributes prepackaged C-section sets and dignity kits with all the basic hygiene necessities for pregnant and lactating women.

View of the normal, above ground, maternity ward.
Today, the doctors here continue to receive patients and restore the hospital after damages. Frequent raid alerts still force them to transfer all women and infants to the bomb shelter, sometimes several times a day.
© European Union, 2023 (photographer: Oleksandr Ratushnyak)

Olesia, who we met in Chernihiv, delivered her baby son Platon through a C-section last December. She is one of thousands of women who were supported with such medical and hygiene supplies.

“I found out I was pregnant in April, just after the shelling. It was both joyful and worried because it was a long-awaited and desired pregnancy,” shared Olesia.

“Thank God everything went well, my son was born on December 7th. And I really liked the kit I was given. It had everything I needed for feminine hygiene and a blanket. It was very useful and timely during these months,"  she explained, as she recalls her pregnancy with both a smile and anxiety.

In 2022, the EU allocated €40 million in humanitarian aid funding for the health projects in Ukraine.

According to the World Bank, Russia's war has caused approximately US$2.5 billion in damage to the health sector in Ukraine.

The total reconstruction and recovery needs are estimated at US$16.4 billion for the next 10 years.

Photo of Ivanna Bedei

Story by Ivanna Bedei, Information and Communication Assistant in Kyiv, EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations.
Twitter: @ECHO_Europe

Publication date: 07/07/2023