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This is what it’s like to be a pregnant woman in Ukraine right now

As Russia's war on Ukraine intensifies, pregnant Ukrainians face food shortages, limited medical care and dangerous births.
/ Source: TODAY

As the Russian attack on Ukraine rages on, there are an estimated 240,000 pregnant women in Ukraine. A reported 80,000 of them will be delivering babies in the next three months, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

Many of those women will join the more than 2 million Ukrainians who have fled the country, marking the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Others simply cannot leave, forced to give birth in bomb shelters without any medication. Some have even been targeted by Russian missiles, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — on Wednesday, video appeared to show what was left of a maternity and children's hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine. The footage showed a pregnant woman being evacuated in a makeshift stretcher, one hand holding her stomach as the other reached for the arm of a man helping to carry her.

U.S. intelligence officials believe Russian President Vladimir Putin will only "double down" on the violence, making the future even more dire for pregnant Ukrainians who are preparing to give birth at a time of war.

"They need the war to stop," Jaime Nadal, a United Nations Population Fund representative currently in Ukraine, told TODAY Parents. "They need to go back to a situation where birth can be a joyful moment for them, as well as the rest of their families. And regrettably, that is not something that is in sight at this point. On the contrary, what we see is the situation worsening by the moment."

Mothers, babies shelter in basement of hospital in Kyiv
Newborn babies and pregnant women are seen on makeshift beds in the basement of a maternity hospital converted to a medical ward and used as a shelter amid Russian attacks in Kyiv, Ukraine on March 2, 2022. Aytac Unal / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In addition to appealing for humanitarian corridors to open and remain open so that pregnant women can be evacuated from targeted cities, Nadal is working to provide food, water, clothes and medical supplies to pregnant women trapped in Ukraine.

"Many of these hospitals are not only running their services and the surgeries underground — literally in the basement of the hospitals — they are running very short of essential medicines and supplies," he explained. "And we are trying our best to get those supplies to them but again, without humanitarian corridors in place, this task is proving extremely challenging."

Nadal, who is staying near the Hungary and Slovakia borders, says he's working with various team members around Ukraine to provide pregnant women with reproductive health emergency kits, should they be forced to give birth in a war zone.

"They contain everything that is necessary for a woman to have a clean delivery in hygienic conditions, but also for health professionals to perform a C-section or any other surgical procedure that a woman may need in the moment of delivery," he added.

An injured pregnant woman makes her way downstairs in a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. A Russian attack has severely damaged the hospital, Ukrainian officials say.
An injured pregnant woman makes her way downstairs in a maternity hospital damaged by shelling in the besieged port city of Mariupol, Ukraine on Wednesday, March 9, 2022. A Russian attack has severely damaged the hospital, Ukrainian officials say. Evgeniy Maloletka / AP

In addition to attempting to deliver the reproductive health emergency kits to pregnant women trapped in Ukraine, Nadal is caring for pregnant Ukrainian refugees who have managed to leave their homes.

"They are in shock. They are in a state — if I had to use a word — I would say deplorable," Nadal said. "Many of these women have been under stress for many days. They have had such a level of physical strain — running away from their cities and their villages, trying to reach safer conditions — that they arrive in poor physical conditions. We have reports from maternities in western Ukraine that the number of deliveries that have experienced serious complications has increased."

Related: How to help Ukraine: 11 verified charities working to help Ukrainians amid invasion

Khrystyna, whose last name is being withheld for her protection, is one of those women. At 27 weeks pregnant, she fled her home in Kyiv seeking safety, first to western Ukraine, then later to Poland and eventually to Germany. The stress of the exhausting journey has now put her in danger of premature labor. She cannot walk or go up and down stairs.

"I woke up in the middle of the night. I don't know why, I just had a worrying feeling. I saw my phone was lighting up — it was muted — so I picked it up and it was my sister, saying, 'Hurry up. Russia has started a war,'" Khrystyna told TODAY on Friday, March 3, via phone while she was in western Ukraine. "My husband and I were starting to collect some documents and money that we had at home. During that time, we heard lots of bomb shelling."

Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman
Ukrainian emergency employees and volunteers carry an injured pregnant woman from a maternity hospital that was damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday, March 9, 2022.Evgeniy Maloletka / AP

With no vehicle, Khrystyna and her husband managed to flag down a taxi, and both were able to meet with Khrystyna's sister, her husband and their 2-year-old son. They drove to western Ukraine, but the constant shelling and bombing proved too much for Khrystyna's mental and physical health. When it was necessary to seek safety in a bomb shelter, Khrystyna needed to be carried.

"I was not feeling good. We were so stressed, exhausted, and depressed we decided to move to Poland," Khrystyna said on Monday, March 6, via WhatsApp. "I just couldn't stay without sleep and the feeling of being safe for more days and weeks."

It took nearly two days for Khrystyna to make it to Poland — a journey that she said left her "exhausted" and in "extremely bad" shape. Leaving the country also meant that Khrystyna and her sister would have to leave their husbands behind.

"We worry about them a lot," she said on Thursday, March 10 from Germany, where she plans to remain for the foreseeable future and where she will likely give birth. "Honestly, I'm not in my best condition. Luckily, my cousin helped us to make a (doctor's) appointment for tomorrow."

Related: After fleeing Kyiv, here’s how a pediatrician is still helping Ukrainian children

Experiences like Khrystyna's are just one of many that Nadal has witnessed with his own eyes. One in particular sticks out to him most.

"I can tell you, for instance, that there was this woman who gave birth and her husband went to one of the territorial militias that were established in order to protect the territory, and he never came back," Nadal said. "This baby ... this woman, will ... you know. He's gone. I really cannot imagine all of the tragedy that is happening."

To assist the United Nations Population Fund in its efforts to help pregnant women, mothers and children in and fleeing from Ukraine, visit this site.