Chrystyna Pavluchenko caress the tiny hand of her newborn baby, Adelina. She had expected the deep joy of becoming a mother for the first time, but not the guilt.
“(That’s) because I left,” Pavluchenko says, choking in tears as her hour-old child sleeps in the crib next to her hospital bed in the Polish capital of Warsaw.
“I didn’t want to leave. I had to.”
On February 24, as the Russian invasion began, Pavluchenko, then eight months pregnant, was shaken awake at 6 a.m. Air raid sirens blared through her hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine. The first Russian missiles were on their way.
Pavluchenko talks about the manic urge to escape for the next 72 hours. Her husband, who was not medically eligible to serve in the Ukrainian army, was already in Poland.
She was desperate to be left with her parents, grandparents and extended family.
But they all insisted, “Go to Poland.”
So she reluctantly began to plan her dangerous escape from Ukraine.
“Rockets are flying. Where they might strike next, no one knows,” she recalls.
Pavluchenko rushed to pack with that in mind. Everything she could think of that she would need for her unborn child had to fit in a bag that she could drive across the border on foot once her bus reached the border.
“I was afraid of giving birth prematurely,” she says, recalling entering Poland.
That was the same fear Polish customs officers had when they saw her. They quickly called an ambulance.
She was taken to a nearby hospital and eventually to the Inflancka Specialist Hospital in Warsaw, where psychiatrist Magda Dutsch treats Ukrainian women.
“It’s unimaginable,” says Dutsch. “They are often evacuating. They talk about shelling and bombing, about hours, sometimes days, that they spend in a bunker. They talk about the escape and how difficult it was to get to the border and out of the war zone. For someone who didn’t see the war, I don’t think it’s possible to imagine so much pain and so much stress.”
According to the Polish Ministry of Health, at least 197 Ukrainian children have been born in Polish hospitals since the start of the war. When she fled, Pavluchenko had no idea that so many other Ukrainian women were in a similar situation.
She felt completely alone to her.
“A Second War”: In another part of the hospital is Tatiana Mikhailuk, 58, who is also one of the Dutch patients.
From her hospital bed, Mikhailuk tells the poignant story of her escape from a city outside the Ukrainian capital Kiev. As a rocket flew over her, Mikhailuk fled her house with her granddaughter in her arms.
Explosions had already blown out all the windows of her apartment building. As she and her husband were driving with their grandchildren from Buchad, an hour north of Kiev, 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 to their suburb.
Mikhailuk had survived the attack at home. But when she crossed the Polish border, she started bleeding.
Doctors at Inflancka Specialist Hospital diagnosed her with cervical cancer and performed emergency surgery.
“This is like a second war for me,” says Mikhailuk. “They (the hospital) did everything they could to save me. I am very grateful to them, all of Poland. I will never forget their kindness and what they do for the Ukrainians.”
She adds, “I am grateful to Dr Khrystyna,” another Ukrainian refugee, who sits in the corner of the room as we talk to her.
Chrystyna isn’t sure how to describe what title we should use to refer to her.
At home in Lviv, Ukraine, she is a licensed gynecologist. But in Poland her official title is ‘secretary’.
“I’ll help,” Khrystyna, who asked DailyExpertNews not to reveal her last name. explains.
On February 24, Chrystyna’s husband texted her saying, “Pack your things and leave. The war began.”
Like so many other Ukrainian women in the hospital, she ran and took her son with her.
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