© 2023 WSKG

601 Gates Road
Vestal, NY 13850

217 N Aurora St
Ithaca, NY 14850

FCC Public Files:
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

These Russian couples didn't plan to get married. The Ukraine war changed their minds


About a year ago, some friends asked Tatyana Neustroyeva and Pyotr Kolyadin that fateful couple question: Would they get married? In unison, they gave their replies: He said yes — and she said no.

The two hadn't discussed it. At 40, they'd known each other half their lives and been together almost two years, living in St. Petersburg, Russia. Tatyana viewed marriage a bit of an archaic convention; Pyotr was into it, but wanted the time to be right.

Then, on Feb. 24, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. The couple felt they couldn't breathe, floating in a fog, with one clarity: They should get married, now.

"To me, we are facing a world apocalypse," Pyotr says, "and this is sort of like an anchor that you throw forward and maybe somehow it will pull you out. It's kind of an island of order in a world of chaos."

Soon, they began noticing — on social media, on local news — lots of other couples holding rushed, quick ceremonies. In St. Petersburg, articles noted long lines for fast-track registration. In Moscow, some 9,000 couples married in April in a 12-year record.

Uncertainty and fear spur a search for closure

"The more people think that whatever is coming could seriously upend their life, the more likely they are to make relationship decisions," says William Hiebert, a marriage counselor in Illinois and general secretary of the International Family Therapy Association.

Hiebert points out other big disasters had spurred waves of weddings, such as the much-studied 1989 Hurricane Hugo, the 2011 tsunami in Japan and the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Psychologists explain that when uncertainty meets fear in a way that's too big to grasp, people crave closure — in this case by defining and sealing their love.

"It's sort of trying to grab time and put it to a standstill," Hiebert says, "an attempt to control what little you can control."

In fact, for Russian couples, the war in Ukraine became a marriage catalyst for reasons both psychological and practical.

Pragmatic reasons are different now

After about two years of dating, Kirill Gorodnii and his now-wife Katya were looking for a shared apartment in Moscow when Russia invaded Ukraine, the birthplace of Kirill's father.

"The first day of the war, we were shocked," says Kirill, 27. "The second day of the war, we were scared. The third day of the war, we decided that we have to move elsewhere."

To this day, the Kremlin insists its attacks on Ukraine are a "special military operation," with new laws threatening a decade in prison for protests that call it a war. At one point, Kirill and Katya found themselves finally discussing marriage — in case one of them got arrested.

"So the spouse can get visits," Kirill explains. It was a grim joke, he says, except not really a joke.

Other couples mention rumors that Russia's military could mobilize all men in a nationwide draft. Wives get more access than girlfriends to hospital visitation, military hotlines, financial support — and to morgues, as Tatyana noted in passing.

Leaning on love amid disorder

Kirill and Katya joined tens of thousands of Russians who fled to neighboring Armenia and Georgia. Then, Katya's international employer shuttered its Russian office and offered her a new job in Dubai. Kirill could reside there only as her husband.

The two rushed to marry in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. On the way to register, by pure chance, they ran into some friends, who got recruited as witnesses. Six guests joined for dinner to toast their unexpected matrimony. Given the circumstances, Kirill says, it was a perfect wedding.

Tatyana and Pyotr, too, did not plan to invite anyone to their surprise wedding. But, as these things go, friends found out and the event, as Pyotr put it, began sprouting its usual accouterments of bouquets and champagne bottles.

On a city portal, the couple picked an available location for their Tuesday evening registration: incidentally, St. Petersburg's most historic, palatial marriage hall. They wed under its soaring ornate ceilings, surrounded by ancient marble and a handful of closest friends, Tatyana in white linen, Pyotr in jeans, giggling.

"I guess we're coping with the help of love," Tatyana says. Amid despair, disorder and discord, "at least we'll know that we are a family."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.