Our journalists continue investigating a critical situation around surrogate programs in Ukraine. This time we contacted an Italian, who in contrast to Mrs. Jeanette Runyon, who blames a Ukrainian IVF clinic, became a victim of Ukrainian mediators, swindlers and extortionists, but nevertheless exactly as Mrs. Runyon does, keeps fighting for her child kept by a vicious Ukrainian surrogate. Some names are changed due to confidentiality reasons, as the Italians still hope to get out of Ukraine with their child.

Ukraine: “Reproductive Paradise” Turned Out to be a Hell for an Italian Couple

Exclusive interview of Mrs. Rossi to SURROGACY.RU

SURROGACY.RU: Mrs. Rossi, you travelled to Ukraine to become a mother through surrogacy. Why surrogacy? Why Ukraine?

Unfortunately, due to an emergent chirurgical intervention (hysterectomy) we decided to turn to surrogacy. We had got information both on the medical and the legal part, and we considered Ukraine to be a good choice. It was no so far from home and we could afford it.  We were constrained to do it not because of the unwillingness to carry the baby. On the contrary, we loved children and desired to have a family.

SURROGACY.RU: Tell us about your surrogacy program. How did you find the IVF clinic and the surrogate? Did you ever meet the girl?

We had contacted that surrogacy company via Internet. They called us back. At first, there was a young woman called Sara. But we learnt that her real name was Vania. She said she lived in Toscana. She said also she had been one of the first clients of that surrogacy company.  (Now Sara presents herself as Claudia to other potential clients, but it’s always the same person).

SURROGACY.RU: Tell us about your surrogacy program. How did you find the IVF clinic and the surrogate? Did you ever meet the girl?

We had contacted that surrogacy company via Internet. They called us back. At first, there was a young woman called Sara. But we learnt that her real name was Vania. She said she lived in Toscana. She said also she had been one of the first clients of that surrogacy company.  (Now Sara presents herself as Claudia to other potential clients, but it’s always the same person).

We had arranged an appointment and went to Ukraine to learn more details of the program and speak with the doctors of the clinic. At the airport we were met by one of their drivers and some Nina, a Moldavian young woman who spoke Italian and pretended to be the director of the surrogacy company. We were staying there for 5 days.

That time they took us to the IVF clinic, where we spoke to the doctor, Galina. She explained us the medical part of the program in details, filled our names and medical information in blanks.  She made photocopies of the examinations we had been told to undergo, including a spermogram,   before coming there. We signed a contract with the clinic, which authorized them to start our program and to engage an anonymous egg donor (as if it were necessary to do) and a surrogate mother in order to transfer our embryos to. All the documents were made both in Ukrainian and Italian.

To finalize the process, we met some person who presented himself as the president of the surrogacy company.  We signed the contract with the company and remitted the first payment of € 7000 in cash. Then we learnt that the contract was invalid, because the seal of the surrogacy company was false. However, that day they gave us a receipt of the payment with the same false seal. 

We asked them to organize a meeting with the surrogate mother. But it turned out to be impossible. They told us that they needed to speak with 2-3 women and they decide which one to engage. So, they would present us to each other next time, when we returned here for a transfer and sperm sampling. We learnt that they had never spoken with surrogate mothers. They didn’t compile a pshychological profile or any. The only things they were interested in whether surrogate mothers needed money, whether they lived in a state of great poverty, whether they had occupation or education.  

One month later they contacted us by e-mail, as usual, informing that they had started the program and they need our presence in Ukraine at the end of November.

3 days before sperm sampling they told us to come to Ukraine. You can imagine how hard it was for us to take days off work and book tickets for plane. Finally, we were constrained to take 2 first class tickets.

When arrived, we were taken to the hotel, as usual. (They also had two villas to host foreigners, but their cleanness and condition left much to be desired). At the given day we went to the same IVF clinic for a sperm sampling. We asked to present us the surrogate mother and her husband. They invented some excuses: they were not able to come and so on. They told us not to be concerned, as they had signed the documents and everything was ok. Then we learnt that they had never signed the contract either with the surrogate mother or with her husband. The only documents that surrogate mother signed were those with the clinic, i.e. the permission to transfer her embryos, which were not hers,  an embryo transfer plan and a surrogacy application form (although the doctors of the IVF clinic made everything in accordance with the law and had them sign all the documents and registered them).

