Yuliya Balahura speaks of her daily routine with an eeriness that underlines the unusual nature of her reality, “I jolt awake at 02:00, feed my baby, Mia, and then the cacophony of air-raid sirens invades the quiet,” she recounts, her fingertips lightly tracing the contours of Mia’s tiny face. Their precarious sanctuary is a nondescript medical centre nestled in Bucha, a stone’s throw away from Ukraine’s bustling capital.
Yuliya, a youthful 38, is now safely home, following a tumultuous summer journey spanning approximately 30km (18 miles) to Kyiv for Mia’s birth. Her reason for the perilous journey was simple – Bucha lacked a necessary maternity hospital. The timing, however, was rather unfortunate as Russia initiated aerial bombardments on the Ukrainian capital, with drones launching an assault almost nightly.
Infant Mia’s first taste of life was the austere environment of the hospital’s subterranean bomb shelter, only a few metres away from other women embarking on their own maternal journeys. Sirens shrieked and explosions echoed, causing Yuliya’s heart to leap in alarm, while nurses made an effort to retain a soothing calm.
The Russian onslaught on Ukraine has taken a significant toll, leading to power and water outages and a disruption of heating supplies, all crucial to maternity care. Yuliya, already a mother to two girls, confesses that she was aware of the amplified risks she was taking on by having yet another child during wartime, “Such circumstances toughen you, make you familiar to the constant sound of air raids, make you stronger.”
As the year ticks over to August, President Volodomyr Zelensky confirms that Ukraine will swell its troop numbers in the months to come, a fact that has Yuliya’s spouse, Vladyslav, waiting for his imminent enlistment.
The birth rate in the country has plummeted by nearly a third since the eruption of the conflict. A startling statistic from Opendatabot, a Ukrainian analytics firm, pointed out that 38,000 fewer babies were born in the first half of this year as compared to the same period in 2021, which was free of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
The war has drastically altered the social fabric of Ukraine, separating families, forcing postponement of progeny, and triggering a mass exodus. Men have been pressed into service, many have died, and millions of women have been compelled to seek refuge in countries like Poland, Germany, and the UK.
An optimistic beacon in a time of uncertainty is baby Mia’s doctor, Natalya Stolynets. Although the number of newborns has sharply declined in her district, she sees every birth as a sign of hope, a nudge towards progression even amid the strife.
In a similar vein of determined grit, journalist couple Halya Rudyk and Kostia Nechyporenko continue their family journey, despite the harrowing uncontrollable external circumstances. Their stubborn resilience resonates in Halya’s words, “It didn’t make sense to wait for some better time.” Their daughter, Maria, is thus a symbol of perseverance in the face of an uncertain future.
Meanwhile, Yuliya pushes her pram through the battle-scarred streets of Bucha, the clamour of war replaced by the serene babble of her baby Mia. For her, the semblance of normalcy is not only a survival mechanism but also a form of defiance. She dreams of a future where the war is but a distant memory for her daughters. Until then, she, along with the adults of Ukraine, is determined to reclaim their nation, making it a haven for families once more.