The Ukrainian soldiers who choose to freeze their sperm for safekeeping in the middle of the war with Russia

A doctor performs the intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) procedure in the IVMED fertility clinic laboratory in kyiv, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna) (Roman Hrytsyna/)

As Vitalii Khroniuk lay face down on the ground to protect himself from Russian artillery fire, the Ukrainian soldier had only one regret: he had never had a child.

Knowing that he could die at any moment, the 29-year-old decided to try the cryopreservationhe sperm or egg freezing process to which some Ukrainian soldiers turn in the face of the possibility of never returning home.

“It’s not scary to die, but it’s scary when you don’t leave anyone behind”said Khroniuk, who quickly joined the war effort, with no thought to his future, when Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago.

During a vacation at home, he and his partner went to a private clinic in kyiv, IVMED, which is waiving the $55 cost of cryopreservation for soldiers. The clinic has had about 100 soldiers freezing sperm since the invasionsays his chief physician, Halyna Strelko. Assisted conception services to get pregnant currently cost between $800 and $3,500.

Some Ukrainian soldiers freeze sperm amid war with Russia
The clinic has had around 100 soldiers freezing sperm since the invasion, says its head doctor, Halyna Strelko. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna) (Roman Hrytsyna/)

“We don’t know how else to help. We can only make children or help make them. We don’t have weapons, we can’t fight, but what we do is also important,” said Strelko, whose clinic had to close during the first months of the war when Kiev was under attack but reopened after the Russian army withdrew from the zone.

When Khroniuk told her partner, 24-year-old Anna Sokurenko, what she wanted to do, she was initially unsure.

“It was very painful to realize that there is a possibility that he may not return,” Sokurenko said, adding that it took him a night of reflection to agree.

She and Khroniuk spoke to The Associated Press while sitting in the clinic, where posters of smiling babies, including one that reads “Your future is safely protected,” hang in the hallway. The clinic’s laboratory has its own backup power supply that kicks in during frequent outages from Russian missile attacks that damage electrical infrastructure.

Some Ukrainian soldiers freeze sperm amid war with Russia
Ukrainian soldier Vitalii Khroniuk and his partner Anna Sokurenko walk down a street after visiting a fertility clinic in kyiv, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka) (Evgeniy Maloletka/)

Dr. Strelko, who has been in the fertility business since 1998, said that the service it offers soldiers is particularly important now, noting “a very aggressive part of this war with massive losses.”

Russian forces have been pushing their advance on the eastern city of Bakhmut with heavy shelling and attacks that are believed to have resulted in massive troop losses for both Ukraine and Russia. Neither side says how many have died.

Sokurenko and Khroniuk got married a few days after his visit to the clinic and now he fights in the Chernihiv region, near the border. She believes that the chance to have a child, even after a comrade is killed in the war, could ease the deep pain of loss.

“I think it’s a very important opportunity in the future if a woman loses her loved one,” she said. “I understand that it will be difficult to recover from this, but she will give the sense to continue fighting, to continue living.”

Some Ukrainian soldiers freeze sperm amid war with Russia
A doctor shows a sperm sample in a tube stored in liquid nitrogen at the IVMED fertility clinic in kyiv. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna) (Roman Hrytsyna/)

Nataliia Kyrkach-Antonenko, 37, became pregnant while visiting her husband in a frontline town a few months before he was killed in battle. Her husband, Vitalii, came to kyiv for a short vacation 10 days before his death in November and was able to see an ultrasound scan of their unborn baby. He also visited a fertility clinic to freeze her sperm.

Kyrkach-Antonenko hopes to eventually have another child using that sperm. She said that Being able to have her late husband’s children “is an incredible support.”

“We have loved each other incredibly hard for 18 years,” he said.

She also sees cryopreservation as a fight for the future of the country.

Some Ukrainian soldiers freeze sperm amid war with Russia
Some Ukrainian soldiers are resorting to the sperm freezing process in the face of the possibility that they may never return home. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna) (Roman Hrytsyna/)

“His parents did everything they could to make this future happen. Now it is our turn, as women, to also fight for the future of Ukraine, raising people with dignity. People who can continue to change the country for the better,” she said.

Another couple who went to the IVMED clinic in December, Oles and Iryna, asked that only their names be used for privacy reasons.

Oles is in the Donetsk region, where some cities have been turned into hellish landscapes by fierce battles in recent months, and sees cryopreservation as a guarantee.

Iryna spends her nights alone in her apartment on the outskirts of Kiev, oscillating between anxiety for her husband as he fights on the most intense and deadly part of the Eastern Front, and numerous visits to the clinic where she is trying to get pregnant.

Some Ukrainian soldiers freeze sperm amid war with Russia
A doctor performs the intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) procedure in the laboratory of the IVMED fertility clinic in kyiv. (AP Photo/Roman Hrytsyna) (Roman Hrytsyna/)

“Yes, it is a difficult life, with worries, shelling, with constant anxiety for relatives. But at the same time, it is what it is,” she says. “It is better to be a father now than to postpone it until you can no longer have children.”

“Family is what will sustain our country, and children are our future,” he said. “We fight for them.”

(with information from AP)

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