Two Ukrainian Service Members Take a Break to Say ‘I Do’

The groom could not wait to kiss the bride.

He kissed her when she walked down the aisle, and during the ceremony. He kissed her after his vows, after hers, and again when they finally said “I do.”

Maksym Merezhko, 43, and the bride, Yuliia Dluzhynska, 39, both serve in Ukraine’s military and had traveled to Kyiv the night before from the eastern Donetsk region. They had no time to lose.

After a three-day honeymoon in the Carpathian Mountains, Ms. Dluzhynska said, “We will go to war.”

The celebration was provided free of charge by Zemliachky, roughly translated as “Women Compatriots,” a charity group that provides uniforms, boots and other essentials to female soldiers but, because of demand, recently started to organize their weddings. The couple had been officially married days before, signing a marriage license in a stuffy room in Sloviansk. But they wanted a true celebration.

“It takes a lot of time to organize a wedding, and when you are on the front line, you don’t have that free time,” said Kseniia Drahaniuk, Zemliachky’s co-founder.

Everything is donated — the dress, venue, photography, flowers, hair, makeup, rings, cake, lingerie and the honeymoon, too — saving couples significant expense and the stress of planning.

On the day of her wedding, earlier this month, Ms. Dluzhynska picked out white peonies for her bouquet before heading to a brightly lit salon.

Wearing a camouflage windbreaker and sipping a “NonStop Military Edition” energy drink, she emanated composure as two women pinned her blonde hair into an updo.

Ms. Dluzhynska having her hair and makeup done for her wedding.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times
Ms. Dluzhynska and her hair stylist hugged after finishing her look for the wedding.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

“He has never seen me like this,” Ms. Dluzhynska said of the groom. “It is his dream to see me in a dress with makeup on.”

Asked what she loved most about her soon-to-be husband, she melted.

“Everything,” she said, her eyes welling, sending the beauticians into a tizzy of touch-ups.

They met three years ago through a dating website and were soon planning a life together. But when Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Mr. Merezhko rejoined the military to fight. About a month later, Ms. Dluzhynska followed, as a medic, to be near him.

“She left everything and went to war with me,” he said.

At the wedding ceremony, in an event space with a roof deck overlooking Kyiv, cloth azaleas formed a white arch. Thirteen white chairs were arranged in neat rows, though the only guests were Zemliachky volunteers.

Ukrainian music played until the bride started down the aisle in a white, off-the-shoulder gown. Then John Legend’s “All of Me” came on — and the kisses followed.

In his vows, Mr. Merezhko drew laughs describing how he had worn dirty shorts to their first meeting.

Everything for the wedding was organized by Zemliachky, a charity group that provides uniform and essentials to female soldiers, and recently started to host their weddings.Credit…Laura Boushnak for The New York Times

Her vows were shorter, under a minute, and barely audible.

“When you said: ‘I want to grow old with you,’ I realized that this is great love and this is the man I asked God for,” she whispered, through tears.

Even on their special day, the war was not far from their minds.

The ceremony ended with a cry of “Slava Ukraini” — Glory to Ukraine! The cake was decorated like a Ukrainian flag. The champagne, a 2021 vintage from the ravaged eastern city of Bakhmut.

“We will live,” Mr. Merezhko said, beaming after the ceremony. “We will have children, then grandchildren, and we will babysit the grandchildren. I will teach my grandchildren to fish and plant potatoes.”

After their honeymoon, they would head to Donetsk, back toward the front line. Mr. Dluzhynska had a simpler wish for their future. “The main thing is to survive,” she said.

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