The thought of conserving soldiers' sperm strikes an emotional and patriotic chord for many Ukrainians. This is a representational image. Juan Encalada/Unsplash.

The couple hoped to have a large family. Five kids would be born to them, each with their father's mop of curls, grin, and dreamy eyes.

They would take the kids on lengthy walks in the forests close to their home in Sloviansk, eastern Ukraine, and teach them how to paint and make ceramics.

After that, Russia invaded, derailing their goals. When his wife Nataliya was three months pregnant with their first child, the husband, Vitaly Kyrkach-Antonenko, chose to fight and passed away on the battlefield.

Nataliya claims she won't give up on their dream despite being in deep mourning. She wants to give siblings to her firstborn.

Like hundreds of other Ukrainian soldiers, Vitaly froze his sperm before heading back to battle in the hope that if he did not make it home, he could still pass on his genes, The New York Times reported.

The thought of conserving soldiers' sperm strikes an emotional and patriotic chord for many Ukrainians. It supports men who wish to leave something of themselves behind if they pass away and it gives their partners solace.

In a country now famous for its spirit of resistance, it is also one more way of fighting back. It leaves open the possibility, at least, of preserving Ukrainian bloodlines even as the Kremlin insists that Ukrainian statehood, and by extension Ukrainians as a separate people, is fiction.

The idea of resisting that kind of erasure has gained enough traction that a bill allowing soldiers to have their sperm frozen at state expense is currently being debated in the Parliament.

"This is a continuation of our gene pool," said Oksana Dmytriieva, the Ukrainian lawmaker who wrote the bill, which has already cleared a hurdle toward passage in an initial vote.

Numerous clinics have already started providing the service for free and on their own dime. And Ms. Kyrkach-Antonenko has unintentionally emerged as something of a role model for the cause.

On her Facebook page, she exhorts male troops and their wives to give themselves the choice of starting a family, regardless of what transpires on the battlefield.

Such messages of defiance appear to have also gotten to Russia. Olga Skabeeva, a Kremlin-supporting reporter, reportedly claimed on Russian state television that the freezing of military sperm amounted to "genetic experiments to construct a nation."

"With the help of artificial selection," she warned, "a whole army of selected Ukrainians with an increased level of Russophobia will be bred."

Natalya Tolub, a spokeswoman for the IVMED fertility clinic in Kyiv, the capital, said in an email that the reporter's statements were a sign that the Ukrainians had hit their mark. "Success," she wrote.

Her clinic, she said, is freezing the sperm of about 10 soldiers every week.

Among them was Yehor, 31, who had been with his girlfriend, Svitlana Braslasvska, 25, for only a few months when they decided to freeze his sperm.

As he headed back to battle last month after a short break, he said that he felt calmer and more fearless than the first time he went. He credited experience, time, and the sperm he left behind in a clinic.

But he said his interest in freezing his sperm was also "about not decreasing the number of our patriots, people who will later defend, develop and build our country."

Ms. Braslasvska said the war had made her consider having children for the first time, though she does not want to think whether she would choose assisted reproduction if Yehor did not return.

She saw her newfound enthusiasm as a "physical effect" that the war was having on her, an "impulse to continue our nation."

Despite the resiliency of Ukrainians in the face of suffering, experts claim that using frozen sperm for babies cannot help Ukraine rebuild its population, which was already in decline before the war. But Jay Winter, a retired Yale historian, said that wasn't the point.

By offering not only to die for Ukraine, but also to provide for a new life, soldiers were making a statement — showing their commitment to national survival.

The exact number of Ukrainian men who have frozen their sperm is hard to come by, but Oleksandr Mykhailovych Yuzko, a doctor and the president of the Ukrainian Association of Reproductive Medicine, said that requests had risen at clinics all over Ukraine.

He predicted that the sperm would be used by some widows as well as by wives whose husbands sustain physical or mental wounds that render them infertile.

He argued that the government should do more to assist women in bearing soldiers' offspring by covering the cost of assisted reproductive techniques as well.

Dominic Wilkinson, a professor of medical ethics at Oxford University, said that in his view the rush by some Ukrainian soldiers to freeze their sperm was ethical, so long as both partners agree beforehand that it can be used if the man dies.

In the western Ukrainian city of Lutsk, a reproductive specialist named Petro Patij said that while many of his patients were still couples seeking advice on family planning or assistance with fertility issues, he now feels compelled to also ask the guys if they were interested in freezing their sperm.

And for some widows, transitioning to becoming mothers to their late partners' children is a difficult journey.

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