That time we made the second payment of € 6000 in cash to the same person, as usual, and were given a receipt with the same false seal.

We returned to Italy. In a week they sent us a medical report, a transfer plan. Unfortunately, that first attempt had failed, and they started another program.

At the end of February they called us, saying that we would have to be in Ukraine at the beginning of March. But it was impossible for me to come, as I was on a business trip abroad. So, we had to postpone our visit again. Finally, we succeeded to come there at the end of April. They always informed us in the last minute and it created a problem for us to take a day off and get flight tickets.  

Anyway, we managed to come and give a sperm sample. That time it was in another IVF clinic (an excellent clinic with very helpful staff). We wondered what the reason for changing the clinic was. They explained us that there were more efficient doctors (it turned out that the previous IVF clinic  had turned them away, as they had falsified documents).

We came back home. In 15 days Nina informed us via e-mail that the attempt was successful that time. So, the surrogate mother was pregnant. 

The thought of the happiness at that moment and of discouragement of now makes my eyes watery. 

From time to time, 4 times all in all, Nina informed us on the development of the pregnancy examinations.  She didn’t send me any ultrasound image, any results of the examinations to have a look at.  She used to forget to give me information and, usually, I was the one to ask her for information and updates. At the end of the third month of pregnancy we sent them a bank transfer for another € 6000.

One evening Nina telephoned us, saying that there was some problem and we had to come immediately. I couldn’t explain how we managed to arrange everything. We were travelling the whole night in order to be able to take the right plane, which would take us to Ukraine. Once arrived there, we were told that the surrogate mother had been hospitalized in some remote place, and was going to deliver.

The child was born alive. But it was immediately taken to another hospital to a nearest town, where they had necessary equipment for children born premature. They put it in a incubator. 

Only then we learnt that the delivery had been induced, when the surrogate mother was 28 weeks pregnant. 

SURROGACY.RU: Who were responsible for the organization of your program and its legal part? Why didn’t you employ a professional law firm?

The person responsible for our program called Nina. But the way she was doing her work was rather superficial and irresponsible. I used to mail her to ask for updates, but she never answered me. Once she wrote to me that she was busy and couldn’t give all her time to my caprices. We didn’t engage other legals because they told us that they had a legal department in their company. The day we signed the contract (a forged one) they presented to us a person, saying that he was one of their legals and we could make him all questions to remove all our doubts. Just think of it, my first question was: “What if they don’t give us the child?” They assured us that it was impossible, as no one wanted to have a child, which was not their own. Then they said that the surrogate mothers were carefully selected and the Ukrainian law was rather explicit and, especially, art. 123 defended the intended parents.

SURROGACY.RU: Surrogacy programs might be quite expensive. How much did it cost  you? Where did you get the money for your reproductive program?

Altogether, we paid € 30.000, excluding expenses to trips, plane and meals. The money was what we had saved working through years.  In addition to expenses to meals and accommodation, which we have been paying for a year, we paid legal services and others. You could imagine how much we spent so far. If we had turned to another country for surrogacy, we would have paid the same sum without having all that problem and disappointment and had some money saved. 

The situation still remains unsolved.

Until I contacted the lawyers of a law firm specialized in surrogacy issues, everyone had been trying to turn our situation to their advantage and take our money without giving us any help.   

SURROGACY.RU: The rumor is you used services of egg donor, so the surrogate doesn’t have any genetic relation to the child she was bearing. Is it so?

Yes, it is so. The embryos are our own ones. I even tried to have used my own eggs, but they recommended us to engage an egg donor to get a more certain result.  The surrogate mother doesn’t have any genetic relation to the child. She has such strong awareness of it, that in trying to intimidate us and turn the scandal to her advantage, she declared it on the Ukrainian television.  

SURROGACY.RU: Your child was born in November, 2010. What happened after that?

Then something incredible happened, in the full sense of the word. I will tell you it now, if you have time for it, because the story is very long. It is a year since we have been struggling, but it is still going on.

