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Friday, October 7, 2022

Fear, darkness and newborn babies: inside Ukraine’s underground shelters | Ukraine

In the bunkers and underground tunnels of Kyiv, life continues underground, even as explosions sound overhead.

Teens sit glued to iPhones, parents tuck quilts around their children to sleep. Some hold pets, while others sit in darkened, unmoving subway cars. And babies arrive. In one shelter in Kyiv, a woman gave birth to a girl, Mia.

Sharing an image of the newborn child wrapped in blankets while others in the shelter are visible in the background, Hanna Hopko, a former Ukrainian MP and chair of Democracy in Action Conference, said Mia was born in the shelter in a “stressful environment”. But she said that despite the challenging experience, Mia’s mother was happy, adding: “We defend lives and humanity!” The baby was among more than 80 born in bomb shelters over the last two nights, according to Kyiv’s city authorities.

On the same day, another baby was born in the basement of a hospital close to Ukraine’s eastern border, where more than 100,000 Russian troops have massed.

Svyatoslav, 6, plays with his tablet in a public basement used as a bomb shelter.
Svyatoslav, 6, plays with his tablet in a public basement used as a bomb shelter. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP
People spend the night in a Kyiv metro station.
People spend a restless night in a Kyiv metro station amid shelling above. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

In Luhansk, hospital staff rushed to make an underground makeshift ward in the basement of Starobilsk Multidisciplinary hospital while Russian forces fired outside after a woman went into labour and later gave birth to a boy.

The hospital wrote on Facebook: “Three danger warnings a day. In the morning, shelling of a residential area next to the hospital. Now, somewhere very close to the heavy fire … in the waiting room – the wounded …

“Meanwhile, in the basement of the maternity hospital, in conditions far from those that a new life deserves – a loud cry of a newborn … Boy!”

Ukrainian MP, Anastasia Radina, compared the scene to London during the blitz.

“Ukrainian mothers are now giving birth in shelters and metro stations during air raids,” she wrote on Twitter. “The blitz of London 1940 is being repeated by Russia in Ukraine in 2022. Nato must make UA no-fly zone.”

Other footage showed newborn babies moved to a makeshift bomb shelter from a neonatal intensive care unit at a children’s hospital in Dnipro, eastern Ukraine. Dr Denis Surkov, chief of the neonatal unit at Dnipropetrovsk Oblast children’s clinic hospital, said in a statement: “This is our reality”.

A family sit in the Kyiv subway, using it as a bomb shelter
A family sit in the Kyiv subway, using it as a bomb shelter. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

As bombs and artillery rained down on the capital on Friday night, thousands huddled in the subterranean subway stations, basements and bomb shelters, many accompanied by children, bearing sleeping bags, belongings and stuffed toy animals.

“The kids were scared, they cry and ask ‘Mom, will we all die?’,” Alla, a woman in her 40s told Reuters’ reporters at a basement shelter in Kyiv.

The basement where she took cover was packed with hundreds of people with no place to sleep, only chairs and some water. Even finding a place to sit was difficult.

Residents bomb shelter
Residents are crammed in, whiling away the time as best they can. Photograph: Sergei Chuzavkov/SOPA Images/REX/Shutterstock
People lie in the Kyiv subway, using it as a bomb shelter.
People lie in the Kyiv subway, using it as a bomb shelter. Photograph: Emilio Morenatti/AP

“We don’t know how long we have to stay here. Good we have chairs at least,” a 35-year-old woman who gave her name as Viktoria said, while her children, five and seven, slept, still wearing their winter coats.

“Right now, all we can hear is the sound of shells,” Lakshmi Devi, 21, a third year student at the Kharkiv National medical university, told Reuters. “We can’t even count how many.” Devi is one of thousands of international students stranded in Kyiv. He and others sheltered in their apartment’s basement as the explosions sounded around the city.

As dawn broke on Saturday, Kyiv officials warned residents that street fighting was under way against Russian forces, and urged people to seek shelter.

The warning advised residents to remain in shelters, avoid going near windows or on balconies, and take precautions against being hit by debris or bullets.

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