Stranded by virus, Ukraine surrogate babies await parents

Ania TSOUKANOVA
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Dozens of babies born to surrogate mothers in Ukraine are waiting to be collected by their parents

Dozens of babies born to surrogate mothers in Ukraine are waiting to be collected by their parents (AFP Photo/Sergei SUPINSKY)

Kiev (AFP) - In a Kiev hotel, several dozen babies lie in rows of clear plastic cots, looked after for by carers in face masks.

All the babies were born to Ukrainian surrogate mothers, but their foreign parents have been unable to collect them due to travel restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 50 odd babies, aged between five days and several weeks, are being housed in the hotel Venice on the edge of Kiev that the BioTexCom reproductive clinic usually uses to accommodates parents.

A sign on a heavy wooden door reads "Baby Room".

Carers in masks and gloves give bottles and change the nappies of babies whose parents come from countries including China, Germany, Spain, France and Italy.

According to provisional information, "more than 100 babies are waiting for their parents in a number of medical centres", said Lyudmyla Denysova, the Ukrainian parliament's human rights commissioner.

If the lockdown is prolonged, the total number of such babies conceived before the virus hit could reach "almost 1,000", she said.

- Popular surrogacy destination -

Ukraine, which borders the EU and Russia and is one of the world's poorest countries, has become a popular destination for parents seeking a surrogate, due to its legal framework and low prices.

Unlike in many other European countries, heterosexual married couples are legally allowed to use surrogates, with no limit on payments.

Ukraine closed its borders and halted flights in mid-March to try and control the spread of COVID-19.

To enter Ukraine, foreign parents have needed their embassies to request a special permit from Kiev.

Denysova says the blame lies with a number of foreign embassies that have "refused" to help.

"This issue has still not been solved," she said.

A source in the Ukrainian government said this applied to the embassies of France, Spain and Italy since commercial surrogacy is illegal in these countries

BioTexCom claims to control around half the surrogacy market in Ukraine and charges clients between 40,000 and 65,000 euros ($43,000 and $70,000).

During the virus crisis, it has had to accommodate dozens of babies in the hotel.

"Of course it's a complex situation," the clinic's owner Albert Tochilovsky told AFP, while stressing that the babies were all being well looked after in good conditions.

- 'Very emotional' -

"When parents have been waiting for their baby for 20 years, you'd think they could wait another month but when you talk to them, you realise they can't wait any longer," he said.

"The parents get very emotional, they start crying."

To deal with the problem, in late April the clinic released a video showing the babies and appealing to the countries involved to help their citizens "unite with their children".

The video attracted media attention and aroused the interest of Denysova, who promised to get entry permits for parents who had been refused by their countries' embassies.

"When you have 50 to 80 couples calling you and half the women are crying throughout the conversation, you have to take these kind of measures," Tochilovsky said.

"We've achieved what we wanted: now this is going to get solved more quickly," he said.

Denysova said that the first parents could enter Ukraine within "weeks".

"Some parents have even chartered planes" and are just waiting for permission, she added.