Antonina was 30 weeks pregnant when she and her husband fled heavy fighting in the Donetsk region, two months after the start of the Russian war in Ukraine.
Fleeing west to Dnipro, she gave birth to a premature girl with serious health complications.
“The war has added tremendous stress to my pregnancy,” Antonina* said, speaking ahead of the ninth anniversary of the February 24 invasion of Moscow.
“I couldn’t sleep with the constant noise of the fighting and the fear that something could happen to my family. I was so stressed that I ended up with high blood pressure.
“I knew there was something seriously wrong. [with my pregnancy] but we lived in an area without doctors who could help us, so we had to leave.
The couple’s baby was born with a weakened immune system, needs an inhaler three times a day and is expected to take medication for the next three years.
“Due to all the complications of the pregnancy, we spent several weeks in the hospital,” Antonina added. “We couldn’t even go out because of my baby’s immune system and respiratory complications.”
Save The Children said high levels of stress and anxiety during pregnancy can affect a baby’s brain development or immune system and can lead to premature births or even miscarriages.
He cites a recent study in the journal Infancy which found that babies exposed to more stress during pregnancy showed more fear, sadness and distress.
Antonina’s story is not unique. Nine months after the start of the war, more than two million children were forced to flee the country, two million others are displaced inside Ukraine, more than 400 killed and more than 800 injured, according to the Ukrainian authorities. According to UN estimates, the number of children killed or injured in Ukraine since February 24 stands at 1,170.
But while many young lives have been cut short, a new generation of Ukrainians children was born in conflict.
According to Save the Children, it is estimated that more than 900 babies have been born every day in Ukraine since February 24, making a total of around 247,440 infants. As the war has severely complicated access to health care throughout the country, particularly in areas of active conflict, the health of many pregnant women and their newborns is at risk.
“On average, around 900 children are born into a life of uncertainty every day. The chaos of war poses a grave threat to these mothers and newborns,” said Sonia Khush, Country Director of Save the Children Ukraine. “We hear stories from women who gave birth early due to their constant state of stress and fear.
“At the start of the war, many pregnant women were forced to give birth in basements or bunkers. Today, we see women giving birth in overwhelmed hospitals, away from family members, and in countries hosting refugees from Ukraine. there are fewer women giving birth in bunkers compared to the beginning of the year, their pregnancies are still just as stressful.”
Antonina and her husband Andriy* are now settled in Dnipro with their baby, but their life is still uncertain. Andriy is still out of work, because “no one wants to hire him”, Antonina said.
“They only want people from Dnipro. Andriy is an electrician and a bricklayer, he can work but just can’t find a job. We don’t have an extended family. It’s just us. The only plan we we have is to raise a healthy child.”
Due to their precarious financial situation, Antonina and Andriy live in a collective center in Dnipro with some 280 other people who fled fighting in eastern and southern Ukraine.
* The first names have been changed at the request of the interviewees.