• Volodymyr Muliar and Yarna Kvitka with baby Marko, who was born at just 28 weeks (Supplied)Source: Supplied
Baby Marko, who was born at just 28 weeks, has spent more than six weeks in hospital already.
By
Alyssa Braithwaite

24 May 2016 - 3:23 PM  UPDATED 24 May 2016 - 3:32 PM

Ukrainian musicians Volodymyr Muliar and Yaryna Kvitka were following their dreams, cycling around the world to learn about other countries and share their own culture.

Having completed five cycling expeditions since 2010, their sixth had taken them from Ukraine to Australia, and all was going to plan to continue on to South America, where the couple would welcome their first child at the end of June.

But suddenly their dream trip turned into a nightmare situation.

At 28 weeks, Kvitka went into labour in Sydney and gave birth to their son Marko on April 8 - almost three months before his due date.

He weighed just 1.16kg at birth, and the couple were told their tiny baby would have to spend about 10 weeks a the Newborn Care Centre of The Royal Hospital for Women on life support.

Kvitka and Muliar have spent every day from morning to night at the bedside of their tiny boy since he was born and have seen him grow in strength and health during that time.

"He is well, he is growing," Kvitka told SBS.

"Now he can breathe alone, but he still can't eat alone, so he needs to grow more. Every day I ask the nurses when he can leave hospital, and they say when he can breastfeed each meal. He needs to put more weight. Now he's 1.9kg, so he's very small, but he's big [compared] to when he was born. He just needs time."

In another blow for the new parents, their insurance does not cover labour and related costs in Australia, and the couple say that as non-residents, every day that Marko spends in intensive care costs $5158.

They estimate the fee for his entire stay in hospital will be around $230,000 - a figure completely out of reach for the travellers, whose weekly salary in their hometown of Kyiv was about $83, while their budget for the entire trip was $9000.

Due to the restrictions of their Australian visa, Muliar and Kvitka are not allowed to work while they wait for Marko to be well enough to leave hospital.

"It's very difficult, because we didn't plan to have the baby here, because we knew that it would be very expensive. But it happened, and now we just try to find money," Kvitka says.

"We did a [financial] plan, we pay each week $112, it's not so much, but after Marko goes out of hospital we will talk with financial manager to do another plan. Because we want to sleep normally, not to think about we need to get money, because it's stressful and it's nervous. We need very much to work to live somehow and eat."

The couple have received help and support from the Ukrainian community in Australia, who have offered them free accommodation, clothes for Marko and some money, while a charity in Ukraine is also assisting them.

They have also set up a Go Fund Me page in Australia which has so far raised almost $40,000 to help cover Marko's hospital costs.

"We didn't think that people can help so much, and now we understand that in the world we have lots of nice people and they really want to help," says Kvitka, who has been overwhelmed by all the donations.

And yet it is not enough. Kvitka and Muliar have written to the NSW Health Minister seeking a discount on their hospital bill. The Royal Hospital for Women's general manager Vanessa Madunic told SBS: "The Hospital is working with the family to consider appropriate arrangements toward payment for the highly complex care their son is receiving. The full cost of the stay is unknown at this stage due to the level of care and length of stay being uncertain."

Kvitka and Muliar are just taking it one day at a time.

"We try to be strong because if you will cry it doesn't help," says Kvitka. "So we need to think how to find a way to solve this problem, how to be strong and show the baby that if we will be strong, he will be strong also."