Druzhkivka, Ukraine —
Air raid sirens wailed and one of the brides wore camouflage trousers as the Ukrainian army took a break from frontline fighting in the east to hold a double wedding Sunday.
Two young couples who met just months earlier while serving in the army tied the knot together Sunday in the small city of Druzhkivka, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from frontline zones where Ukrainian forces are battling Russian invaders.
The sun shone and soldiers carried bouquets in a brief interlude from heavy fighting as Russians intensify efforts to push out Kyiv’s forces in the east.
One of the brides, Khrystyna Lyuta, a 23-year-old contract soldier with the rank of private first class, wore camouflage trousers and army boots with a traditional red Ukrainian blouse embroidered with flowers.
“I’ve got used to this uniform,” she explained of her choice of outfit.
She met her husband Volodymyr Mykhalchuk, 28, just two months ago, when he was mobilized. They live around five kilometers from each other in the same southwestern Vinnytsia region but might never have met if it had not been for the war.
“War is war, but life goes on,” Lyuta explained their decision to marry.
“This was not a hasty decision,” said Volodymyr.
“The main thing is that we love each other and we want to be together.”
The other bride, Kristina (no last name given), 23, who works in the signal corps, opted for a traditional long white dress with red folk embroidery to marry Vitaliy Orlich, also 23, a sniper.
“I believe that this is about creating a new family — it doesn’t matter where it happens or how,” she said.
The grooms both wore soldiers’ uniforms.
The couples were set to return to serve in the war zone on the same day.
“I can’t give them free days as such. The only thing is that they won’t be on the frontline, they will stay in the rear,” the brigade’s commander Oleksandr Okhrimenko told AFP.
Neither couple had family present but they said relatives had been understanding.
Kristina said that her husband had spoken to her mother online and “she already calls him a son”.
The soldiers were from the 14th Separate Mechanized Brigade, which has been fighting Russian-backed forces in Donbas since May.
The young couples married in front of a registry office, which had closed due to the war.
The quiet street had few cars and occasional trams. Sandbags were piled up in front of cafe and shop windows.
‘There’s no time’
The couples went through traditional rituals such as stepping together onto an embroidered towel, symbolizing togetherness.
The brigade’s chaplain gave them an Orthodox Christian blessing, flicking holy water and placing crowns on their heads, on the day of a major Church holiday, the Festival of the Holy Trinity.
The Priest in a khaki cassock, Yuriy Zdebskiy, told AFP that “it’s the first marriage in the brigade in wartime”, since Russia launched its invasion on February 24.
“Now it’s wartime and there’s no time for big celebrations,” he said.
The infantry brigade’s commander, Okhrimenko, has the right to certify marriages under martial law.
He said the location for the weddings “was chosen primarily for security reasons”.
Druzhkivka is about 40 kilometers as the crow flies from three fronts, as Russian troop threaten the towns of Slovyansk to the northeast, Bakhmut to the east and Horlivka to the southeast.
Hours later, AFP reporters heard shelling and saw smoke rising as the two sides exchanged fire close to Bakhmut.
Even in relatively untouched Druzhkivka, shelling earlier this month tore apart private houses and crashed through the roof of a Baptist church in one street.
During the wedding, air raid sirens went off three times, an AFP reporter heard.
None of those attending reacted. Many war-hardened locals now ignore warnings to go to shelters unless there is an obvious threat.