SURROGACY.RU: May it be that the real goal was your child and the real customers behind that were a wealthy Ukrainian couple willing to adopt a healthy newborn?

It was one of possible suppositions we put forward at the beginning. But then we learnt that, in fact, there was a band in the area where the surrogate lived, which was willing to have a share in the affairs of the surrogacy company for engaging surrogates from that district. They wanted to make us pay another sum of money, in addition to what we had already paid to the surrogacy company. Around € 40.000-50.000, to our mind.  It was a real blackmail, extortion, as if someone had been kidnapped. That was what happenned in the end.

A doctor, a lawyer who represented the interests of the surrogate mother, a certain Vladimir (I don’t know his surname), someone who worked for police and, surely, some politician of that area were involved in the band. This was only a question of affairs; money was a driving force of the whole story. The mother of our surrogate mother only complicated the situation, having demanded a child benefit allowance for the second daughter.  The government gave her around € 6000. So, the surrogate mother and her husband presented false facts to the government, saying that the child was their own daughter. They deceived the government in that way.  How was it possible to obtain justice in terms of the Ukrainian State then? It was not enough to give someone a sum of money, because they asked what they had no right to and forged the birth documents.

The only solution for us now is to resign our rights to the child, they will keep the money obtained from the government and in some months they will take the child to some institution, saying that they are unemployed, they have other children to take care of and they can’t rise this one.   This will be a tragic way out of the situation, if my husband and I don’t continue struggling to defend our child to give her a happy and peaceful life. This is what we wish her to have, not to end up in some orphanage or, God knows, where and with whom, or to be sold to one who will offer a better price.

Now in the same area there is another Italian couple, the situation of which is similar to ours. The children were born at the beginning of September and immediately registered under the name of the surrogate mother and her husband. This band contacted them and demanded money. This time the story turned out to be more tragic, as one of the children died in hospital. It was very little and weak, very premature to be born.  And the most terrible thing was that nobody wanted to take away and bury the deceased child after more than month since the death. The surrogate mother and her husband didn’t want to take it away, and the Italian couple couldn’t take it, as they were not recognized to be its parents.

SURROGACY.RU: What has been your experience of the Ukrainian legal system?

I have never encountered a more absurd and antidemocratic legal system than that of the Ukrainian one. Here, even if you are right for 100%, but you are not Ukrainian and don’t give money to anybody, nobody will listen to you and help you.  It is a shame that our child is still in the arms of these wicked people devoid of conscience and heart.  It is a great shame that human rights are trampled on in this way. Ukraine is willing to enter the European Union. But I think it is impossible with the situation like this. At first, they must change the way they behave. And then, to tell you honestly, the farther they stay from us, European people, the better.

SURROGACY.RU: Did you receive any help from the Italian consulate?

No, they know perfectly that I can’t turn to the Consulate because of Law 40, which is valid only in the Italian territory. So, we, Italian citizens, don’t commit any offence, if we have a surrogacy program implemented abroad, in countries where the law allows it. That’s why at this moment we obey the laws of the country hosting us.  

SURROGACY.RU: What does your day look like when in Ukraine when fighting for your children? Where do you live? Who helps you?

At the moment I am living in the town where the delivery took place. From time to time my husband visits me, when he has an opportunity to come. We are renting an apartment. We pay the rent every month, hoping that it will be the last payment.  Every 2-3 days I call my lawyers to learn some news. The rest of the day I spend in different ways: I walk a lot, expect that justice will win and no one will put obstacles on my way. The person who has always been helping me is a young woman who speaks Italian. She is like a sister to me now. She always gives us support; she is trying to bring to our mind the real state of the situation.

Unlike her, the surrogacy company, once having received money, left us to our fate. They never called us to know whether we managed to get back our child. They completely dissapeared like real cheaters and swindlers. Just imagine, we made two last payments to have the birth certificate with our names in it, to have it translated in Italian and to get the passport for the child. They evidently took the money and didn’t do anything. Having understood, that the situation was delicate and complicated, they disappeared.

SURROGACY.RU: Have you ever had a chance to see your child after the birth? Is there any chance to meet the child now?

