Ukrainian women fled to give birth in a country without war. They want their children to know why Putin forced them to flee

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Warsaw, Poland
CNN

Khrystyna Pavluchenko caresses the tiny hand of her newborn, Adelina. She had anticipated the deep joy of becoming a mother for the first time – but not the guilt.

“(It’s) because I left,” Pavluchenko says, choking on tears, as her several-hour-old child sleeps in the crib next to her hospital bed in the Polish capital, Warsaw.

“I didn’t want to leave. I had to.”

On February 24, when the Russian invasion began, Pavluchenko, then eight months pregnant, was awakened at 6 a.m. Air raid sirens sounded in his hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine. The first Russian missiles were on their way.

Pavluchenko recounts the manic push to escape over the next 72 hours. Her husband, medically ineligible to serve in the Ukrainian army, was already in Poland.

She desperately wanted to stay with her parents, grandparents and extended family.

But they all insisted: “Go to Poland”.

So, reluctantly, she began planning her dangerous escape from Ukraine.

“Missiles fly. Where they might strike next, no one knows,” she recalled.

Pavluchenko raced to pack with that in mind. Everything she could imagine needing for her unborn child had to fit in a bag that she could wheel across the border on foot, once her bus had reached the border.

“I was afraid of giving birth prematurely,” she says, recalling entering Poland.

It was the same fear that the Polish customs officers had when they saw her. They quickly called an ambulance.

She was taken to a nearby hospital and eventually to Inflancka Specialist Hospital in Warsaw, where psychiatrist Magda Dutsch treats Ukrainian women.

“It’s unimaginable,” says Dutsch. “They often evacuate. They speak of shelling and bombing, of hours, sometimes days, that they spend in a bunker. They talk about escape and the difficulty of reaching the border and getting out of the war zone. For someone who has not seen the war, I don’t think it is possible to imagine such pain and stress.

At least 197 Ukrainian children have been born in Polish hospitals since the start of the war, according to the Polish Ministry of Health. When she fled, Pavluchenko had no idea that so many other Ukrainian women were in a similar situation.

For her, she felt totally alone.

In another section of the hospital is Tatiana Mikhailuk, 58, who is also one of Dutsch’s patients.

From his hospital bed, Mikhailuk recounts the harrowing story of his escape from a town outside the Ukrainian capital, kyiv. As a missile flew overhead, Mikhailuk fled her home with her granddaughter in her arms.

Explosions had already blown out all the windows of his building. As she and her husband were driving with their grandchildren out of Bucha, an hour north of kyiv, something exploded on the left side of the road.

“We were crying and praying all the time,” says Mikhailuk.

They got out just in time.

Two days later, Russian missiles would destroy the bridges in their suburbs.

Mikhailuk had survived the home attack. But once she crossed the Polish border, she started hemorrhaging blood.

Doctors at Inflancka Specialty Hospital diagnosed her with cervical cancer and performed emergency surgery.

“It’s like a second war for me,” says Mikhailuk. “They (the hospital) did everything they could to save me. I am very grateful to them, to all of Poland. I will never forget their kindness and what they do for Ukrainians.

Tatiana Mikhailuk survived an attack in her hometown of Buchad before being diagnosed with cervical cancer in Poland.

She adds, “I am grateful to Dr Khrystyna,” another Ukrainian refugee, who is sitting in the corner of the room as we talk to her.

Khrystyna doesn’t know how to describe the title we should use to refer to her.

At home in Lviv, Ukraine, she is a licensed gynecologist. But in Poland, his official title is “secretary”.

“I’m helping,” Khrystyna, who asked CNN not to reveal her last name. Explain.

On February 24, Khrystyna’s husband sent her a text message saying, “Do your business and leave. The war has begun.

Like so many other Ukrainian women in the hospital, she ran, taking her young son with her.

When they arrive in Warsaw, a Polish woman welcomes them and becomes their host in a foreign city. His host took his son to a new kindergarten where he began adjusting to life in Poland.

Khrystyna says she collapsed, consumed by grief and panic.

She realized that sitting in an unfamiliar house would be bad for her mental health, so she considered volunteering at the train station, where she could cook for incoming refugees.

“When I pulled myself together, I remembered that I was a doctor. So, I came here (to the hospital) to take this opportunity to help the women who fled,” she said.

“Women are lost. Women are stressed. They are crying,” Khrystyna says, explaining how many Ukrainian women are arriving.

“When I approach them and start talking in Ukrainian, it calms them down. I tell them there is help here. And they calm down a bit. They can turn to me if they don’t understand anything.

Inflancka Hospital, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, opened its doors to all Ukrainian women. Eighty patients have been treated there since the start of the war and 11 Ukrainian babies have been born there.

The hospital claims that the refugees do not pay for any medical services. After departure, postpartum care is also free, paid for by clinics in Poland. The hospital tells CNN that all patients stay in contact after they leave the hospital and if the women are struggling to find accommodation, the Warsaw Family Support Center, a local social organization, provides housing.

Khrystyna is grateful for Warsaw’s generosity, but filled with rage at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attacks on her country’s women and children.

“He consciously and deliberately bombs children who are not guilty of anything. Children are innocent. But he does it anyway and does it consciously.

What helps Khrystyna, and all the doctors at Inflancka Hospital, is the arrival of the littlest war survivors like Adelina.

These new lives offer a glimmer of hope for the future, they say.

From left to right: Khrystyna, a Ukrainian refugee from Lviv;  Magda Dutsch, Iwona Czerwinska and Emilia Gasiorowska at Inflancka Specialty Hospital.

But it’s more complicated for Pavluchenko, who struggles with all the emotions of new motherhood and the realities of refugee life.

It’s hard to be happy, she says, giving birth to a child in a foreign place.

She hopes to one day show her daughter the beautiful and peaceful Ukraine she remembers.

But she doesn’t know where Adelina will grow up, if she will know her extended family, or even what main language she will speak.

One thing is for sure: Adelina will know the full journey of how – and where – she came into the world.

“We’ll tell him everything as it was. She should know the truth.

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