A British couple living in Ukraine have described their “nerve-racking” wait to take their newborn baby home, as diplomats are withdrawn over fears of a Russian invasion.
Since December, London couple Alice and Ben Garratt have been living in the country’s capital Kyiv, where their baby Raphael was born last month via a Ukrainian surrogate.
Amid growing fears of a military conflict, the couple now face a nervous wait for the newborn Raphael to be issued a British passport, to allow them to return to the UK as a family.
Mr Garratt said: “We’ve always known that it would be a load of paperwork once he was born, for us to bring him home – but obviously, what was going to be a period of potential boredom, waiting in an apartment in Kyiv for two or three months, is now more nerve-racking.
“Unless we can get a passport for Raphael in the conventional way, or (the British Embassy) give Raphael an emergency passport, we can’t leave – so it is nerve-racking.”
Many British couples who can’t conceive choose to go abroad to find a surrogate. In the UK, surrogacy agreements cannot be enforced by law; a surrogate is automatically considered a legal parent at birth even if they have no biological connection to the child; and only “reasonable expenses” can be paid for their services.
Although Ukraine bans surrogacy for same-sex couples, it is one of the world’s leading destinations for heterosexual couples seeking a surrogacy arrangement, because of laws permitting payments and affording legal rights to the biological parents from birth. There are dozens of agencies marketing surrogacy services to Western couples, with packages ranging from £40,000 to £65,000.
Mr Garratt, who works in stakeholder engagement at London North Eastern Railway, said: “Ukraine has very different surrogacy laws to the UK which means that it’s much easier to work with an IVF clinic and a surrogacy agency here to have a baby that way… so Ukraine is an international hub of people coming for surrogacy services.”
The UK Foreign Office on Monday advised against non-essential travel to Ukraine and all travel to the easternmost regions bordering Russia. The UK has also begun withdrawing staff from its Kyiv embassy, citing the “growing threat from Russia”, though around half the staff will remain to keep the embassy open for “essential work”.
Mr Garratt said Kyiv, which is in the centre of Ukraine 230 miles from the Russian border, still feels “completely normal” despite fears Russia could launch an imminent invasion.
“It’s really strange… [it’s] like Oxford Street on a Saturday… except for the snow,” he said.
“It looks normal. Looking out the window… it’s buzzing… there’s no evidence of panic buying, there are no queues anywhere.
“I’ve never been in a country that’s been invaded, I don’t know what that feels like, but it feels bizarre that it could happen [here].”
He and his wife continue to keep in contact with friends and family who are “nervous” on their behalf.
“We’re nervous because they’re nervous… there’s a lot of nervousness spreading through the family,” he said.
“I guess there is a point at which we think, well, ‘let’s just go and see if we can cross a border and get to the UK’… I don’t think we’re anywhere near that and I’d be really surprised, I’d hope the British government wouldn’t let it get to that stage.”
Additional reporting by Press Association
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