1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Kyiv: Life in a maternity ward in wartime

John Marshall Kyiv
March 14, 2022

As air raid sirens go off, new and expecting mothers make their way down to a makeshift bomb shelter at Maternity Ward 5 in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv. Amid the death and destruction, young mothers find a little reprieve.

Young mothers with their babies in a shelter in Kyiv
Maternity Ward 5 in downtown Kyiv has been repurposed as a bunker where women can give birthImage: John Marshall/DW

Taking advantage of a brief respite, three new moms are happy to be out of the basement and in a big warm room in the ward as they closely hold their babies on their chests. Reminders of the Russian invasion just 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from Maternity Ward 5 in Kyiv are everywhere.

Curtains are drawn over every window and lights are off to ensure that any activity that takes place within the ward remain hidden from Russian planes above. Even maternity wards are targets as was the case in the besieged city of Mariupol where at least three people were killed recently, including a child. 

"The sound of sirens and running away is harder to bear when you're not only by yourself, but responsible for a child," said Alina, who gave birth to her daughter Vasilisa on March 8. 

Alina, who is from Irpin, a Kyiv suburb, wanted to go to the hospital there to give birth but heard it had been destroyed. She and her husband decided to leave for Kyiv on March 3. Enduring a 10-hour journey avoiding tanks and gunfire, they finally made it to Ukraine's capital. 

"My daughter became a fighter," said Alina. 

For now, Alina has found refuge at Maternity Ward 5.

Person laying in the basement repurposed as a bomb shelter
A bit of respite from the death and destruction in KyivImage: John Marshall/DW

Looking after the newborn and their mothers

"The babies, they behave and cry like they do in peacetime, as if there were no war," said Dr. Olena Yarashchuk, the deputy director of the ward. "For us what is important is that we take care of the mothers." 

Taking care of the mothers now includes ensuring they are safe from Russian shelling and air raids. 

"When you read the news that a maternity hospital was bombed in Mariupol and you see all these terrible pictures, after that you can't do anything but sit and listen carefully for any sirens," said Alina. 

So when the air raid sirens whine and the shelling echoes throughout the capital they make their way down to the basement of Maternity Ward 5, now repurposed as a bunker where women can give birth or mothers can take their babies for safety.

Makeshift, but in working order

"When something like this happens, you focus on your child, the birth, yourself. Only after, do you start thinking about the rest," said Natalia who had a C-section in the bomb shelter and was upstairs for the first time since coming in. "At least you are protected in the basement," she added. Like Alina, Natalia did not want to reveal her full name.

Aside from the intense fluorescent glow, the basement is dark with low ceilings and beds hugging the walls of the hallways. It's warm, but not cozy. 

A doctor leaving a maternity ward in Kyiv
It may look makeshift, but everything is in working orderImage: John Marshall/DW

A makeshift emergency room is located down a long hallway and has everything you would need, including an incubator for babies that struggle with health issues. It doesn't matter that there is plaster all over the wall or a mattress on the floor. What matters is that it can be used effectively. 

"We can give birth here, we can do operations here, it can be used for intensive care," said Yarashchuk, who has been at the ward for over 20 years. 

She can't give us exact numbers, but points out that there are far fewer patients now than before the war. Typically women will stay three days. Now, some leave five hours after having given birth.

New life and renewed hope

With fewer patients and more space many doctors and their families stay in different rooms in the ward. Whenever there is a threat, they too head down to the basement.  

A map showing Russian troops' advance in Uraine

Yarashchuk moved her family to the ward after her neighbor's house was hit by a Russian bomb. She does her best to keep the fear at bay by reassuring everyone that Ukraine "will prevail and win the war." 

The ward still has all the medicine and supplies it needs for care, according to Yarashchuk. For her, it's one more reason to look on the bright side. 

The director of the ward, Dr. Dmytro Hovsyeyev, who has been at the clinic for 40 years, looks at it this way: "People come and bring bread and sweets. They don't even say who it's from, they just come and leave it at the security post for those who take care of the young mothers. This gives me hope. I think people who behave like this cannot be subdued."

The optimistic approach and determination to give the care that patients need clearly has an effect on the three new-mothers in their room. After everything they've been through and everything that's ahead, they're faces still glow from looking at their little ones. 

Edited by: Rob Mudge

Ukraine: Babies born in bomb shelters