As I have already told you, regarding its disturbing and dangerous health condition, the newborn child was taken to a nearest town, where a special hospital for premature children was. When it was taken there, I moved to this town too. In this way I was able to visit the child every day during two weeks. The surrogate mother didn’t want it to be taken to the hospital and invented different excuses and caused problem. I behaved in the same way, because I wanted to know the health condition of my child, which was between death and life. On one of those days I had a long conversation with the doctor who was following the health of the child to inform me on it, on the situation and on possible risks. Every time I came to the hospital, the surrogate mother and her husband asked me for money: to buy something to eat or for the child. It was a really unpleasant situation. Then at the beginning of December the situation got worse. The surrogate mother and her husband didn’t allow me to visit the child. From that moment I hadn’t been able to see the child until the end of March, when the surrogate mother and her husband were interviewed on the television. In that interview they claimed that they had a surrogacy program implemented, that they were constrained to register the child and take her to their home, because nobody had paid them remuneration and declared their rights to the child.  It was all lies. When I saw my child on the television, I felt even worse. I couldn’t forget her sad eyes and the fact that it was bottle-fed lying in bed. Moreover, whereas the surrogate and her husband had their faces shaded, they were openly demonstrating the child to the camera, intending to cause us a problem.

For some moment I couldn’t bear looking at the child. I tried to appeal to the social services. However, they knew that it was a surrogacy. They responded me that I was not a mother and, therefore, no one to the child. I found it more than just a shame, because everyone knew the truth, but nobody wanted to do anything.  Sometimes I wondered how they felt, should their child be in the same situation or they would behave to me in the same way, should I be Ukrainian.  Anyway, the social services were precautionary. They were protecting only the surrogate mother, whereas they should have acted in the interests of the minor. But I had all the documents proving my surrogacy program, not to mention the admission and confession of the surrogate mother and her husband made on the television. I also asked whether it would be possible to put the child in some public structure, a kind of board and logging, or in some institution up to the end of the process in order to enable me to visit it every day and to be with it. But even that request of mine had no sense for them. On the contrary, nobody cared that the child was growing up in an appropriate condition without any comfort, with people who were not her parents and didn’t love her, who were expecting an opportunity to  give it to somebody else or leave it to face the cruel fate or life without hopes and prospective.  Was it possible that they were unaware of the psycho-physic harm they were causing to the little child? Or might the social workers hadn’t studied psychology and pedagogy? It was easier to pretend that nothing was happening, not to act, not to investigate, not to comprehend, be inactive, invent excuses under pretext of time-consuming procedures, hoping that time would pass and I would quit it. What lack of professionalism! It was surely more convenient for them to behave in this way. I couldn’t understand how their conscience permitted them to behave in such a way and to live in clover.  No, I just couldn’t understand that, because I had been born in another country.

SURROGACY.RU: Did you seek the advice or any help of Italian or Ukrainian politicians? What do you expect of politicians today?

The Italian politicians can’t intervent into a situation occurring in the Ukrainian State. I had written a letter to the President to ask him for help and justice, but 7 months elapsed and nobody answered. I understood that, as we were foreigners, nobody wanted to get involved in our situation, to protect us, but   money of these foreign people was of great interest for them. It was a shame and  disgrace, really. 4 months earlier, on the state television the surrogate mother declared having implemented a surrogacy program and registered the child, and that we, Italian citizens, were struggling to get her back. But nobody reacted to the latter.  No one was interested in our situation, not to mention politicians. And they dared speak of democracy and justice, but where were they? Not in Ukraine, surely. Moral ethic didn’t exist, and moral principles were even worse. Just imagine that there were no politicians or legislators who should have been the first to give a helping hand, to serve as a model to other people, because there must have been normal people in Ukraine.

SURROGACY.RU: Who in your opinion was behind all that? What's the purpose of all this farce?

