Ukrainian woman who gave birth under exploding bombs was killed while holding her baby

Exclusive: Having given birth to the sounds of exploding bombs in war-torn Kharkiv, Elena hoped escaping to the countryside would save her family. But Russian Grads got them even there.

This resilient woman who endured premature childbirth in war-torn Ukraine was killed with her baby in her arms
© Nikolai Medvedev
This resilient woman who endured premature childbirth in war-torn Ukraine was killed with her baby in her arms

In an interview with BBC, the First Lady of Ukraine Olena Zelenska highlighted the importance of telling real human stories. ‘Not the number of bombs dropped, not the amount of money spent’ but their heroes are the true ‘faces of war’, she said.

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The story of Elena Belinskaya, a Ukrainian woman and mother, illustrates what endurance, love and hope are, amid the devastation of war.

The author, Diana Nilsson, Elena’s longtime colleague and a friend, stayed in close contact with her, exchanging messages and calls from the start of the Russian invasion.

'Life is today'

Elena Belinskaya, Nikolai Medvedev and Slava Nikolai Medvedev

Elena, a user interface designer and photographer from Kharkiv, Ukraine, had more than spring to look forward to when her country was attacked by Russia at the end of February.

She and her partner had been dreaming of having a second child for a while, and now it was time to put the waiting to an end.

So, when the war started, Elena was heavily pregnant.

Facing it alone

Elena Belinskaya Nikolai Medvedev

The deafening sound of air raid sirens found Elena in the maternity hospital where she had been advised to stay due to health complications. She was cut off from her partner Nikolai Medvedev and daughter Slava who were in their secondhome, 70 kilometres away from Kharkiv.

Elena wrote to the author:

The whole country woke up from the explosions at 5am. I am dressed and ready to go to the bomb shelter. I cannot understand why this is happening now. It is like some parallel reality.

As the attacks on Kharkiv intensified, the missiles were flying right above the hospital's roof and exploding next door.

I’m paralysed with fear. I wish you’ll never know or even come close to imagining these feelings … Never.

She was lying alone in the hospital and she kept hearing the first cries of newborns.

Giving birth to the sound of exploding bombs

Her own child, little Dima, was born to the sound of exploding bombs in the war-torn city, a miracle amid chaos, new life amongst deaths. She had a long preterm labour that ended in a caesarean. The baby was tiny, only 2.3 kgs, and stayed in an incubator until he could breathe independently.

Half-conscious from anaesthesia, with no family around, Elena cradled Dima for the first time.

I’ve just seen my baby. It is pure happiness.

But the shelling of Kharkiv continued, as did discussions with the Western politicians about military aid. People inside the war-torn regions had to find their own creative ways to survive.

People got so united. Neighbours bake bread and share it with each other.
We have fruit in the hospital, and even baked pancakes to celebrate Maslenitsa today. People aren’t losing their fighting spirit.

Moments of tranquillity amid chaos

Elena Belinskaya and Dima  Nikolai Medvedev

It took four long weeks for Elena to reunite with her partner and daughter.

As weeks went by, the family settled down on what they thought was an island of relative tranquillity. It was deep in the country, and they didn't expect to be a target for Russian military forces there.

As more positive news from the Ukrainian military started to spread, spring was in full bloom, Elena felt more at ease.

I am happy Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest, but I am even happier when our military forces post videos from newly liberated territories.
Dima is growing stronger… He started to smile in his sleep.
Sadly, I can’t say I feel safe… But we believe in the best and support each other.

A warm evening in June

It was a warm June evening. If not for the sounds in the distance, Elena could forget that her country was at war and that its outcome was unclear. She felt a bout of the ever-present anxiety but tried to suppress it.

She took Dima to the garden for a bit of fresh air, and it immediately made her feel better.

No, for Elena, the outcome of the war was not unclear. They were going to win, she knew that now. Just like the birds were still singing, and the apple tree in her garden bloomed despite the devastation, she would see her children grow, and their sky would be clear once again.

Suddenly, Elena heard a loud bang. She grabbed Dima and ran under an apple tree. She realised then that this was the all-too-familiar sound of the Russian Grads and hugged her baby tight. Then everything went blank.

Nikolai Medvedev and Dima  Nikolai Medvedev

Elena died that June evening before the ambulance came. ‘Elena is no more’ was her partner’s brief, heartbroken message.

Nikolai later said:

I found her under an apple tree... A piece of shrapnel hit her in the eye... She was still breathing but I knew that was it. Dima was crying on the ground beside her.

Dima sustained several injuries and had to be 'put together' by the doctors. This brave, resilient baby suffered all the horrors of war and continues his treatment.

Elena is one of the faces of Ukraine's fight for freedom, and its victory in this cruel war. You can support Elena’s family here.

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