Impoverishment Turned Ukraine into a Global Center for Surrogate Motherhood

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Due to poverty and unemployment Ukrainian women have become living “incubators” for foreigners, and our country turns into one of the world centers of surrogate motherhood.

Western publications write about this even more often. For example, the BBC devoted a large report on this topic.

“Strana” found out how and why our female compatriots become surrogate mothers and how much can be earned from it.

“Demand grew by 1000%”

As the employee of the Sydney charitable organisation “Families Through Surrogacy” Sam Everingham told the BBC, in Ukraine over the last two years demand for this service “grew, perhaps, by 1000%”.

There are several reasons for the popularity of Ukrainians in the “surrogate market“, say experts.

“Firstly, in the last two-three years the cost of living has strongly risen, while the amount of money and work hasn’t increased. And by bearing someone else’s child, a woman is able to afford some time to live decently or pay off some debts, and to buy some modest real estate. And secondly, one of the popular centers of surrogate motherhood in Asia was closed for foreigners. In 2014 in Thailand they banned bearing somebody else’s children after the scandal with Baby Gammy – where an Australian couple refused a baby born by a surrogate mother because the child had Down Syndrome,” said Antonina Yatsenko, the manager of the agency, which looks for clients of surrogate mothers for their biological children.

In addition, not so long ago India imposed a ban on surrogate motherhood for foreigners after this business turned into the total exploitation of women from poor families.

Now thousands of “surrogate tourists” from Europe, the US, and the rich inhabitants of Asia come to Ukraine.

Over all the country dozens of clinics are being opened in large quantities by intermediary agencies, and inside them a course of artificial insemination is conducted (the price is from $3000).

Ukrainian women are impregnated with the cells of foreign couples, they bear the child in Ukraine or the “clients” bring them to their place abroad and pay for everything.

There was a request for a surrogate mother with a mathematics diploma

“There are no statistics for surrogate motherhood. According to approximate calculations, there are hundreds of children in Ukraine who are born like this, and after all – many women who are pregnant with someone else’s child leave for abroad. Besides this, foreigners come to Ukraine for donor ova, implantation is much cheaper in Ukraine,” said Antonina Yatsenko.

According to the employee of the intermediary agency, it costs $1000 for clients to select a surrogate mother from this database, and the services of a lawyer cost the same price. Surrogate mothers, except the fee and expenses for accommodation and food, are also compensated for medical services and treatment should there be complications.

“Some clients have their quirks,” said Yatsenko speaks. “A couple from Ireland once asked for a woman with a higher mathematical education, fair-haired, with blue eyes. Allegedly, they want their child to be intelligent. Although the child isn’t genetically connected to the surrogate mother, but it is considered that she nevertheless gives him a part of her, after all – she carries him for nine months”.

The doctor-reproductologist at one of the clinics in Western Ukraine Anna Nakonechnaya says that surrogate motherhood is a big stress for the female body.

“Most women work according to maternal instinct, they perceive the child as their own, and giving them up afterwards is very hard. Afterwards many of them need the help of a psychologist,” said the doctor to us.

According to Nakonechnaya, those who are usually chosen as surrogate mothers are women aged between 18 to 35 years who have their own children, don’t have addictions, and are healthy and strong.

“It’s not easy finding such women. Those who have no money usually lead an unhealthy life, they smoke and drink. All of this negatively influences the fetus. Such candidates will be already rejected at the selection stage. And those who are well-off financially seldom agree to become a surrogate mother, usually opt for this because of poverty or difficult life situations,” said the doctor.

A woman gave birth for a German couple because of debts and the need for treatment for her own son

The 24-year-old Galina L. – the inhabitant of the Yavorovsky district of the Lvov region – found herself in such a situation. She carried a child and gave birth to a boy for a German couple who long couldn’t have children.

“The entire procedure was done in a clinic in Lvov. Firstly, a good apartment was rented for me, I was given $500 to live on every month, and the examination at the doctor was paid for me. Ulrich and Erica are both 40 years old, they have a business manufacturing windows, the wife had health problems, she was treated for a long time, but nothing worked,” said Galina to “Strana”.

When Galina gave birth, she wrote a refusal of the child and granted permission for his departure to the father (under German law, the genetic father is recognised as lawful, and the mother – as the woman who gave birth). And in Germany he was adopted by Erica, who, according to his documents, is his adoptive mother.

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The German couple paid the woman €20,000 for their son.

“We still keep in touch, they send me gifts for holidays. Of course, my heart was broken when I gave away the child. I treated him as my son, I cried for a long time, I couldn’t sleep. A year passed, and I still have nightmares about the child being taken away from me,” complains the surrogate mother.

The woman hid from her relatives how she earned money. “I told a fellow villager that I went to Poland to earn money, while I live in Lvov,” said Galina speaks. “Only my mother knew about it, she was against it, but I had no other choice. I live with her and my four-year-old son, I separated from his father long ago. There is no work, we got into terrible debt, the gas was disconnected for payments failures. And also my son became seriously ill, there was a need for money for treatment, and nobody lent anything. My acquaintance said that her sister gave birth to twins for an Italian couple – she bought an apartment. She gave me the contact details of the clinic, I passed all the tests, and in two months my German couple arrived. Now I am thinking about earning money again in this way, it is better than earning kopeks in Poland”.

