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Pregnant women are returning home to a war-torn Ukraine to give birth

Language barriers, loyalty to their home country and difficult life circumstances lead them back from the countries to which they fled.

Photo illustration of pregnant woman in front of stylized Ukrainian flag.
Photo illustration: Kelli R. Grant/Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images (2), Ignacio Marin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images, Wojciech Grzedzinski for the Washington Post via Getty Images

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 would make the tough decision to journey back to her family home in Lutsk, in northwest Ukraine. There she would meet with the father of her unborn son and wait to give 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 they return are language barriers, loyalty to their home country and difficult life circumstances. “With a small child far from home, they would have no one to rely on,” a spokesperson for the organization told Yahoo News.

Data from the United Nations’ sexual and reproductive health agency stated that in April 2022, 265,000 Ukrainian women were pregnant. Hryhorychenko was unknowingly three months pregnant when she and her family fled to Poland. And in October she would be forced to make the journey back home alone. “I traveled back to Ukraine to give birth, as the father of my child is still there,” Hryhorychenko told Yahoo News.

Then in February, in a Lutsk hospital with few supplies and electricity that would frequently cut, Hryhorychenko gave birth to her son. “I had a very complicated birth,” she said. “My son was born very little, and we had to stay in the hospital for seven days. The electricity went off often, but thankfully my son is here.” Asked how she felt being in an active war zone with her newborn son, she said: “I’m afraid of being here. I am afraid for my baby’s safety.”

Rosalina Hryhorychenko holding a baby.
Rosalina Hryhorychenko with her newborn son. (Courtesy of the family)

In Warsaw, Rada Hryhorychenko waits anxiously for her daughter’s return. She told Yahoo News how terrified she was that her child was traveling back to Ukraine. “There’s a problem with the electricity there all the time,” she said about the city where her daughter is. “There can be a day when you have no electricity at all, or even for several days.”

Outside a refugee accommodation shelter in Nadarzyn, Poland, a local community adviser explained how she has had to convince more than a dozen pregnant women not to return to Ukraine to give birth. “It is very common,” Patrycja Mroczek, a Roma community volunteer at the refugee shelter, said. These women wanted to give birth in Ukraine, Mroczek explained, so their children would have Ukrainian nationality, rather than Polish. However, babies born in Poland to Ukrainian parents wouldn’t become Polish anyway, due to the “law of blood,” which gives children the nationality of their parents, not that of the country where they were born.

But many pregnant women are unaware of this and make the dangerous journey back to 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 ob-gyn of Poltava Regional Hospital in central Ukraine, said she had treated 12 women who returned to Ukraine to have their babies. Ivanova noted that all the women she encountered believed that unless they returned home, they would not have been able to survive.

“In order not to create problems for themselves or others, women took risks and returned to Ukraine even in the late stages of pregnancy,” she said. “The reasons for returning are not dissatisfaction, but rather lack of confidence ... in one’s ability to provide for oneself and one’s child, the lack of a ‘safety cushion’ both material, moral and psychological.”

And so Hryhorychenko and countless other women endure the difficult task of raising their children in a war zone — torn between the perils of their home and the safety of neighboring, unfamiliar countries.