Friday, May 20

Pregnant women from all over Ukraine take refuge in the largest maternity hospital in Lviv: “There is no untouchable place, they can also attack us here”

Iryna Zelena left Kiev on February 28, seven months pregnant. She arrived in Lviv the next day, after a 15-hour crowded train ride. Three days later her daughters were born. “They are called Victoria and Veronica. Victory for Ukraine and Veronica because it means ‘bearer of victory,'” she says, sitting on the bed in the room where she is recovering, fighting anxiety about the fate of her country and her girls. . They were born with only 700 and 1,200 grams of weight and are stable in the Intensive Care Unit of the Regional Perinatal Center, the largest maternity in Lviv that for two weeks has begun to receive women from the cities of the country most affected by the bombings of the Russian offensive.

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“Since the start of the war, about 50 have arrived and 21 of them have already given birth. They have fled from Kharkov, Kiev, Irpin, Sumy… Before the conflict it was rare for people to arrive from other regions.” Maria Malachynska is the director of this hospital and, a day after the horrific images of the attack on the Mariupol maternity hospital, she has no qualms about admitting that the anxiety that has accompanied her every minute since the beginning of the conflict has multiplied. “Mariúpol is the demonstration that there is nothing untouchable, nothing sacred for the Russians. How did these children bother the Russians? Why did they attack them? Children are the future of our country and Russia is destroying it,” he says, echoing of the words that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke after Thursday’s bombing. She also repeats the call for the creation of a no-fly zone that NATO refuses to declare for fear that the conflict will turn into an all-out war in Europe.

Of the 600 employees that this hospital has, only five have left their jobs to leave the country, says the director. But they no longer feel protected as before in this place “They are afraid, they have understood that now this can happen with anything, even with a place like this.” Through the windows of his office, adorned with white orchids, they glimpse the fine snowflakes that slowly fall, making a curtain to the anonymous blocks of flats that surround this hospital, opened 36 years ago and renovated in 2018. Five thousand women give birth here every year.

“No one expected this. When we woke up on February 24 with the news of the invasion, no one expected it,” repeats Malachynska, who speaks quickly, clasping her hands, as if to remain calm, contain the agitation. The center has had to make contingency plans and right now they have enough resources and medicine to last three months. The rooms of the women who have just given birth have been moved from the fourth to the first floor to avoid that, when the anti-aircraft sirens go off, the journey to the shelter they have prepared is easier. To access the premises you have to leave the main building and, after walking a few meters, enter a small door that gives access to a basement where, under the pipes that run through the ceiling and resting on the ground, there are a few beds, with sheets and blankets, water and food for mothers and their babies. A soulless and distressing space that contrasts with the neatness of the center.

“The main problem we have is with premature children who need to be connected to intensive care teams,” the director stresses. Like the girls in Zelena who share a warming bed in a room where triplets were born just a few hours ago in the twenty-seventh week of pregnancy. A very subtle tube protrudes from the babies’ noses, their tiny bodies half covered by oversized diapers. “I cannot say if premature births have increased these days – comments Verónica Koldra, responsible for this ICU –, but what we have seen is that women who arrive with problems have gone from 20 to 40% and more complications arise. due to stress. An anguish that makes them, for example, unable to breastfeed because anxiety influences breastfeeding”. Some women ask that they not have an epidural so that they can recover faster and leave for the border as soon as possible.

Zelena approaches the crib that guards her daughters. She has been able to touch them, hold them, but it will take a while for her to leave this hospital with them. She has no plans for the future other than to return to Kiev as soon as possible. There have been the outfits that she had prepared for her daughters and also the plans to reform the house for the growing family. Her husband has stayed there, who has only seen her girls through her photo and who tells her that he is fighting to protect her house and her country. He doesn’t explain how he does it. Both before the war were legal advisers. “When I get out of the hospital I will stay here in Lviv waiting to be able to return to Kiev. But now my girls have their own war: they are fighting for their lives.”