Standing in line at the maternity ward of the Sanatorio Finochietto hospital in bustling Buenos Aires, Polina Cherepovitskaya suddenly overheard the familiar sound of the Russian language.
“It was crazy, there were at least eight pregnant Russian women waiting in front of me,” Cherepovitskaya, a jewellery designer previously based in Moscow, said in a phone interview.
Cherepovitskaya, who gave birth last December, is one of the estimated hundreds of Russian women who travelled last year to the Argentinian capital to give birth.
Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the South American country has experienced a boom in Russian birth tourism – the practice of travelling to another country for the purpose of giving birth and obtaining citizenship for the child.
While the concept of birth tourism isn’t new, Moscow’s isolation from the west as a result of the war has made Argentina, where Russians face no visa requirements, the go-to destination for families looking to give their children the privileges of second citizenship. Vladimir Putin’s call-up of hundreds of thousands of military reservists may have added to the trend.
Georgy Polin, head of the consular department of the Russian Embassy in Argentina, estimated that between 2,000 and 2,500 Russians moved to Argentina in 2022, many of whom, he said, were Russian women planning to give birth in the country. “In 2023 year, that number can grow to 10,000,” Polin said.
“I found out I was pregnant shortly after the war in Ukraine started,” Cherepovitskaya recalled. “As we saw that borders started to quickly close around us, we knew we had to find a place that we could easily travel to. An Argentinian passport will open up many doors for my child.”
Cherepovitskaya and her husband, who both left Russia shortly after the war in Ukraine started, now plan to stay in Buenos Aires and apply for Argentinian citizenship for themselves, a process that is simplified because they are now the parents of an Argentinian daughter.
“Buenos Aires is in demand right now; it is the only destination we currently work with,” said Eva Pekurova, who runs an agency that arranges travel documents, accommodation and hospital stays for pregnant Russians giving birth abroad.
Russians don’t need a visa to visit Argentina, and Pekurova said extending the standard 90-day stay issued by the country as well as applying for a residency permit was also fairly straightforward.
One of the core advantages of an Argentinian passport, Pekurova said, was that its citizens could make short-term trips to 171 countries without a visa, including the EU, the UK and Japan, while obtaining a long-term US visa was “not very difficult”.
Even prior to the war, Russians could go visa-free to only about 80 countries. And after Putin sent his troops into Ukraine, multiple European countries made it practically impossible for Russians to visit, while month-long waiting lines for visas have formed at understaffed western consulates in Moscow.
Like many other firms in the industry, Pekurov’s company previously offered similar tours to Miami, Florida – once a hotspot for birth tourism.
But her business model faltered when Covid-19 hit, and the US closed its border to Russians. The war in Ukraine has further complicated Russian travel to the US. “Before the pandemic, Miami was the place to go,” said Pekurova. “But now it is Argentina.”
Pekurova herself gave birth last year in Buenos Aires, and her “positive” experience further strengthened her desire to offer trips to the country.
“Everyone is looking for options out with the current situation in Russia. By granting my child an Argentinian passport, I am giving him freedom.”
Besides the privileges of an Argentinian passport, she said Russian clients chose Buenos Aires for its high quality of healthcare, both private and public.
Foreign parents of an Argentina-born baby also have a relatively easy pathway to Argentinian citizenship, which can be arranged in less than two years.
Russian women moving to Argentina to give birth now pay anywhere from £1,000 to £8,000 to brokers like Pekurova, who offer services that range from arranging translators and helping with the reams of paperwork to organising photoshoots with the newborn baby.
Figures on how many Russian women travel to Argentina specifically to give birth, however, are hard to come by.
Kirill Makoveev, the founder of the Baby.RuArgentina agency, said his firm alone had helped more than 100 Russian women and their partners in the past year.
Makoveev moved to Argentina in 2014, working first as a travel guide, but he said he quickly saw the potential the country had as a birth tourism destination, founding his agency in 2018.
“We are currently booked up until May 2023. There is a waiting list too,” said Makoveev, adding that more than a “dozen pregnant Russians” landed in the capital every day.
“Since the start of the war, demand has boomed. It has come to a point where hospitals have advertisements in Russian.”
Cherepovitskaya, the jewellery designer, said that almost all Russian-speaking translators, who are required to be present when legalising the child, were booked up weeks ahead. Those available were charging “exorbitant” fees.
In one chat group called Giving Birth in Argentina, on the Russian messaging Telegram app, more than 3,000 members, mostly soon-to-be mums, exchange tips on the finest maternity wards in Buenos Aires or where to best get baby formula.
Makoveev noticed that after Vladimir Putin announced a military mobilisation in September, which led to an unprecedented exodus out of the country, many Russians were now choosing to stay in Argentina.
“For many, Argentina is no longer just a place to give birth,” Makoveev said. “We see that people want to build a life here and not return back.”
Argentina has a history of welcoming Russian migrants: At the end of the 19th century, many Russian Jews, fleeing poverty and pogroms, sailed across the Atlantic, while a smaller wave of Russians arrived after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“I am hearing more and more Russian language on the streets since March, it is very noticeable,” said Maxim Mironov, an associate professor of finance at IE Business School in Madrid, who has been living in Buenos Aires since 2005.
Mironov said the Latin American country was attracting not only women looking to give birth but also members of Russia’s tech and start-up communities who had left the country in response to the war and the worsening business climate in Russia. Mironov said that Argentina was “very tolerant” towards Russians, and he saw “no signs” that the local authorities were planning to introduce any travel restrictions.
Argentina has been more cautious in its condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine than Europe and the US have. Like the rest of Latin America, the country has chosen not to impose sanctions on Russia and has questioned their effectiveness.
Among the latest migrants to settle in Argentina is Viktoriya Obvintseva, who moved to Buenos Aires last year from Moscow, giving birth in October.
“Our decision to give our child an Argentinian passport isn’t so much about travelling or visas, but about the general future we envision for our child,” Obvintseva said.
“Important things like access to quality western education will be much harder now living in Russia. And as long as mobilisation is in place, my husband probably won’t be coming back to Russia.”
Obvintseva and her husband, a software developer, now plan to stay in Buenos Aires and apply for Argentinian citizenship.
“We really love this city,” she said.