May 19, 2024

Ukraine’s surrogacy agencies overlooked the worst-case scenario — war

Burnt-out tanks in snowy landscapes, thousands scrambling across borders with their suitcases, soldiers handing out automatic rifles like lollies to civilians, young families huddled together in metro stations … These are the scenes being relayed from Kyiv at the moment.

Overlooked in the hubbub is the havoc wreaked upon Ukraine’s large surrogacy industry. It’s the darkest chapter so far in the history of the Reproductive Revolution. One of the best-known clinics, BioTexCom, displays on its website advice for intending parents stuck in Kyiv. “Unfortunately, the level of Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine exceeded all possible expectations … we urge you to keep calm, do not panic and follow the rules of conduct. We remind you that your life and the life of your child depend on it.”  

It has just released a video reassuring anxious parents that they, the surrogate mothers, the babies, and the embryos will be safe because it has organised a bomb shelter in a nearby building.

It opens with the wail of an air raid siren. A large tour bus emblazoned with “BioTexCom” opens its doors and a couple of dozen thinly clad people clamber out, some with bassinets, and shuffle down steep concrete stairs. A young woman with fear in her eyes guides viewers through narrow corridors to a large room with sleeping bags, gas masks, a dismal kitchen, a small bathroom and racks of canned food, nappies and baby formula. It looks cold. The narrator’s words are calming; the images are not.

According to the online magazine Quartz, there are at least 33 private surrogacy clinics and 5 government clinics in Ukraine because of its liberal regulation and skilled doctors. Figures are fuzzy, but between 2,000 and 2,500 babies may be born to surrogate mothers in Ukraine each year. What happens to the frozen embryos if the power goes down? What happens to mothers in distant villages? Will the mothers have medical care? Will anyone be able to get across the border?

No one knows how events will unfold in Kyiv. Ukraine’s government seems to be preparing for brutal and destructive urban warfare in the national capital. It’s not the ideal environment for a surrogacy agency.

Some clinics with branches in nearby Georgia – which is also a surrogacy hub – would like to transfer their embryos from Ukraine to Georgia. But their chances are slim at the moment – commercial flights have been abandoned. The 39-hour ferry from Chornomorsk to Batumi is unlikely to be running.