This wedding story is probably one of the most heartbreaking love stories that I’ve heard in my life, and it’s not fiction but real life, it’s what happens right now in Ukraine, a brave country that is in the middle of a war with Russian Federation. Romance and love are present in Mariupol, a modern-day pit of hell on the Sea of Azov shore, maybe even more so because these people know the value of life. He made engagement rings for himself and his fiancee from foil, but these bands are precious for her. They were married for just 3 days, then he was killed and she is now in Russian captivity being tortured.
Valeria is a military woman from Ukrainian Azov Regiment, Andriy was a Ukrainian border guard. They met about 3 years ago at war, served together, and fell in love with each other. When the escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian war began on February 24, 2022 and Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Valeria and Andriy both were deployed to Mariupol, a city that quickly fell under siege. But their dislocations were different and they couldn’t even meet – Mariupol is a very large city – so they exchanged texts about being alive. The situation in Mariupol got worse day by day.
The first time Valeria and Andriy met was when he got an injury. He came to her location right after the hospital and asked her to marry him. At that time, she wore her hair short-trimmed because people didn’t even have enough water to drink, let alone wash your hair. So, Valeria jokingly told Andriy that they would marry when her hair would grow so that she was able to style it nicely for the wedding. Of course, no bride dreams about having a wedding in a bomb shelter, under the day-and-night enemy attacks from air, land, and sea, without food and water, among her friends suffering from severe wounds without painkillers and antibiotics – not very romantic environment.
The second time Andriy came to Valeria and popped the question again, he brought engagement rings with him. He made these bands from simple foil – forget about diamond engagement rings, like your fiance gave you or will give you one day. Remember this couple if you think one day, Oh, I wish my engagement ring has a bigger rock.
Photo from Valeria’s personal archive
After such a romantic gesture, Valeria couldn’t say no. So, this couple got officially engaged. The wedding happened on May, 5. But obviously, it wasn’t a cozy or fancy wedding. They couldn’t even leave the shelter and see the sun on their wedding day. Valeria and Andriy just signed some papers and exchanged wedding rings – she had her mother’s wedding band and gave her granny’s ring to him. They made a few wedding photos underground, in the pits of hell of Azovstal. For their fellow Azov fighters, this small wedding was probably a huge occasion because there were so few smiles, so little happiness and joy in the bunkers where over 500 injured soldiers and up to 2,000 relatively healthy (they didn’t count light injuries at all and everyone suffered from starvation and lack of water) survived without basic medicaments.
On May 7, 2022, Andriy was killed in battle. Russians destroyed this couple’s chance for happiness. Valeria says, “We were married for only 3 days. But here, at Azovstal in Mariupol, every day counts for a year”. And also she adds, “I promised him I would get out of here [besieged Mariupol] but, in fact, his soul did get out and I’m still here”.
Photo from Valeria’s personal archive
All the Ukrainian defenders of Azovstal surrendered to Russia after the corresponding order from Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky on May, 16-20. They didn’t have any more resources to fight or to survive. And right now, these people, including Valeria, are in captivity. They’re being tortured and interrogated. Russia refuses to fulfill the obligations to exchange captives with Ukraine.
Valeria lost her whole world with the death of Andriy. In just 3 days, she was a bride, a wife, and a widow. She can’t bury his body and mourn him properly. More than that, she can’t even get home unharmed to her family and friends. All she has today is the physical pain of tortures, the heartache from the loss of her husband, and the memories of their eternal love.
The world shouldn’t forget about Azov defenders. We must do everything we can to get them free. Ukraine can’t do it on her own. Remind your governments to push Russia toward releasing Azov defenders asap.