As the Russia-Ukraine war continues to drag on, Ukrainian gestational surrogate agencies are doing all they can to keep mothers and babies safe.
The Eastern European country is often referred to as the second most popular destination for international surrogacy after the U.S. — though it’s hard to confirm the accuracy of these statements since there’s no official public record detailing how many babies are born in Ukraine via surrogate.
Roger Shedlin, CEO of WINFertility in Greenwich, Conn., told FOX Business that Ukraine’s "significant surrogacy program" currently has "500 or more Ukrainian surrogates" carrying children for aspiring parents who live in different parts of the world.
Why is Ukraine a top destination for surrogacy?
Commercial surrogacy has been legal in Ukraine since 1997, according to Lexology, a domestic and International legal news website.
Ukraine is one of the few countries that allows this unique family planning method in which surrogate mothers can be compensated for carrying and delivering a child.
By law, Ukrainian surrogate mothers can’t have a "genetic affinity" to the child they’re carrying, so egg donors are always used.
Israel, Russia, Belarus and select U.S. states also allow gainful surrogacy, while most other places in the world only allow altruistic (unpaid) surrogacy; or, they lack surrogacy regulations or even outright ban the process, Lexology reports.
Sergey Glushchenko, deputy director of Nova Espero-New Hope Surrogacy in Ukraine, told FOX Business that he believes surrogacy became a successful commercial industry in the country because of "good legislation" that’s "favorable for international surrogacy."
In an email, Glushchenko described surrogacy in Ukraine as an "absolutely legal process without courts and bureaucratic complications."
By law, Ukrainian surrogate mothers can’t have a "genetic affinity" to the child they’re carrying, so egg donors are always used, according to Glushchenko.
The lack of DNA connection between surrogate mothers and the babies they carry frees them from having to assume responsibility post-birth. It also allows aspiring parents to take custody once the child is born, which is often noted in surrogacy contracts.
Other factors Glushchenko thinks likely play a role in Ukraine’s surrogacy growth include its geographic location, its democratic political system and its sizable population of around 44 million.
Ukraine vs. US: How much does surrogacy cost?
Cost plays a large role as well when international parents decide they want to bring a child into the world via surrogate.
The typical price range associated with the cost of surrogacy in Ukraine is between $43,000 and $53,000, according to Glushchenko. Prices, however, can go up or down, depending on the surrogate agency used, the family planning package that’s selected and the surrogate mother’s personal fees.
At Nova Espero-New Hope, the cost of surrogacy without egg donation starts at $35,000; it includes medical and legal expenses.
Surrogacy with egg donation brings up the cost to $40,000.
Surrogacy costs in the U.S., on the other hand, tend to exceed $150,000, according to Shedlin of WINFertility.
That six-figure price tag is 33% to 50% more than what aspiring parents get quoted in Ukraine, he said.
What are household salaries like?
The cost of living and other economic factors in the two countries likely contribute to the surrogacy cost disparity between the U.S. and Ukraine.
The median income for American households was $67,521 in 2020, which is the most up-to-date salary forecast published, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Meanwhile, Ukraine’s annual household income per capita reached $2,145 in December 2020, according to CEIC Data, a global economic analytics company.
How has the war affected surrogate care?
The ongoing war in Ukraine by Russian forces hasn’t made the already challenging process of international surrogacy any easier, of course.
Gestational surrogate agencies in Ukraine have had to find childcare providers for babies born via surrogate during the war, which started after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an attack on Ukraine on Feb. 24.
In Kyiv, at least 21 babies born from surrogate mothers are being cared for in an underground bomb shelter, the BBC reports.
Russia-Ukraine war makes family unions difficult
"The main problem is that … intended parents can’t come in Ukraine to pick their children up," Glushchenko shared with FOX Business via email.
He added that new regulations need to be put in place to help international parents pick up their children in neighboring countries, in cases where surrogate mothers have fled Ukraine due to emergency circumstances.
So far, Nova Espero-New Hope has evacuated surrogate mothers to Lviv, a city that’s roughly 291 miles west of the nation’s capital, Kyiv.
"The main problem is that … intended parents can’t come in Ukraine to pick their children up."
Glushchenko noted that some surrogate mothers have left for Poland and Czech Republic, while others remain "home in safe cities."
Heartbreaking news from Mariupol
International parents who have yet to connect with their children in person are doing what they can amid the war and its nerve-racking global headlines.
Those headlines include the bombing of a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, during a Russian airstrike that took place on Wednesday, March 9.
War takes its toll on surrogate mothers, int'l parents
Surrogate mothers and international parents are experiencing significant stress from the war, according to Dmytro Pugach, the founder of the Ukrainian Surrogates and Egg Donors Agency.
In an email, Pugach told FOX Business his agency is "in the middle of evacuation plans."
"Most of our carriers are safe, some abroad," he wrote. "Many prospective intended parents shift to different destination countries for surrogacy like Argentina, Georgia, etc. We offer our service there, too."
Pugach continued, "In essence, most of the intended parents will achieve desired results. Our organization prefers to finish all processes outside of Ukraine in different ways, individual for each case."
He added, "If we have to do some childbirths in Ukraine, we'll do it in the western part of Ukraine, but that's in absolute necessity only."