The COVID-19 pandemic has left parents across the globe whose children have been born through surrogacy in Ukraine unable to bring their babies home.
Ukraine closed its borders to foreign nationals in March in an effort to limit the spread of the virus, which has so far killed over 300,000 people worldwide. More than 100 babies are already stranded, and numbers could climb to 1000 before borders reopen.
To illustrate the problem, Albert Tochilovsky, director of BioTexCom, Ukraine's largest surrogacy provider, released a video of around 50 babies his team are caring for. 'Hundreds of parents are calling me' he told the New York Times. 'We will do all we can to unite the children with their parents'.
The babies are being cared for by a team of nurses working day-and-night under strict quarantine rules in a hotel normally used as accommodation for parents coming to collect their babies.
'All they are doing is looking after the baby's basic health' said José Pérez from Argentina, father to one of the stranded newborns. 'But nobody will be able to give him the love of a parent during these crucial first weeks'.
Commercial surrogacy is legal in Ukraine and has boomed in recent years. Ukraine's laws appeal to intended parents since they are recognised as the legal parents throughout, and the surrogate has no legal right to claim custody of the child.
The cost of commercial surrogacy in Ukraine is also much lower than in other legal jurisdictions such as California. The BioTexCom website proclaims 'The cheapest surrogacy in Europe is in Ukraine, the poorest country in Europe'.
The babies cannot leave Ukraine because while Ukrainian law affirms that the babies automatically share the citizenship of their intended parents, that status must be confirmed by the parents' national embassy in Ukraine, and at least one parent must be present for that to happen.
Some parents who travelled to Ukraine to collect their children before the borders closed are also stranded. One is Rafa Ares from Spain who could not get the necessary paperwork completed before flights were suspended. His wife remains in Spain and has yet to meet their daughter.
The number of babies stranded has led some Ukrainian healthcare officials to question the scale the industry has reached, causing some members of parliament with long-standing concerns to renew calls to ban surrogacy services for foreigners.
Olha Pysana, an official at Ukrainian surrogacy agency World Centre of Baby, argued that surrogacy is safe and provides an irreplaceable service to infertile couples. 'We believe people are searching for a scandal out of nowhere,' she said.