Khrystyna Pavluchenko caresses the tiny hand of her newborn, Adelina. She had anticipated the deep joy of becoming a mother for the first time, but not the guilt.
“(It’s) because I left,” Pavluchenko says, choking on tears, as her several-hour-old child sleeps in the crib next to her hospital bed in the Polish capital, Warsaw.
“I didn’t want to leave. I had to.”
On February 24, when the Russian invasion began, Pavluchenko, then eight months pregnant, was awakened at 6 a.m. Air raid sirens sounded in his hometown of Ivano-Frankivsk, a city in western Ukraine. The first Russian missiles were on their way.
Pavluchenko recounts the manic push to escape over the next 72 hours. Her husband, medically ineligible to serve in the Ukrainian army, was already in Poland.
She desperately wanted to stay with her parents, grandparents and extended family.
But they all insisted: “Go to Poland”.
So, reluctantly, she began planning her dangerous escape from Ukraine.
“Missiles fly. Where they might strike next, no one knows,” she recalled.
Pavluchenko raced to pack with that in mind. Everything she could imagine needing for her unborn child had to fit in a bag that she could wheel across the border on foot, once her bus had reached the border.
“I was afraid of giving birth prematurely,” she says, recalling entering Poland.
It was the same fear that the Polish customs officers had when they saw her. They quickly called an ambulance.
She was taken to a nearby hospital and eventually to Inflancka Specialist Hospital in Warsaw, where psychiatrist Magda Dutsch treats Ukrainian women.
“It’s unimaginable,” says Dutsch. “They often evacuate. They speak of shelling and bombing, of hours, sometimes days, that they spend in a bunker. They talk about escape and the difficulty of reaching the border and getting out of the war zone. For someone who has not seen the war, I don’t think it is possible to imagine such pain and stress.
At least 197 Ukrainian children have been born in Polish hospitals since the start of the war, according to the Polish Ministry of Health. When she fled, Pavluchenko had no idea that so many other Ukrainian women were in a similar situation.
For her, she felt completely alone.
“A Second War”: In another section of the hospital is Tatiana Mikhailuk, 58, who is also one of Dutsch’s patients.
From his hospital bed, Mikhailuk recounts the harrowing story of his escape from a town outside the Ukrainian capital, kyiv. As a missile flew overhead, Mikhailuk fled her home with her granddaughter in her arms.
Explosions had already blown out all the windows of his building. As she and her husband were driving with their grandchildren out of Buchad, an hour north of kyiv, something exploded on the left side of the road.
“We were crying and praying all the time,” says Mikhailuk.
They got out just in time.
Two days later, Russian missiles would destroy the bridges in their suburbs.
Mikhailuk had survived the home attack. But once she crossed the Polish border, she started hemorrhaging blood.
Doctors at Inflancka Specialty Hospital diagnosed her with cervical cancer and performed emergency surgery.
“It’s like a second war for me,” says Mikhailuk. “They (the hospital) did everything they could to save me. I am very grateful to them, to all of Poland. I will never forget their kindness and what they do for Ukrainians.
She adds, “I am grateful to Dr Khrystyna,” another Ukrainian refugee, who is sitting in the corner of the room as we talk to her.
Khrystyna doesn’t know how to describe the title we should use to refer to her.
At home in Lviv, Ukraine, she is a licensed gynecologist. But in Poland, his official title is “secretary”.
“I’m helping,” Khrystyna, who asked CNN not to reveal her last name. Explain.
On February 24, Khrystyna’s husband sent her a text message saying, “Do your business and leave. The war has begun.
Like so many other Ukrainian women in the hospital, she ran, taking her young son with her.
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