Ukraine’s baby factories rake in record profits amid chaos of war


While average Ukrainians suffer amid NATO’s proxy war against Russia, business is booming for the surrogate baby industry, which requires a steady supply of healthy but financially desperate women to lease their wombs to affluent foreigners.

Surrogates “have to be from poorer places than our clients,” explained the medical director of Kiev’s largest “baby factory.”

Ihor Pechonoha of the Swiss-based BioTexCom says the business model that has helped him build one of the most profitable surrogacy companies in the world is simple exploitation: “We are looking for women in the former Soviet republics because, logically, [the women] have to be from poorer places than our clients.”

It is no surprise then that BioTexCom has turned to Ukraine for an almost endless pool of young women willing to sell their wombs to ease their financial distress. Eight years of civil war followed by a proxy war between NATO nations and Russia has plunged Ukraine into economic disaster. As its citizens sank into poverty, the country swiftly emerged as the international epicenter for surrogacy, and now controls at least a quarter of the global market. With the rise of the burgeoning industry, a seedy medical underworld filled with patient abuse and corruption has taken root as well.

From a 2022 BioTexCom promotional video showing surrogate Ukrainian mothers inside the company’s bomb shelter.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his team have actively encouraged the Western plunder of their war-torn country, inking an investment partnership with the global asset management firm Blackrock, stripping workers of labor protections, and handing state owned companies over to private firms.

But less attention has been paid to Ukraine’s surrogacy industry, which brought over $1.5 billion into the country’s economy in 2018 alone. Since then, the global market for surrogate babies has more than doubled. The industry was valued at over $14 billion last year, and it’s projected to grow by around 25% every year going forward, according to an analysis by Global Market Insights.

As more countries slam the door on the surrogacy industry, Western officials appear to be turning a blind eye to the abuse-ridden business flourishing in a deregulated, politically unstable Ukraine.

Emma Lamberton is a Master of International Development candidate at the University of Pittsburgh who published a paper in Princeton’s Journal of Public and International Affairs on the risks posed to Ukrainian women by the country’s surrogacy industry. 

“The main concern of advocates on the ground in Ukraine is that legislators and even news organizations aren’t looking at this as a human rights violation,” Lamberton told The Grayzone.

“A government would never see human rights violations like child abuse as something to simply be regulated,” she explained. “They’d never say ‘you should only be able to beat your children on Wednesdays’ — that would be incredibly ridiculous. And so from the perspective of advocates on the ground in Ukraine, this is an abuse issue and therefore, it should not be regulated and instead it should be outlawed.”

Long before the escalation of hostilities in Ukraine in early 2022, the country was known as a fertile hunting ground for shady characters and agencies seeking to prey on desperate Ukrainian women.

Asian nations with weak regulatory systems and masses of impoverished citizens like India, Thailand, and Nepal also provided popular surrogacy markets. But their governments could not ignore the mounting record of human rights abuses by top industry players and ultimately closed their doors to wealthy foreigners seeking surrogates.

The restriction of these national surrogacy markets has channeled global demand to Ukraine, and kicked off a race to the bottom among child-vending firms. Now, childbirth profiteers have effectively exported the industry from impoverished nations to one in the midst of a grinding conventional war with its neighbor. 

“The war has brought to the forefront the need for unified international regulation on the topic of surrogacy, as surrogates are currently forced to choose between staying in a war zone or fleeing to neighboring countries that don’t recognize the legality of surrogacy,” Lamberton noted to The Grayzone.

“As with any humanitarian crisis, human trafficking becomes an even greater risk,” she said, “and international agreement on surrogacy and human rights violations are needed to protect the vulnerable women and children in Ukraine.”

“They don’t treat you as a human being”: impoverished mothers held hostage in baby farms

The BioTexCom Center for Reproduction is by far the biggest player in the international surrogacy market. The owner of the “reproductive technology services” claimed in 2018 that the company controlled a mammoth 70% of the national surrogacy market and a full 25% of the global market. 

While BioTexCom’s website boasts that the company has given “the joy of parenthood” to thousands of couples from over the world, its real history and operations reveal a gut-wrenching pattern of abuse, secrecy, malpractice, and even allegations of human trafficking.

Alina, a Ukrainian woman interviewed by Al Jazeera in 2018, explained the conditions that led her to entering a contractual pregnancy agreement with BioTexCom. 

