Ukrainian couples weigh sperm freezing as the war wages on


Lytovchenko and Kyrkach-Antonenko families. Collage by Свої.City, fair use.

This story, by Anna Kurtsanovska was initially published on the Ukrainian media outlet Свої.City. Global Voices republish the shortened and edited version of the text as part of a content partnership agreement.

Since the beginning of the Russian war against Ukraine, advancements in reproductive technology have presented couples with a difficult decision: should they lay the groundwork for future children even as one or both parties go off to defend Ukraine, possibly facing death? Sperm and embryo cryopreservation — the process of freezing bodily tissue — has gained popularity among families of Ukrainian soldiers who want to preserve the possibility of conceiving in the event of one partner's death. 

Cryopreservation is a method of freezing and long-term preservation of biological material in liquified nitrogen (-196 degrees Celcius). It is widely used for freezing sperm, eggs, and fertilized embryos. 

Since the beginning of the war, the demand for cryopreservation has significantly increased. For soldiers, it is free. According to the director of the Nadia Clinic, Iryna Sudoma, currently, the clinic preserves sperm samples of over 300 servicemen.

Impossible decisions

Natalia and Vitaly Kyrkach-Antonenko were together for 18 years. They were in love and happy. She was pregnant with a baby girl. 

On November 9, 2022, there was heavy fighting around Svatove. Closer to noon, a shell exploded near a trench where Vitaly was taking cover with his comrades. A fragment hit Vitaly's Kevlar helmet, and it broke. He died that day. 

Vitaly was wary of the buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border. On February 16, he visited a conscription office, prepared his documents, and underwent a medical examination to enlist in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 


Vitaly and Natalia Kyrkach-Antonenko, provided to Свої.City by Natalia. Fair use

The couple dreamed about having a big family. Natalia said that at the beginning of the full-scale war, she was pregnant but suffered a miscarriage because of stress. 

“We mourned a lot and dreamed that we would have another chance to have a child. In August, I decided to travel to my beloved husband and I succeeded in getting pregnant for the second time,” Natalia said.  

Shortly before his death, Vitaly got a long-awaited leave for a few days. During this leave, the couple visited a center of reproductive medicine where they underwent all the necessary testing and left samples for freezing. After the cryopreservation, they completed the required paperwork with a notary. 

When Vitaly died, Natalia was thirteen weeks pregnant. Thanks to the help of doctors and medication, she was able to maintain a healthy pregnancy despite her grief and loss.

“I may use my beloved husband's biomaterial in the future”

Nadia Lytovchenko is raising her one-and-a-half-year-old son as a single mom. Her beloved husband was a platoon commander in the 241st Territorial Defence Subdivision. Andriy was killed on July 12, 2022, near Dementiyivka in the Kharkiv region. He was 33. 


The Lytovchenko family. Provided to Свої.City by Nadia. Fair use

“We had been married for five years, and we had been together for seven years. We made cryopreservation of biomaterial after being together in the ATO in 2015–2016 as paramedics [the zone of the Antiterrorism Operation, the war zone in the east of Ukraine as it was officially called between 2014–2018]. Both of us were initiators because after we raised this topic once, we decided that this should be done — for example, this is usual for military persons in the USA,” she told. Nadia added:

Якби був живий чоловік, то ми неодмінно народили хоча б ще одну дитину. Зараз я розмірковую над тим, аби скористатися можливістю використати біоматеріал Андрія. Поки це тільки міркування, але, можливо, я повернуся до цього питання вже після війни.

If my husband were alive, we would have had at least one more child. I am now thinking about taking advantage of the opportunity to use Andrii's biomaterial. For now, this is only speculation, but perhaps I will return to this question after the war


Volodymyr Hunko and Oksana Borkun. Provided to Свої.City by Oksana. Fair use

An internally displaced man from Donetsk and a soldier, Yehor, with the nom de guerre Yeti, married his wife in the fall of 2022. They hope to have children. Before leaving for the frontline, the fighter visited a center for reproduction. 

Oksana Borkun is also a wife of a killed fighter. Volodymyr Hunko had been defending his country since 2014. He went through the battles of Ilovaisk and Shyrokyne, and was eventually captured and held as a POW for four months. He was killed on July 30, 2022, in Bakhmut. He was 33.

Oksana says that after her husband’s death, for two months, she was entirely unable to look at children anywhere. She would immediately start to cry if she saw them. 

Перед від’їздом він сказав: ‘Не переживай, все в нас ще буде. І діти! Через три дні повернусь і будем робити.’ І не повернувся вже… Володя тонув у дітях, так їх любив. Тільки брав на руки і відразу розчинявся. Завжди жартував: ‘У нас будуть дуже гарні діти, бо ми гарні і класні.’ Я кожен раз про це мріяла.

Before leaving, he said: ‘Don’t worry, we will have everything. Children as well! I will come back in three days and we will make them.’ But he didn’t come back… He liked children so much that he drowned in emotions in their presence. He took them in his arms and immediately melted away. He always joked: ‘We will have very beautiful children because we are beautiful and cool.’ I constantly dreamed about this.

Oksana added: “He was his family's only son. I would give anything for his continuation, for the continuation of his family. Some force decided otherwise. Maybe it was my last chance, I don't know…”

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