Georgia L. Gilholy is a reporter for Politics.co.uk but writes in private.

All eyes remain on Ukraine as the horrors of the Russian invasion continue to unfold. The crisis has also exposed another tragedy at the heart of Ukrainian life: the burgeoning surrogacy industry.

Commercial surrogacy is illegal in most Western countries, often resulting in those seeking it flocking to impoverished women in India and Thailand to carry and give birth at their request.

Since these two countries cracked down on “trade” following a series of high-profile scandals, commercial surrogacy in Ukraine has skyrocketed over the past seven years as European “clients” have sought locations closer to home.

Ukrainian women, on average, are paid a meager fee of £10,000 to £15,000 for the life-changing process of pregnancy, at the end of which the child is usually taken away immediately. While the purchasing power of such a fee is much higher in Ukraine than in the UK, it’s not enough to live on forever and amounts to just over enough to buy a one-bedroom apartment in an average Ukrainian city center .

Much as we excuse these ‘exchanges’ as informed adult choices, they are by definition predatory and the UK remains involved as long as it allows its citizens to participate.

Media coverage of Ukraine’s surrogacy “industry” since Russia began massing troops on its borders, including articles in the Irish Times, BBC and Times, has catered to the needs of foreign couples paying or relying on surrogacy Economy focused, worryingly prioritizing the impact of disruption to ‘trade’ while asking few if any questions about the mothers themselves.

While articles show smiling couples who managed to ensure the safe transport of a child from the conflict, somewhere far out of the ordinary is a woman left childless for nine months, the impact of which we can’t begin to fathom.

The brutal reality is that every surrogacy arrangement involves a succession of planned exposures that risk trauma to the birth mother and a child who will one day have to face the fact that her coming into the world was “renting” the organs of an exploited woman included.

In fact, many surrogate mothers were left behind in the midst of the war and their newborn babies transported to their parents abroad. In others, pregnant women still report feeling pressured by their foreign “agents” to flee Ukraine alone, even if they have other children or family members to consider.

Once again, commercial surrogacy has been exposed for what it is: the exploitation of economically disadvantaged women at the behest of wealthy foreign couples.

In this way, other contract workers would not be mistreated according to international standards; but no matter what we choose to believe, surrogacy is not just another kind of “work”.

While many liberals from both left and right are quick to point out that surrogacy is an act of charity (on either side of the exchange), this is not the case. Couples who pay women in Ukraine or elsewhere to carry children to term unjustly put the wishes of adults ahead of the needs of children.

There are millions of children around the world who need to be adopted or placed in foster care. There are 70,000 to 110,000 orphans in Ukraine alone, and even before this year’s conflict, the government was barely able to ensure their safety. Covid also left many impoverished surrogates looking after the babies they had been paid to carry, as travel restrictions delayed their transport to the “commissioning” parents.

While adoption practices are far from immune to exploitation, surely this is a better avenue to parenthood than treating the inside of a woman’s body like a vending machine and treating living, breathing children as consumer goods?

Of course, interstate surrogacy risks legal and moral chaos when the question arises as to who can be considered the “true” parents of a child. While in Ukraine, laws promoting commercial surrogacy ensure that the “commissioning” parents are the legal parents of the child after birth, in the UK, surrogates are automatically considered the child’s parents.

In 2019, ABC reported on a three-year-old girl named Bridget who lives in the Sonechko Children’s Home in Kyiv. Carried by a surrogate mother from war-torn Donetsk, Bridget had been abandoned by her birth American parents after her premature birth left her with multiple physical and mental disabilities. According to ABC, they even called for her to be removed from life support while she struggled with postpartum health issues. The nurse who is taking care of Bridget has also been trying to contact her parents lately but to no avail.

This is the direct result of treating children as material things that can be bought, sold, and considered defective if they do not live up to contracted expectations.

The proliferation of commercial surrogacy suggests that many of us have become so disconnected from biological reality that we are willing to believe it is possible to “outsource” the most intimate biological processes, much as we might hire an accountant, to do our paperwork, or relocate a manufacturing facility to a newly industrialized economy.

If the UK government likes to keep commercial surrogacy illegal, why does it think it’s okay for British citizens to exploit foreign women?

Are we okay with the complications and trauma inherent in the commercial surrogacy contract, as long as it happens in a distant country that we see as somehow below our own in the global hierarchy? Why do we allow corporations to capitalize on both the desperation of emotional parents struggling with infertility and women in poverty?

As surrogacy rates rise, the Law Commission of England Wales is reviewing related laws. But while couples struggling with fertility should receive our fullest sympathy, the desire to raise and care for children should never be an excuse to commodify overwhelmingly vulnerable women and belittle the reality of mother-child bonding.

This has been happening in Ukraine for too long. Its people deserve real stability and economic growth and must not be treated as objects.