Behind all that there were dishonest people devoid of conscience and feelings. Behind all that there was a mafia band urgent for money. They were the ones who, having intimidated the surrogate mother, instructed her to take the newborn child home and register it under her surname in the Civil Register.  On whole, it was money extortion. The situation was complicated because of ignorance and hunger for money from the part of the surrogate mother and her family. In fact, 2-3 weeks after the birth of the child the husband of the surrogate mother applied for a child benefit allowance, having declared that it was their own child.  They forged the birth certificate and deceived the State. Meantime, the mafia band couldn’t bear a thought of loosing. They were doing everything to make us waste time in court procedures, having paid and bribed as more people as possible and causing us trouble in every possible way in hope of our retreat. They suggested  the surrogate mother to pretend being a good mother and bought her a lot of clothes, nappies, baby carriage and etc. But still they feared of the surrogate mother and her husband giving their names away, when arrested and interrogated by the government because of false testimony, falsification of documents, deception which caused harm to the Ukrainian State,  kidnapping.  So, the only way out they were able to think of was for us to resign our child and come back home. Then the surrogate mother would bring the child to an institution and claim that she was not able to support it, because she couldn’t afford it and both her husband and she were unemployed.  But their plans faild. Really, nobody was interested in taking that child, everyone was interested in money. All that happened through the fault of this surrogacy company who didn’t sign a contract with surrogate mothers and their husbands in order not to pay taxes and save on everything: on notary services, on legal services and medical insurance; whereas he was telling us, the biological parents, that everything was being made according to the norms and the contract.  They were bandits!!!!!!!

SURROGACY.RU: What's your strategy now to get your children back?

The only strategy I have been considering and consider possible is to obtain justice by means of law; especially, now that they have permitted us to go ahead with the civil process, we will do it. In mid October there would be the next hearing. To tell you honestly, I can’t understand what the judge is expecting to have more to make a decision in our favour and authorize the DNA test, taking in consideration that we presented all the documents from the IVF clinic, which confirm that this was a surrogacy program, and the confession of the surrogate mother and her husband made on the television. An attempt to make us waste time again and hope that we will go away would be an absurd. I won’t leave my child in hands of these heartless and silly swindlers and will fight till the end, even if I have to come to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The only thing is certain now: the more we struggle, the more they pay us in the end.

SURROGACY.RU: The Ukrainian trial is dragging on and on, and by now it seems practically Kafkaesque. What's the purpose of all this?

In Ukraine we are considered to be foreigners, and we feel uncomfortable because of it. We feel at ease only, when we pay money and that’s all. We don’t have a right to complain. Nobody wants to be involved in a scandal, beginning from the surrogacy company, especially, when people go against the law and have a lot to hide. During the first court hearing the judge was at one with both the lawyers of the surrogate and all of our previous lawyers. They just mocked at us.  They were trying to make us waste our time and money in order to exhaust us and make us leave Ukraine. Everyone was pretending to work and was doing nothing, indeed. The lawyer we engaged in the town where the surrogate mother lived secretly planned together with the lawyer of the surrogate mother to harm us. But he failed, as we had cancelled everything before his planned could work. The lawyers we had asked us for money for travel allowance and fuel, saying that they were going to investigate in the town where the surrogate with the child lived. It turned out that they never went there. They invented a lot of stories about what they had learnt, seen and discovered.  They even made up that the judge of the penal process had authorized the DNA test, but all that was a lie.  As it turned out in the end, the only solution was money. In case of the judges from the town where the surrogate lived it was fear of losing a possibility of making a carrier. The lawyer of the surrogate mother was involved in a band (as we call it in Italy “mafiosetti da Quattro soldi”), which intimidated people in order to get what they wanted.

And now no one wants to help us, because everyone fears of losing something or to have problem. Then, everyone fears of being involved in a huge scandal, because what they have done is a shame, to put it mildly.  It is of interest  for the State and the politicians not to let the story be made public, otherwise foreign couples intending to have their surrogacy program implemented (a business that brings big and easy money and gives work) will immediately discard Ukraine, as they are not protected by law here.

SURROGACY.RU: Do you still have some embryos stored at the IVF clinic? If so, do you have any plans to use them in another, more friendly country?

Yes, we do. We have cryopreserved embryos in the IVF clinic. I hope they still store them there. In reality, neither I nor my husband was informed on whether the pregnancy was developing.   To tell you honestly, we haven’t thought over a possibility of using them in any other country (not in Ukraine, of course). Now our goal is to have our child back and take it home. We should search for a clinic, which could comprehend our situation and make us a discount and give us a more solid financial support. Now I am thinking about give a sister or a brother to our child. I would like to have at least 3 children, if I could.

