Yana Lyakh, draped in a pink jumper enveloping her bulging belly, exuded positivity at a Ukrainian hospital, even as she narrated a situation that would be a nightmare for most women.
The 26-year-old, eight months pregnant, finds herself in a challenging predicament with her husband engaged in front-line combat, and her hometown relentlessly under bombardment by Russian forces.
Seeking refuge from the turmoil, she sought shelter in a maternity ward in the town of Pokrovsk, situated in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, arriving weeks before her due date.
“I’m here because of the stress,” she shared from her hospital bed, which she shares with another expectant mother.
The sole maternity hospital in the entire Donbas region equipped with a neonatal unit and incubators for premature babies, this facility has persevered amid air raid alerts and shelling. It has been in continuous operation since the Russian invasion nearly two years ago.
Lyakh previously resided in Myrnograd, a town located a few kilometers to the east and in closer proximity to the front line. The shelling by Russia began on January 6, resulting in the tragic loss of 11 lives, including five children, as reported by Lyakh.
Fearful of air raid warnings and the potential danger of bombs striking her apartment block, the heavily pregnant Lyakh shared that she used to “run from the fifth floor down to the first.”
Concerned about the imminent threat of giving birth prematurely, she made the decision to seek refuge in the maternity ward.
In an adjacent bed within the ward, 20-year-old Katya Brendyuchkova, also eight months pregnant, was connected to a drip. She expressed her difficulties, acknowledging the possibility of premature delivery. Unlike Lyakh’s husband, Brendyuchkova’s spouse is not a soldier but works in a coal mine in Pokrovsk.
Situated approximately 30 kilometers (18 miles) from one of the most intense areas on the expansive front line—the ongoing battle for Avdiivka, a strategically significant town besieged by Russian forces for months—Pokrovsk is navigating the challenges of the conflict.
Within the confines of the two-story maternity hospital, some windows were fortified with sandbags, a testament to the precautions taken amid the surrounding turmoil.
A section of the basement has undergone transformation into a bomb shelter, equipped with generators to supply power during electricity outages. Gynaecologists and nurses have relocated, and patient numbers have dwindled as a significant portion of eastern Ukraine’s residents evacuated during the onset of the invasion.
Lyubov Datsyk, the head of the obstetrics department, noted a stark decline in births—from approximately 1,000 annually before the war to 500 in 2022 and 622 in the previous year. Disturbingly, around 20 percent of the infants born in 2023 were premature, doubling the pre-war rate of 10 percent.
Medical professionals attribute this surge in premature births directly to the stress induced by the Russian invasion. Ivan Tsyganok, the head of the maternity unit, emphasized, “Premature birth is caused by stress, chronic stress. Given that our patients are in a sort of grey zone and the whole of the Donetsk region is a war zone, the number of premature births has increased.”
The stress experienced by expectant mothers is compounded by the reality that half of them have husbands actively serving on the front lines. Lyubov Datsyk expressed, “The women are worried about both their husbands and their children.”
Tragically, instances have occurred where fathers lost their lives while their wives were in the hospital, with staff occasionally opting not to disclose this information until after the birth. Datsyk explained, “Otherwise, the expectant mother knows she is a widow.”
The shadow of the Russian invasion looms over these children even before their birth. Ivan Tsyganok lamented, “When we have our children, we want them to have a bright future. But today, they are born and it’s war. They are children of war.”
Lyakh is making arrangements to travel to Dnipro, a major city located 150 kilometers to the west, for the birth. Following the delivery, she intends to relocate with her daughter, whom she plans to name Sofia, to the capital, Kyiv.
Her husband, a 23-year-old lieutenant engaged in combat in Avdiivka to resist Russian forces, manages to visit her once a week in the hospital. Lyakh optimistically shared, “He should get transferred (close to Kyiv), so we’ll be spending more time together. We’re looking forward to it.”
On the other hand, Brendyuchkova, already a mother to a three-year-old girl, expressed fear caused by the constant bombing and a desire to leave. She said, “I want to go somewhere else. But so far, there’s no chance. And as long as my husband has a stable job, we’ll stay here for the time being.”