It is 6 pm, the sinister sound of the siren rises over Mykolaiv. Very calm, hands resting on their big bellies, they slowly descend the two floors that lead to the basement of the N.3 maternity ward in this Ukrainian city under Russian fire.
Without a word, quietly, they settle down on their beds arranged in a room with an earth floor. They have only been in the maternity ward for two or three days, but they are already used to it. Seven women were about to give birth in a city where war broke out without warning.
Among them, was Natalia Reznikova, a thirty-year-old redhead awaiting her third child – another boy. ” I’m not panicking. I’m just praying that I don’t have to give birth in the basement,” she explains before descending into the shelter.
In another room, filled with paperwork, three mothers take their places with their newborn babies. Including Natalia and her little Maria, her first child, born less than 24 hours ago. Before the alert, the young woman, exhausted but radiant in her electric blue bathrobe, returned to her room on the second floor, supported by her companion Oleksander. “ We are happy parents,” smiled the young couple. Natalia considered herself lucky, she hadn’t had to give birth in the labor room set up in the basement.
In this room, the doctors have tried to make it as warm as possible. Two beds with stirrups, but also a sofa, and an aquarium with soothing noise. Alina Bondarenko, a young woman who has gone into labor, is in the room with her companion.
“In times of peace, it was a place used by plumbers and technicians. Four or five days ago we had two women who gave birth simultaneously in this room,” says the head doctor of the maternity ward, Andriy Hrybanov, who remembers with touching precision the weight of the newborns, “ 5.18 kg and 5.4 kg “.
The Ghost of Mariupol
During alerts and bombardments, if the team does not have time to bring the women down to the basement, the delivery takes place in the corridor of the obstetrics department on the second floor, ” between two walls, it is just a little bit safer,” says Dr. Hrybanov. The surgical room, for problem births or cesareans, is installed on the fourth floor of the building, ” but it is very risky because we need light and we become a target “, he continues, congratulating himself that on 49 deliveries since the start of the war, only three cesarean sections have been performed.
Almost half of the 49 women have had to give birth in the basement since February 24. Because Mykolaiv is the scene of violent clashes, the Russian troops want to bring down this last lock before the great port of Odesa, 130 km further west on the shores of the Black Sea. ” The Department of Health had advised us to put a big red cross on the roof of the maternity ward, but we have seen what is happening, no convention is respected “, continues Dr. Hrybanov.
Many hospitals have been affected by the Russian bombardments, and the tragedy of Mariupol, a besieged city where a maternity hospital was hit a week ago, is on everyone’s mind.
The corridor in the basement of the maternity ward, where posters of infants have been displayed, also serves as a refuge for the inhabitants of the district, the elderly, women, children, and even a dog.
When the alert is lifted, barely an hour later, everyone goes back up. Including Alina, a young patient whose doctors hope she can avoid the basement.
8 p.m., new siren, and again the descent. The features are drawn, some women walk painfully leaning against the wall or supported by a nurse. The doctors decided that Alina, in full labor, would stay upstairs. Despite the alerts, the night seems calm.
In the second-floor delivery room, her husband can be heard counting for her between pushes. The young woman remains surprisingly silent, and the doctor, a good-natured and mischievous man, puts on some music. Mylène Farmer. Sting. And “Pretty Woman” when the baby comes, a little Snijana.