SURROGACY.RU: How much longer can you pay for your defense and the worldwide campaign to support you?

It is a very difficult question to respond to. My parents are supporting us now. Then we shall see. However, we will find some way out, even if we have to ask the bank for a money loan.  Of course, I will go on until I have our child back and the law allows me to go ahead, even to resort to the Court in Strasbourg, if it is necessary. Can you imagine the scope of the scandal? A country, which issues laws, is expanding on Art. 123 of the Family Code of Ukraine and, then, nobody respects it, beginning from the legislative organs and the Public Prosecutor’s office. And they are thinking about entering the European Union!!!!!!

SURROGACY.RU: For outsiders, Ukraine due to liberal legislation might seem like a reproductive paradise. Your story also seemed a fairytale but then turned out to be a nightmare. What are your views about Ukraine’s legal system now?

The system is a stick of two ends.  It’s antidemocratic to the maximum. If you want to have a result, even if you are right, you may have it only, when you have money, otherwise nobody does anything. The human basic rights are not guaranteed at all. The situation with childhood rights is even worse. Since January I have been asking to have the DNA test made. But no judge has had enough courage, professional and human ethic to satisfy my request.  They always find pretests, waste time, hoping that we will come back home. Justice doesn’t work; the laws here are not respected. It is really disgusting.
Unfortunately, the legislative organs are very slow in acting and don’t function for us, foreigners. I have an impression that they use double standards. Moreover, I can’t understand how a person who has studied the law and has been working in the legal system can be so indifferent to what is happening. Especially, if we take into consideration, that, ultimately, the victim to this entire situation is an innocent and defenseless creature, a child deprived of decent future.  If I were a judge or a lawyer, I couldn’t sleep being aware of my causing harm to a newborn. But, evidently, I am Italian, not a Ukrainian. As for me, conscience has a value and exists.

SURROGACY.RU: What would be your advice to anyone willing to arrange for surrogacy in Ukraine? 

Think it over again and choose another country for it. Ukraine is not ready for business with foreigners. There is a high level of corruption, hunger for money. For this reason people are forced to swindle and harm others much.  Moreover, a lot of poor-educated and inefficient people are circling in this business. They are ignorant of law, procedures, which serve to protect us, foreign clients, not to mention the doctors. No, surrogacy the way it exists now is impossible to implement in Ukraine, because the State doesn’t protect you in the least way.
Anyway, I would like to advise anyone willing to implement their program in Ukraine trust those clinics, which have their own trustworthy legals. Now I would contact a clinic, which has its own legal department experienced in the field of surrogacy.

SURROGACY.RU: Mrs. Rossi, we thank you for this interview.

I am the one to thank you. I hope you will understand the meaning of the words I used, though, sometimes they are rather tough.  It’s practically a year since I have been expecting to have my child back, but the situation hasn’t been resolved yet. I say it is not easy! I have left everything because of my child, I have my life destroyed.  But I can’t just leave it in Ukraine, I will never forgive myself. I am going to struggle up to the last dying breath, even if it’s the last thing I am able to do. But I deserve happiness and peaceful life.

I have different reasons to make my story public.  The first one is to inform foreign couples who want to take a difficult road of surrogacy so that they won’t be in hands of dishonest and inefficient people like those working for the surrogacy company. Moreover, I hope that foreign couples understand how important it is to have some information and have lawyers who will protect you from the very beginning of the program. I hope that foreigners think twice before deciding which country to go for a surrogacy program, that they will not be guided by financial considerations, but those of their mental, psychic and physic health. The second reason is my hope that the Ukrainian legislators reconsider their laws on surrogacy and, if they are incapable of protecting both the indented parents and their child, as they have demonstrated it, they must find another occupation. They must stop implementing surrogacy programs for foreign clients, if they can’t make their people respect the Family Code (Art. 123); or they must protect and defend foreigners to the maximum, guarantee them that no one will extort money from them and take their child away. They must be sure that agencies-intermediaries working in this sector employ honest and accredited people with titles and special knowledge for this kind of work. Moreover, to my mind, to avoid deception and extortion of money in future there must be a contract signed by the surrogate mother and the indented parents and registered according to the law.