Saturday, 25 Mar 2023

Ukraine war baby is 'ray of sunshine' as she turns one today

Miia Mitskevych entered the world as explosions sounded the first hours of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

As she opened her eyes in a maternity hospital, some analysts were envisaging the Kremlin’s tanks rolling into Kyiv within days.

Miia spent the first night of her life in a bomb shelter under the hospital where staff continued working around the clock as missiles struck the city.

A year to the day, her parents Svitlana, 38, and Igor, 47, will mark their daughter’s birthday with a cake and a wish for ‘peaceful skies’.  

Svitlana, a lawyer, recalled a family life which had been insulated from news of the massing Russian forces 

‘We were the happiest ever,’ she says. ‘We were shopping, decorating the room… Igor, my husband, kept me away from the news about the war.

‘Therefore it was shocking for me.’ 

In the early hours of February 24, the family, also including their son, Maksym, then aged eight, were awoken by the sound of an explosion outside the windows of their 15-floor apartment in Kyiv.  

‘I screamed and jumped out of bed,’ Svitlana says.  

‘Then I ran to the next room to calm the eldest son. The explosion was very powerful, I had the feeling that there were planes dropping bombs.’ 

The family dressed, took food and water and went down to an underground car park which is used as the apartments’ bomb shelter. 

Svitlana felt stressed and realised that she was having contractions.  

They had the choice of the baby being delivered with the help of a next-door neighbour, a surgeon with no specialism in maternity, or to make the dash to the Kyiv Perinatal Centre.  

They struggled to get network coverage but Igor managed to connect after going back upstairs to the apartment and calling their doctor at the hospital, who said Svitlana could be admitted.

As air raid sirens rang out, the couple made the trip by car and she gave birth in a delivery room while rockets exploded in and around the city.  

Miia was born at 6.55pm. Her first journey was seven floors down to the hospital’s bomb shelter, where the trio spent the night while Maskym was at home with his grandparents and hamster.

Despite power outages and the barrages of missiles, shells and kamikaze drones, the centre has continued operating 24/7 since the outset of hostilities. Eight days before the invasion, staff gathered to sing the national anthem in a show of solidarity for their homeland.

‘Doctors are heroes for whom I will pray all my life,’ Svitlana says.  

‘They left their own families and came to the hospital in order to save other people’s lives.’ 

The next day Miia had her first car trip and got acquainted with her brother, who turns 10 on Monday. The family spent the first week in Kyiv where they were afraid to go near the windows in their home, with Russian cruise missiles slamming into residential buildings in the city.

On March 3, Igor drove Svitlana and the children to the relative safety of the Zakarpattia region in western Ukraine.  

A month later he returned to Kyiv to continue working as an IT specialist.

Svitlana stayed until the summer and while she felt safe she wanted to reunite the family after months on her own with the two children.

‘It was important for me to preserve the integrity of our family,’ she says.  

‘In September my husband persuaded me to return to Kyiv, although I did not understand how I could live under the missile strikes.’ 

In October, Russia began to strike Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure, causing power outages across the country in an apparent attempt by Vladimir Putin to freeze the population into submission.  

‘We were not prepared for the blackout, even for four hours, but you can get used to everything,’ Svitlana says.

‘We have learned to live without electricity. We bought a charging station, autonomous lamps, additional power banks and a gas stove to heat food for Miia. It is difficult, but these are not the same difficulties as our soldiers suffer in the trenches, without proper water and food.

‘This price we pay is worth being at home.

‘No matter wherever you are, under what conditions, your city, Kyiv, gives you strength, energy and motivation for life.’

After a year of war, the couple feel ‘stronger and braver’ and hope that Miia will have a future in a free, independent country.  

‘The most terrible thing about February 2022 was the uncertainty,’ Svitlana says.  

‘At the time, we didn’t even know what a missile strike sounded like.  

‘Today we know everything Russia is capable of but we are ready for it.  

‘We are stronger and braver and remain irrepressible, because we feel the support of the strongest countries in the world. And we are grateful to them, especially to Great Britain, for protecting us.’ 

Svitlana has only one birthday wish for her daughter. 

‘I wish my daughter a peaceful sky, because she has never seen it,’ she says.  

‘This is the most important thing. We will be able to give her everything else.

‘I will pray for this heaven every day of my life until it become reality.’ 

The one-year anniversary falls at a time when intense fighting continues to rage in the east of Ukraine, with both sides expected to launch major assaults as spring approaches.

‘We can’t celebrate when our country is at war,’ Svitlana says.  

‘We will not have guests because they are far away. But we will be together; the godmother and grandparents will come. I will bake a cake.’ 

The anniversary itself brings mixed emotions.  

‘The day of February 24 is the most terrible for us as well as for all Ukrainians,’ Svitlana reflects.  

‘But it’s one of the happiest days in our life at the same time.

‘Nothing in the world is absolutely black or absolutely white. It will forever remain a combination of opposite emotions which we experienced that day.

‘But Miia’s birth for us is a ray of hope that life goes on and we will win.’

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