baby being held

A newborn arrives amid chaos in Kyiv

Maia Mikhaluk’s daughter Sasha was 38 weeks pregnant when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began. Then last week, just as Kyiv entered lockdown and battles raged in the city’s suburbs, Sasha was rushed to the hospital with contractions. The baby, Briana, was born the next day without incident. The new grandmother said that the baby’s arrival has brightened what have otherwise been grim days. 

The World

Kyiv resident Maia Mikhaluk hoped that her first grandchild would be born “under the peaceful, free sky of an independent Ukraine.”

Instead, her daughter, Sasha, gave birth last week amid aerial bombardments as air raid sirens wailed and Russian soldiers advanced on the capital’s northwest suburbs. (Sasha preferred that her full name not be used.)

Related: Ukraine’s women fighters reflect a cultural tradition of feminist independence

“The ambulance came quickly in spite of the air raid sirens being on at the time,” Mikhaluk said, describing her daughter’s journey to the maternity ward of a Kyiv hospital. “And just a few minutes before it arrived, there was a loud explosion that shook our windows.”

baby in the crib
Maia Mikhaluk’s daughter Sasha and her son-in-law Nikita awaited the birth of their first child as Russian soldiers advanced on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv. Courtesy of Maia Mikhaluk

The whole family was fearful about the baby coming under such traumatic circumstances, but the next day, the baby girl, Briana, was born without incident. Mikhaluk calls her a “beautiful miracle.”

More than 400 babies were born in Kyiv during the first weeks of the war, according to information from the mayor’s office. And nearly 4,000 Ukrainian couples wed during the conflict’s initial 10 days, the country’s Ministry of Justice says.

Related: In southern Romania, villagers are uneasy about a NATO missile defense system in its backyard

Despite the harrowing trip in the ambulance, Mikhaluk said, Briana’s birth has brightened what has otherwise been a grim few weeks for the family.

“Even though it started full of concerns, Brianna’s birth erased everything negative, even if temporarily,” the new grandmother said.

grandmother and baby
Maia Mikhaluk says the birth of her granddaughter Briana “started full of concerns” during an air raid in Kyiv, Ukraine, but turned out to be a beautiful miracle.  Courtesy of Maia Mikhaluk

The family considered sheltering in their apartment building’s basement as fighting near the capital intensified. But Sasha was already 38 weeks pregnant when the conflict began, and they live on the building’s seventh floor. Going up and down the stairs was too risky. So, instead, they created a makeshift shelter in the corridor between Mikhaluk’s and Sasha and her husband’s apartments.

Related: Moldova struggles amid fallout from war in Ukraine

“The last months, we knew that there was a growing threat. We were urging my daughter and her husband to leave Kyiv,” Mikhaluk said. “But she has a hospital here, and her doctor. So, they decided to stay. And of course, we all thought we wouldn’t leave without them. And besides, my husband is a pastor, so we felt that it’s important for us to stay here with our people.”

mother and baby on hospital bed
Baby Briana with her mother Sasha and her father Nikita was born during the bombardment of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.Courtesy of Maia Mikhaluk

Mikhaluk said that for her, the looming Russian threat has “lost any human face.”

“I keep wondering if these people have hearts?” she said. “What is happening in the head of a Russian pilot who drops bombs on civilian buildings knowing that there are children, there are women, there are people who are elderly who can’t get out of there?”

Related: Echoing WWII rescue efforts, ethnic Russian researchers in the US support Ukrainian scholars

baby being held
Maia Mikhaluk’s granddaughter Briana was one of more than 400 babies born in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, during the first weeks of the war.Courtesy of Maia Mikhaluk

Each day, more children are born even as the war rages. Mikhaluk said that her heart breaks for the many Ukrainian babies who take their first breaths in a bomb shelter.

“But we know our kids will grow strong,” she said. “They will know the true value of freedom, and they will love Ukraine even more than we do.”  

Invest in global news with heart!

The World is a nonprofit newsroom powered by listener support. When you make a recurring gift, you’re making an investment that allows The World to cover the most important international stories with nuance and care. Our listeners are at the heart of what makes The World such an invaluable source for global news. Will you create a recurring donation today to power The World all year long?