She should have woken up to the popping of champagne corks on her wedding day, but Tetyana was instead jolted out of bed by Russian missile fire near her home in central Ukraine.
“At first I thought it was thunder. But the sky was clear and I could tell there was a shot,” the 31-year-old designer told AFP, recalling running into the corridor outside her room if she was hit directly.
Shocked by the devastation caused by the pre-dawn blasts but determined to go ahead with their wedding, Tetyana and her fiancé Taras promptly exchanged their vows six hours later.
“Initially I thought we should call off the wedding, but my fiancé told me to go ahead … War has no right to ruin our plans,” said Tetyana, who asked that the couple be allowed to use their assumed names.
“And we have the right to raise our families and live our lives to the fullest.”
The couple, who married in June in the industrial hub of Kremenchuk, 250 kilometers south-east of Kyiv, are part of a massive wave of marriages fueled by the war with Russia.
Taras, her neighbor since she was six, proposed to Tetyana last year and they originally planned a spring wedding.
“In May we realized that the war could last quite a long time. We decided not to postpone life until later because, as this war has shown us, later may never happen,” Tetyana told AFP.
In the Poltava region, where Tetyana and Taras tied the knot, there were 1,600 weddings in the first six weeks after Moscow’s invasion on February 24 – compared to 1,300 for all of 2020.
– “The war goes on” –
In the capital, the increase is even more pronounced: 9,120 marriages were registered in five months, a more than eightfold increase from the 1,110 ceremonies that took place in the same period in 2021.
On a sunny Saturday in Kyiv, more than 40 newlyweds began their life together in a downtown registry office.
“Getting married during the war is the bravest and toughest step you can take because you never know what’s going to happen next,” said Vitaliy, 25, who wanted to marry 22-year-old Anastasiya in full military uniform before moving in went to war.
“I could go to the front at any moment.”
In Ukraine, prospective spouses have benefited from a simplification of the bureaucracy surrounding marriage, allowing them to get married locally instead of having to register first and then come back after a long wait.
Vitaliy and Anastasiya, who did not give their surnames, had harbored vague ideas of an official engagement for three years – but only signed it a day before the happy occasion.
“The war goes on. It’s better to do it now,” the groom told AFP.
Vitaliy Charnykh has been conducting back-to-back ceremonies at the administration building since early March and sees his role as his own special contribution to the war effort.
“As a civil servant, I believe I can help my country by giving emotional support to Ukrainians,” the 21-year-old told AFP.
– ‘Rebellious Embassy’ –
Unsure of what the future might hold and suddenly forced to focus on the important things, young lovers have historically proved unable to resist the urge to formalize blossoming romance in wartime.
At the height of World War II in 1942, there were 1.8 million marriages in 12 months in the United States — an 83 percent increase over a decade earlier.
Charnykh said he saw a particular surge in soldiers getting married.
“In such difficult times, people don’t really know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so they want to get married as soon as possible,” he said.
Daria Steniukova, a 31-year-old yoga teacher from Vinnytsia, 200 kilometers southwest of the capital, had been planning her wedding to 30-year-old Vitalii Zavalniuk for weeks, but disaster struck just a day before the end.
A Russian cruise missile devastated the city center two weeks ago, killing 26 people, damaging the registry office and destroying their home.
“We were shocked but determined to go through with it. Giving up was out of the question. My house was ruined, but our lives weren’t,” she said.
They were forced to postpone celebrating with friends and family—no one in Vinnytsia felt like celebrating—but they set their hearts on tying the knot elsewhere.
“None of the administrative centers had a single empty seat. But we decided to go to one despite being told we didn’t stand a chance,” Steniukova told AFP.
“We were willing to wait all day, but then we got a result: we were married within three minutes of our arrival.”
To top off an already amazing wedding, they celebrated their union in an unusual but eye-catching way – by opting for a photoshoot at Steniukova’s bombed-out apartment.
“It was a defiant message to the whole world – it emphasized how strong Ukrainians are. We’re ready to get married even if rockets are overhead.”
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