Illustrative photo – A woman with a newborn in the basement of a maternity hospital in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, March 2, 2022.
Kyiv – Anastasija Morhunová knew that the birth of a child would change her life. She prepared carefully, read about newborns and dreamed of what kind of parents she and her husband would be. But there was no way to prepare for the war that Russia launched against her country on February 24, 2022 – the day she gave birth to her son Roman, the AP wrote today.
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“In a single moment, everything was in ruins,” said Morhun. Instead of the mother and her newborn child enjoying their first moments together in peace, they had to spend their first moments together in the bomb shelter of the maternity ward. Sirens sounded across Ukraine and rockets hit it. Morhun was in pain after the caesarean section and it was, she says, “one long, long dark day”. “I was learning to be a mother. But it was actually much easier than accepting the reality of war,” the twenty-nine-year-old woman described.
February 24 is etched into the collective consciousness of all Ukrainians forever. For women and men who became parents while the bombs began to fall, the day holds particularly complex emotions. Bringing a life into the world just as the Russian attack began to take other people's lives was both joy and terror – a sweet and sour mix for new parents. When they blow out the first birthday candle today – and every birthday in the years to come – other Ukrainians will light candles for the dead.
“It was a very difficult but very happy year for me,” said Morhunová, who considers herself happy. Roman is healthy and doesn't seem to have any trauma yet. However, his mother still hasn't gotten over the dark memories of his early days, especially the airstrike, when just two days after his birth, a missile hit the apartment near their Kyiv maternity hospital. “That was the first time I felt real fear. One simply grabs the child and runs to the basement,” she recalls.
Thirty-year-old Alina Mustafayeva became a mother for the first time at the time when the first explosions were heard in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. She then gave birth to a daughter, Jeva. “We saw a dim glow over the city,” she described. As the nurses checked on her daughter, she forced herself to think positively, refusing to let the war ruin the magical moment. “I gave birth to Jeva and I wanted to be happy about it,” she explained.
She feels so torn about today – which is both her daughter's birthday and Ukraine's tragic anniversary – that she has decided to postpone the birthday celebrations for a day. Her one-year-old daughter will have a party with cake, balloons and fluffy dresses on Saturday. Her mother wants her to celebrate a “normal” birthday, like children born on other days. “It's a tragedy for the whole country, for every Ukrainian. My family was lucky, we didn't lose anyone or anything. But many did and we have to share this loss together,” she said.
Curious and playful, Jeva now toddles around the apartment, which brings joy to her mother, but also new worries when an explosion is heard. She instinctively pulls her daughter away from the windows, hoping she's too young to have bad memories. “I think she won't remember everything she went through with me. All the escapes, long journeys, hiding in a shelter or even explosions,” Mustafayeva said. “But when she grows up, I will tell her everything in detail. I will be the type of parent who will explain to children what the Russian Federation is,” she added.
Although parents hope that their children born on the day of the invasion will not be the first year of their marked by life, they can't help it and associate the first milestones of their toddlers with bloodshed and fear.
Anastasija Havryshenko gave birth to her second child – a boy – shortly after noon on February 24 at a maternity hospital in Sumy, another city in northeastern Ukraine that has been hit repeatedly. She is haunted by how Artem's birth was different from the birth of her first child. As she waited out the attack in the basement with doctors and other mothers, she felt helpless and burst into tears. I didn't give birth to him to hide in a bomb shelter, she thought. “It wasn't normal and it was very difficult mentally,” she noted.
He remembers Artem's first walk outside. The streets were empty, most of the shops closed, but she wanted him to get some fresh air. After ten minutes outside, the sirens sounded. She heard the plane and saw people running to the basements. She quickly went back to the apartment with Artem. While she was inside, there was an explosion that blew out the windows and doors. The power went out and the water stopped flowing. Havryshenko hugged Artem and cried helplessly with him on the sofa. “I wanted to understand why this was happening to us. What did we do wrong?” she stated.
For a year, she adapted as best she could. She stayed with her husband in Sumy, refusing to join the millions of refugees who had to seek safety elsewhere. Like millions of other Ukrainians, she learned survival skills to cope with blackouts caused by Russian bombing. He cooks whenever the electricity goes and maintains a supply of bottled water. “We only have one life, so we have to move on, hope for the best and give our kids what we can,” she said.
Humour also helps. The family jokes that Artem – born three weeks before his due date – chose February 24 to come into the world. “We call him 'general' because he has the nature of a commander. He is our general and our young defender. He himself knew when he was going to be born,” Havryšenkova said of her son.