“After the child’s birth – $35,000, if it’s twins – $50,000”

There are hundreds of such stories. It is possible to find on the Internet many announcements of women who offer their services as “mothers for hire”.

They quote their price immediately, and for “double happiness” it is higher.

“Vita, 22 years old, has a 4-year-old son, a healthy child. I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, remuneration for every month of pregnancy – $400. After birth – $35,000. If twins – $50,000. I live in Western Ukraine”.

“My name is Oksana, I am 28 years old, I am ready to become a surrogate mother. I have two healthy daughters, 3 and 7 years old. I am nice, without addictions, my blood type is 2+, brown eyes, fair hair. I gave birth to my child myself, without complications”.

“Galya. I am 26. My blood type is 1+, I have one healthy child aged 2.7 years old. I am in completely good health, without abortions or caesarians. I have no addictions. I approach the program responsibly, I will implement all recommendations of the doctor. A contract is obligatory. A fee of $25,000 and $600 every month”.

However, in reality, as experts note, more often than not the payments that surrogate mothers receive are much lower. Most often they fluctuate between $5,000 to $20,000. They rarely reach $30,000.

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They demand twice as much money for a child because of inflation

On the Internet it’s possible to find stories about troubles that both biological parents and surrogate mothers face. For example, when women blackmail clients, and threaten to have an abortion or don’t hand over the child, demanding more money.

There are also speculators, who, with the help of a black market go-between, feign pregnancy and, during some period of time – three-four months – they extort money for examinations and accommodation from several couples at once, and then disappear. The opposite thing happens too, although rarely – when a couple refuses the child if they, for example, are born with an illness.

“There was a case when a woman from Ternopol demanded from English clients twice more money, because supposedly the hryvnia strongly fell, and everything rose in price,” remembers Yatsenko from the agency of surrogate motherhood. “Although initially there was an agreement about payment in dollars, and she wanted to increase the price in currency. And it also can happen that problems arise with biological parents. A couple from Great Britain refused to pay for the services of a woman when she had a miscarriage”.

The contract, according to experts, in such situations doesn’t protect any of the parties.

“After all, this is a simple contract on rendering services, because there isn’t even a definition of surrogate motherhood in the legal sphere. Therefore it’s impossible to prove something in court, should things reach such a stage. In my practice I haven’t met any cases of frank deception. After all, surrogate pregnancy isn’t a cheap procedure, even in Ukraine. It is ordered by people who very much expect to have a child. They will check the surrogate mother, clinic, and intermediaries a hundred times. Although dishonest agencies and clinics can palm problematic women off on clients – an unstable mentality, diseases, or a drinking habit,” stated Yatsenko.

The Kiev lawyer Igor Kidalov says that cases where clinics forge the data of medical certificates about the health of surrogate mothers are frequent.

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“Or they conceal the data that was revealed during an examination about the health of a surrogate mother, after all, it is almost impossible to bring clinics to responsibility for such actions,” says Kidalov. “Often there are situations where surrogate mothers start blackmailing the genetic parents of a child. At the pregnancy stage they demand to pay them large sums than the ones written down in the signed contract, motivating it with inflation, devaluation, and other economic reasons. And in such situations married couples are simply powerless. Or married couples who decided to use the services of a surrogate mother become the victims of roguish groups that imitate the activity of searching for candidates, medical procedures, and also forge documents on an allegedly successful procedure of implantation”.

Belgian gays tried to prove their paternity through the court

Forces majeures for those foreigners who don’t process documents as is required also happen in Ukraine.

There are cases when attempts are made to secretly export the children in order to avoid the hassle of official paperwork. The children are taken away on the border, and their foreign parents can be accused of kidnapping the child or of human trafficking.

The loudest case happened in 2010 with a child who a Ukrainian woman gave birth to in a Kharkov clinic for couple of homosexuals from Belgium. At their request and for payment, an attempt was made to smuggle the boy by the name of Samuel with the help of Belgian and Polish acquaintances through the “Krakovets” checkpoint in the Lvov region.

There was a big scandal, the child was taken away, but as a result the court allowed the Belgians to have Samuel. The basis for giving permission was that one of the men was the biological father of the child.

Chairwoman of the parliamentary healthcare committee and people’s deputy from the “Bloc of Petro Poroshenko” Olga Bogomolets told the BBC that surrogate motherhood “is actually outside the control of the State”, and confirmed that the growing popularity of this business is caused by growing impoverishment of the inhabitants of Ukraine.

“The fact that Ukrainian women increasingly opt for surrogacy is an alarming signal for the country… Today, due to the rapid fall in the standard of living, Ukrainian women are looking for any opportunities to earn money. They already don’t count on the government improving the economic situation in the country,” she frankly told reporters of the BBC.

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