In Ukraine, they even marry in the trenches

07-03-2023

Eastern Europe

Tim Winter and Anna Scheld, ref.ch

Ukrainian couples can even marry over a distance. If a groom is fighting in the trenches, he can be connected digitally to the wedding ceremony. Photo Andreas Gregor

Since the beginning of the war, couples in Ukraine have said yes more quickly. Over fifty weddings take place in a single weekend — a report on love in times of war.

Actually, Jurij Gerun and Marina Pitilyak had imagined a huge wedding. A big party with hundreds of guests. Now they are here, in the largest registry office in Lviv. Not even her parents know about it. Just Marina's sister. She videos the ceremony with her cell phone. A string quartet plays the final chord of Mendelssohn's Wedding March. Then silence.

Marina is wearing a traditional Ukrainian costume: a hand-embroidered blouse tucked into her wrap-around skirt, a plahta. Yuri wears camouflage, combat boots and a big grin. The couple has their arms intertwined and stands on an elongated cloth called a rusznyk. It should seal their love forever.

Then everything happens very quickly: candles, tears, champagne. Each couple in the main hall has 20 minutes to tie the knot. Jurij and Marina don't have much time anyway. He's a soldier on home leave. He has to return to the Kharkiv front in a few days.

Missing groom

Yesterday at the front, today at the registry office. Many soldiers respond to impending death with the promise of eternal loyalty. Assembly line weddings happen in Ukraine. Couples use the short holidays from the army to get married. Over 50 weddings took place this weekend alone in the registry office, where Jurij and Marina exchanged their vows.

Law

Half a month after Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, a law was passed to make marriage in a day possible. It applies to couples where at least one is threatened with death – as is the case with soldiers.

They come to the registry office with their partners without prior notification. Walk in, get married, and leave again. A walk-in wedding. It is even possible to get married from the front without actually being there. Then the bride stands alone in front of the registrar. The groom joins in via video call.

Everyone is equal

Jurij and Marina met at work; she is 29 years old, and he is 34 years old. They went mushroom picking and fishing, hiking and travelling. Until the war broke out, and Yuri reported for military service two days later. Marina remembers the moment he stood in the apartment with a packed backpack. She didn't cry, didn't ask him to stay.

'People in uniform get married here every day. We don't ask any questions," says the 59-year-old Zenoviy Zenovijovych, head of the registry office in Lviv. He sits on the first floor, up the marble staircase to the right, past people in fine suits and festive dresses.

Up there, behind his desk, he sits upright. He doesn't spend much time on paperwork in his office. He would much rather walk through the house and look at the happy faces of those who come out of the halls. At the age of 19, he came to the registry office to finance his law studies. That was 40 years ago, and he's still here.

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Jurijn and Marijn got married in a walk-in wedding. Photo Viktoriia Vovkanych

The registry office is a villa on the edge of a park. Poor and rich, famous and unknown, marry here. "For us, they are all equal," says Zenovijovych. Once a couple in dinosaur costumes came. Zenovijovych was amused and took a picture of them; of course, they got married too.

Air raid during ceremony

Today Jurij is standing next to Marina outside the registry office. He takes a pipe from the pocket of his camouflage trousers and lights it. He's getting married in uniform, he says, because he wants his children to look at the pictures and know: Dad was part of this country's history.

Fear of death makes many people marry earlier, says registrar Zenovijovych. Before the war, some couples were unsure or wanted to take their time. But once the man is at the front, it can be too late at any moment. If a soldier dies, his wife has the right to financial support from the state, the equivalent of almost 17,000 francs.

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Zenovij Zenovijovych has been working as a registrar for 40 years. Photo Andreas Gregor

Sometimes he sees soldiers limping into his registry office on crutches. Even then, he doesn't ask any questions. The other day there was an air raid during a wedding. Zenovijovych squats down and shows a video. Guests, the bridal couple and strings stand on a terrace. Sirens wail. The ceremony continues. Zenovijovych looks up from the display and says: "The couple didn't want to waste any time."

Weddings in the house have changed since the war. There used to be fireworks. Of course, that is no longer possible today. A registrar says she senses a different mood in the room. A certain heaviness. "More tears flow. Not necessarily just for love," she says. But also because parents, siblings or friends cannot be present.

Waiting for victory

The days after the wedding are the days before parting. Yuri and Marina go to an exhibition and walk past their favourite places full of memories of better times. They try not to think about what's coming.

On the day of departure, Marina drives Yuri to the barracks. Rain runs down the car window. The farewell is short and painful. A kiss, a hug that Marina finds even tighter than usual.

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The atmosphere in the hall is sometimes difficult. Tears flow – not necessarily just out of love. Photo Andreas Gregor

They don't know when they will see each other again. "Maybe in six months, when Yuri is on leave from the front," says Marina, "or when victory is there."

Soon they want to get married in a church, invite all their friends, and celebrate a big party. And they want to renovate an old house. It stands near a waterfall in the Carpathian Mountains, Marina's homeland.

Maybe they'll live there in peace soon when it's all over.

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by ref.ch on February 21, 2023

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