“It’s hard to find a well-paid job in Ukraine…I wanted to set aside money for my son’s university fees – they’re very expensive,” she said.

Another Ukrainian BioTexCom surrogate mother carrying a child for an American couple told El Pais that she decided to sell her womb because of her financial situation. “I grew up without a home. It’s important for me to have an apartment of my own. [Surrogacy] is the only way I can do that.”

BioTexCom’s Medical Director, Ihor Pechenoha, openly admitted to the Spanish investigative magazine La Marea that his company targets women from poor areas, and that “all those who work as surrogate mothers do so out of financial hardship.”

“We are looking for women in the former Soviet republics because, logically, [the women] have to be from poorer places than our clients,” Pechenoha explained.

Ultimately, he added, “I have not met a single woman with a good economic situation who has decided to go through this process out of kindness, because she thinks she has enough children and wants to help someone else who wants them.”

“They do it because they need that money to buy a house, for the education of their children,” Pechenoh continued, concluding: “if you have a good life in Europe, you’re not going to do it.”

One Ukrainian woman who sold her womb to foreigners confirmed the BioTexCom director’s comments, telling The Guardian, “the only reason why I agreed to do this is just for the financial benefits.”

“Plus, since my husband left for the frontline, I need a way to support my other four children,” she added.

“Surrogate mothers, they’re a flow of incubators,” another one of BioTexCom’s former surrogates explained in 2019. “They don’t treat you as a human being.”

A 2020 report published in Princeton’s Journal of Public & International Affairs also took note of the foreign exploitation driving Ukraine’s surrogacy boom.

“While proponents claim that women freely choose to become surrogates, vulnerable women are often manipulated through the presentation of choice. Potential surrogates are forced to choose between providing for their families through a practice that may violate their moral beliefs or forfeiting a financial opportunity to provide for their families.”

Oksana Bilozir, a Ukrainian MP pushing to ban foreigners from leasing Ukrainian wombs, told the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) that “there are two categories of Ukrainian surrogates: those wanting to do it for the money and those who already have.” She insisted to ABC that surrogacy offers so much economic value to Ukraine that it may be impossible to outlaw. 

Bilozir lamented that the corrupt, oligarchic forces that hold sway over the Ukrainian government have effectively stymied the legislative fight against the surrogacy industry.

“Really it’s now a big fight with business and their lobbyists who are unfortunately present in the Parliament,” she said. “Surrogacy was written into our laws purely as a business.”

Emma Lamberton, the author of the Princeton report on Ukraine’s surrogacy industry, noted BioTexCom is actually a foreign company operating inside of Ukraine. Documents from the firm’s website suggest the company is registered in Switzerland. 

Despite BioTexCom’s associations with the wealthy banking center – and its promotional material flaunting state-of-the-art facilities and luxury accommodations for surrogate mothers – a raft of reports indicate the conditions in its residential centers are more akin to prison than any four star hotel.

One mother explained that while she was pregnant on behalf of BioTexCom, the company did, in fact, put her up in an apartment as promised, but she was forced to share the apartment with four other pregnant women, and to also share a bed for 32 weeks of her pregnancy. 

Some who have witnessed the company’s practices from the inside say it weaponizes the surrogates’ financial straits to keep them from leaving their living quarters. 

“If we weren’t home after 4 P.M., we could be fined 100 euros,” a former BioTexCom surrogate told London-based freelance journalist Madeline Rouche. On average, the monthly stipend for surrogates ranges from 200 to 350 euros. In other words, leaving the living quarters could cost a BioTexCom surrogate half of their monthly compensation. 

“We were also threatened with a fine if any of us openly criticized the company, or directly communicated with the biological parents,” she said. “We were treated like cattle and mocked by the doctors.”

The financial compensation, she said, was not nearly enough to make her decision seem worthwhile: “I would never be a surrogate mother again. It was a terrible experience.”

After birth, many infants are kept under lock and key in hotels with militarized security until their purchasers arrive to pick them up. As the Guardian reported in 2020

“These newborns are not in the nursery of a maternity hospital, they are lined up side by side in two large reception rooms of the improbably named Hotel Venice on the outskirts of Kyiv, protected by outer walls and barbed wire.”

