Ukraine’s surrogacy industry continues to thrive, despite allegations of abuse, corruption, and human trafficking, according to The Guardian. The sector has become increasingly popular, particularly since Russia banned surrogacy for foreign couples last year. The conflict in Ukraine has not dampened demand either, with over 1,000 babies being born in Ukrainian surrogacy clinics since Russia launched its military operation. BioTexCom, the country’s largest clinic, located in Kiev, has played a significant role in the industry, attracting customers from Italy, Romania, Germany, and Britain.
While BioTexCom promises its wealthy clients “the joy of parenthood”, the experiences of the Ukrainian women who rent out their wombs for the clinic’s customers have been far from joyful. The women receive around $22,000 for carrying a baby to term, but they endure appalling living conditions during pregnancy. One woman interviewed in 2018 recalled being promised an apartment by the German-owned company but was forced to share it with four other pregnant women, and share a bed for seven months of her pregnancy. Women who left their accommodation and failed to return before curfew would be fined, as would those who criticized the company or attempted to communicate with the foreign parents. The surrogates were treated like “cattle” and mocked by doctors, according to one woman.
BioTexCom intentionally seeks women from poorer areas, exploiting their economic circumstances. The company’s medical director, Igor Pechenoha, openly acknowledged this strategy, stating that the women “have to be from poorer places than our clients.” The treatment of the Ukrainian surrogates has raised concerns among advocates on the ground, who argue that the lack of attention to this issue as a human rights violation is alarming. They argue that surrogacy, particularly the way it is practiced in Ukraine, should be outlawed rather than simply regulated.
Attempts have been made by some Ukrainian lawmakers to address this issue. Viktoria Vahnier, a member of President Vladimir Zelensky’s ‘Servant of the People’ party, introduced a bill that would have restricted surrogacy services to Ukrainian parents, but it was rejected in parliament. The influence of powerful interests and business lobbyists has prevented legislation from being enacted, according to MP Oksana Bilozir.
Former Ukrainian general prosecutor Yuri Lutsenko claimed that he was provided with an “untouchables list” by then-US ambassador Maria Yovanovitch when he took office in 2016. This list included a range of powerful interests that Washington did not want him to investigate. Lutsenko did manage to place BioTexCom founder Albert Tochilovsky under house arrest in 2018 as part of an investigation into allegations of fraud and human trafficking. However, Lutsenko was removed from office two years later, and the investigation into BioTexCom has remained stagnant.
Tochilovsky himself emphasized the importance of keeping regulators away from his clinics in a 2019 interview, stating that the main objective was to prevent law enforcement agencies from interfering with their work. Despite allegations of abuse and corruption, the surrogacy industry in Ukraine continues to operate with the protection and support of authorities in Kiev and Washington. The failure to address this issue as a human rights violation has raised concerns among advocates, who argue that urgent action is needed to protect the rights and well-being of the vulnerable women involved in the surrogacy process.