Tetiana was expecting it to be the sound of champagne bottles popping that got her up for her wedding in the morning, but she was instead dragged out of bed by a Russian missile falling near her home in central Ukraine.
“At first, I thought it was thunder, but the sky was clear,” the 31-year-old designer explained. “I realised it was a bombing.”
Shaken by the destruction but determined to go ahead with their nuptials, Tetiana and her fiancé Taras got married as planned, six hours later.
“At first, I thought we’d have to cancel the wedding, but my fiancé told me that we had to go ahead,” said Tetiana, who asked that both their real names not be used. “The war has no right to ruin our plans.”
“We have the right to start our family and live our lives to the fullest,” she added.
‘Later’ might never arrive
The couple, who got married in June in the industrial city of Kremenchuk, 250 kilometres to the south-east of Kyiv, are one in a huge wave of people who have got married in Ukraine since Russia began its invasion at the end of February.
Neighbours since the age of six, Taras proposed to Tetiana last year and they initially hoped for a spring wedding.
“In May, we realised that the war could go on for a long time and decided not to postpone our lives until later because, as this war has shown us, this ‘later’ might never arrive,” Tetiana said.
In the region of Poltava, where Kremenechuk is situated, around 1,600 weddings took place during the first six weeks following the start of the invasion, compared to 1,300 in the entirety of 2020.
In the capital, the increase is even more significant, with 9,120 marriages recorded in five months; that’s eight times more than the 1,110 weddings that occurred during the same period in 2021.
A recent sunny Saturday in Kyiv saw 40 young couples begin their lives together in a register office in the city-centre.
“Getting married during the war is the bravest and most difficult step to take, because you never know what’s going to happen,” explained Vitali, 25, just before marrying 22-year-old Anastassia before he heads to the front line.
For three years, the young couple had a vague desire to make their union official, but they only decided to go for it at the last moment. “The war continues. It’s better to do it now,” the bridegroom said.
Vitaly Tcharnykh has been officiating wedding ceremonies non-stop since March and considers his role a contribution to the war effort.
“I believe I can help my country by supporting Ukrainians on an emotional level,” the 21-year-old said.
A ‘message of defiance’
Wars have always been a source of weddings. At the height of WW2 in 1942, the US recorded 1.8 million unions in 12 months, an 83% increase over the previous decade.
Tcharnykh said he has seen a particular increase in the number of soldiers getting married.
“In these difficult times, people don’t really know what will happen tomorrow, so they’re eager to get married as early as possible,” he explained.
Daria Stenioukova, a 31-year-old yoga teacher in Vinnytsia, has been preparing for her wedding with Vitali Zavalniouk, 30, for weeks. On the eve of the event however, a Russian cruise missile devastated the city, killing 26, damaging the register office and destroying her flat.
“We were shocked but determined to go through with it,” Daria said. “It was out of the question to give up. My house was destroyed, but not our lives.”
They were forced to postpone the celebrations with their friends and family, as no one in Vinnytsia was in the mood to party, but they insisted on saying yes to each other that day. They got married in just three minutes, somewhere else.
The couple then opted for a photoshoot in Daria’s bombed-out flat.
“It was a message of defiance to the whole world, which highlighted the strength of the Ukrainian people,” she said. “We are ready to get married, even if missiles are flying over our heads.”