A Ukrainian woman is thanking the doctors and nurses at Mount Sinai West in New York City for helping her give birth to her first child after fleeing the war in Ukraine while 38 weeks pregnant.
Olesia, a 38-year-old single mom from Kyiv, was enjoying her celebratory baby shower hours before the first Russian bombs fell on Ukraine.
"My last photo from my apartment is me with a lot of gifts and balloons from this party," Olesia, whose last name is being omitted for her safety, told TODAY Parents. "I had a lot of plans in Kyiv for this year."
Those plans quickly evaporated when Olesia woke up at 5 a.m. on the day after her baby shower and heard the sounds of Russian bombs. Within five minutes, she gathered a few onesies from her future daughter's pink nursery, along with her documentation and some cash, and drove to the nearest gas station, determined to leave the city.
After encountering long lines to get gas, she decided to stay in Kyiv, fearing that she wouldn't have enough gasoline to flee and that her car would be targeted by Russian soldiers if she tried to evacuate.
Often cradling her visibly pregnant belly, Olesia spent three nights in a bomb shelter, hoping the assault would ease and she could remain in Kyiv. But on the fourth day, her maternity hospital was bombed.
Olesia knew she had to leave her hometown in order to give birth to her daughter safely.
"I understood that I didn't have a place for delivery," Olesia said. "So I decided to go to western Ukraine, and then into Poland."
It took Olesia four days to make it to the Ukraine-Poland border, where she waited for more than 30 hours before safely crossing.
"It was a lot of stress, but I understood in that moment that I needed to do it," Olesia said. "It would be safer for my daughter."
Before the war began, when Olesia was 32 weeks pregnant, she had asked her OB-GYN whether it was possible for her to fly to another country because she feared the inevitable Russian invasion. Her OB-GYN told her no, saying that it was far too dangerous for her to fly so late in her pregnancy.
But once the war began, everything changed.
In need of shelter and a safe place to give birth, Olesia spoke to her friend of more than a decade, Ana, who is also from Ukraine and now lives in Manhattan.
"Once we got to Warsaw, I had a ticket for a plane," she explained. "It was very dangerous. The pilot was very afraid I would deliver on the plane. But, I made it."
Dr. Whitney Lieb, an assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive health at Mount Sinai, was one of the doctors waiting for Olesia.
"We got an email saying there was a woman coming to the States who needed maternity care," Lieb told TODAY. "There was a bunch of us on the email, and we all just banded together to get her the earliest appointment."
Lieb, who wound up becoming Olesia's primary OB-GYN, looked over her records, then worked tirelessly along with her team to get Olesia emergency public insurance so she could be treated.
"With fragmented medical care, we wanted to make sure she was getting good care, ultrasounds and lab work, and that there weren't other medical conditions that could make a pregnancy high-risk," Lieb explained. "All of those things were going through our heads, to ensure that she was safe. There's so many terrifying things you think of at that time."
Olesia had detailed medical records and she had received adequate care before the war started, which reassured the entire medical team. The doctors then examined Olesia, who — despite the trauma of the war and the long journey — was not experiencing any pain or pregnancy complications.
"She was really stable, and she ended up breaking her water on March 25," Lieb said. "She had a normal vaginal delivery, with no complications, and was at the hospital for two days before going home."
On March 25, Olesia's daughter, Kira, was born.
"We came in the morning at 4 a.m. At 11 a.m., it happened," Olesia recalled. "The doctors danced in our room. It was very fast, very easy and very fun."
Olesia's labor and delivery was an emotional moment for the entire Mount Sinai team, who have felt helpless as they've watched the war impact — and, in many instances, harm — pregnant Ukrainians.
"When we see these things on the news and hear about them, they're so far away and we feel like there's nothing we can do," Lieb said. "So being able to provide care for her really felt like we were making some kind of difference, you know? It felt really lovely to help someone in need."
It was also a full circle moment for Lieb, whose grandparents were born in Ukraine and eventually immigrated to the United States.
"I didn't know my grandparents — they died when I was very little," she explained. "But just that connection of my grandparents being from that area hit very hard for me. It was rewarding taking care of her and I feel privileged to be part of the team who took care of her."
"It was just wonderful," Lieb added. "She is a really strong person, and it was just wonderful that she had a happy, healthy delivery and that she and her baby were safe and healthy. It was really just very touching."
Olesia is still in New York City with her daughter, Kira, who loves to eat and sleep and has just started to smile.
"I can't believe that my daughter is with me," she added. "At the same time, I can't believe I lived without her. I feel like she was always with me."
Olesia says she also knows how lucky she is. Russian forces have targeted children's hospitals, maternity wards and schools. The United Nations has been able to verify that at least 142 Ukrainian children have been killed, and tens of thousands more Ukrainian civilians are feared dead in Russian-occupied towns like Mariupol.
Ukrainian refugees have been experiencing an increase in pregnancy complications as a result of the war. A pregnant woman and her fetus were killed after Russians bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol.
"I understand that if I stayed in Kyiv, it would be horror and very terrible," Olesia said. "A lot of women now in Ukraine are not safe. Days ago in Odessa, a 3-month-old girl was killed. She had the same name as my daughter, Kira. She died because civilian houses were attacked. This is happening every day in Ukraine."
Olesia said her heart is not only with her fellow Ukrainians, but with her family members, who remain in Poland and in Ukraine.
"My sister is now in Poland, and my parents are in Donetsk (in eastern Ukraine)," she explained. "It's a very dangerous situation in Donetsk now. They spent the last two weeks in a bomb shelter, and now they want to leave and go to Poland too. I hope I can get all the necessary documents for Kira so that in May I can go back to Poland and, if it's safe, maybe even go back to Kyiv."
Olesia said the first thing she'll do when she's back in Kyiv is show Kira her room, which she says is "very cute" and filled with a lot of toys and clothes.
But until she can go back home and be reunited with her loved ones, Olesia has video calls with her family regularly so they can see her daughter.
"She's my parents' first granddaughter, and they are very happy," she added. "We also have a big dog — a golden retriever — and that dog loves my baby so much. My sister says the dog is waiting for Kira and wants to play with her."
Olesia says she will forever hold the team at Mount Sinai in her heart, and cannot thank them enough for the care they gave her.
"When we were in the hospital for two days, seemingly every hour doctors and nurses came to ask if I needed help," she said. "I got a lot of advice from them, because this is my first baby. They helped me with breastfeeding, showed me how to change diapers and a lot of people just wanted to help us."
Olesia also says that when her daughter is old enough, she will share her birth story with her and will not hide the horrible truths about the ongoing war in Ukraine.
"Maybe it's not the best story, about war and about all of these moments, but it's her way," Olesia said. "My daughter is very strong. Her name, 'Kira,' means 'strong woman.' ...
"Our story has a happy ending," she added. "I hope many of other people's stories will have a happy ending too, and people will be safe, children will be safe and the war will end as soon as possible."