Meanwhile, top Ukrainian officials allege the abusive industry has found powerful guardians in Washington.

US accused of protecting BioTexCom as Western press pumps out PR

During a 2019 interview with The Hill, Ukraine’s then-general prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko alleged that US ambassador Maria Yovanovitch handed him an “untouchables list”, or a list of powerful people whom Washington forbade him from investigating or prosecuting. 

Lutsenko oversaw a series of criminal investigations into BioTexCom following accusations of fraud and human trafficking. He eventually had the founder of BioTexCom, a German citizen named Albert Tochilovsky, placed on house arrest for two months in 2018. 

But Lutsenko was removed from his post in 2020. Today, he “believes the investigations into BioTexCom have stalled as a result,” the Guardian reported.

While Ukraine’s former top prosecutor accused the US of protecting BioTexCom’s founder, top Western outlets have produced glowing, public relations-like coverage of the company, papering over the abuse and exploitation lurking behind its maternity ward curtains.

In October 2022, The New York Times published an article that could have been drawn directly from BioTexCom marketing material. The Times framed the resumption of BioTexCom’s surrogacy operations in the midst of a war with Russia as a valiant act of patriotic defiance, describing the baby business as “an industry that many childless people rely on.”

Instead of pressing BioTexCom’s medical director on the business model that relies on the financial coercion of poor women or the reports of mistreatment, the Times tossed Pechenoha softball questions about the status of the surrogacy market. 

“The war has not diminished the appeal of surrogacy for couples desperate to have children,” because the company’s clients “are in a hurry,” he explained. Ultimately, “we managed to bring all our surrogate mothers out from under occupation and shelling,” Pechenoha bragged. 

Baby farms in bomb shelters

As the Ukraine proxy war began, the lucrative business of supplying foreign women with babies at the expense of poor Ukrainian women adopted a militarized posture.

According to The Atlantic, the company secured a bomb shelter near their compound to ensure that newborn production can continue unimpeded in the event of an attack. A video published by BioTexCom in early 2022 shows a typical shelter equipped not only with beds, cribs, and sleeping bags, but with gas masks as well. 

A primetime promotional-style ABC News package on the company celebrated its Russian bomb-proof baby factories. “Ukrainian Surrogacy Agency Does Whatever it Takes to Keep Patients Safe,” was the title of the segment

The report opened with ABC’s David Muir commending Ukraine’s “largest surrogacy agency” for “taking all measures possible to make sure their patients and their babies are safe.”

The segment went on to feature a softball interview in which BioTexCom’s medical director insisted without a scintilla of pushback that the company’s medical standards were “so high.” Muir then commended him for being “courageous and brave” and working for such a “wonderful” company.

BioTexCom clearly treats some of humanity’s most daunting challenges as business opportunities, from war to the supposedly looming threat of depopulation.

The next phase of surrogacy: artificial fetuses outside the body

In a note accompanying an article promoted by the company, BioTexCom highlighted the birth rate crises faced by developing countries, arguing that their “artificial insemination technology” is a “chance for survival for humankind.”

“In 50 years the population of most countries of the world will be reduced by half,” the piece declared. 

Tochilovsky, the German owner of BioTexCom, has argued that as long as his company remains at the forefront of the wider biotech industry, it promises a revolution in futuristic reproductive biotechnology, in which babies are generated in artificial wombs and genes are edited with computers.

In an interview with Delo, a Ukrainian newspaper, Tochilovsky discussed the digital transformation in the context of the “reproductive technology industry.”

Referencing climbing infertility rates and theories of “population collapse” popularized by the tech billionaire Elon Musk and Chinese businessman Jack Ma, Tochilovsky insisted that the entire human race will be rescued by biotechnology.

“Reproductive medicine is the future of humanity,” he said.  

“The most important thing is ectogenesis, the ability to raise a child outside the human body…an artificial uterus. Something like factories that we all saw in the movie The Matrix. I think within five to seven years we will get ectogenesis.” Tochilovsky said that BioTexCom is “working in this direction.”

When asked by the Ukrainian journalist how BioTexCom plans to resolve the legal and ethical issues around engineering and organizing baby factories, the CEO replied that the answer was simple: eliminate outside oversight.

“The most important thing,” he insisted, “is to prohibit law enforcement agencies from interfering in the work.”