May 14, 2020 / 7:09 PM / 23 days ago

Ukrainian surrogate babies bound for U.S., Europe stranded by virus lockdown

KIEV (Reuters) - Lying in rows of cots in a small hotel on the outskirts of Kiev, 51 babies born to surrogate mothers are stranded in Ukraine as the coronavirus lockdown is preventing parents from the United States, Europe and elsewhere from collecting them.

Ukraine imposed a ban on foreigners entering in March, and most parents have only seen their newborns through pictures and video calls with the clinic.

Rafa Aires from Spain managed to get in before the lockdown. He was united with his daughter Marta but cannot leave as Kiev has suspended almost all flights and he needs to finish the paperwork.

It means a stressful wait for his wife Maria, who was unable to travel with him due to work.

“Every day I make video calls with my wife for one hour or an hour and a half for her to see the baby,” he said. “It is very difficult.”

“Nurses and medical personnel in this hotel are wonderful. They make my life easier,” he said.

The government says it can only permit parents to enter Ukraine if it receives a request from the relevant embassy.

A view shows nurses and newborns in the Hotel Venice owned by BioTexCom clinic in Kiev, Ukraine May 14, 2020. At least fifty babies born to surrogate mothers are stranded in a Ukrainian clinic as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown prevents their foreign parents from collecting them. Picture taken May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

The Hotel Venice belongs to the clinic BioTexCom, which released video footage of the babies to raise public awareness and spur the government into acting more quickly.

Reaction from the authorities was swift.

Lyudmyla Denisova, the human rights ombudsman for the Ukrainian parliament, said the video showed the country had a “massive and systemic” surrogacy industry where babies were advertised as a “high quality product”.

She suggested looking into changing the law to allow only Ukrainian parents to use such services.

“We were prepared for this negative reaction,” the clinic’s founder Albert Tochilovsky said. “Given that parents need to be quarantined for 14 days, I want to speed up the process.”

Denisova ordered checks on the clinic but said she found that BioTexCom was following all procedures correctly. Surrogacy is legal in Ukraine.

The Hotel Venice is surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire. The building is usually where parents stay while picking up their babies. At BioTexCom, a surrogate mother receives about $15,000-$17,000.

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Parents arrive from all over the world including the United States, China, Britain, Sweden and Ireland. The parents of sixteen of the babies have been able to travel to Ukraine so far.

“The children are all provided with food, a sufficient number of employees look after them, but there is no substitute for parental care,” said Denis Herman, BioTexCom’s lawyer.

“We try to send photos of children to the parents, we try to make conference calls, but this cannot replace communication in direct contact,” he said.

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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