I’m a sniper. And I’m pregnant’: meet Ukraine’s frontline lovers

“Squelching through muddy trenches under mortar fire may seem far from romantic, but war forges intense bonds quickly — something noticed early on by Khrystyna Biliakovska, a 28-year-old communications manager who came up with the idea of collecting wartime love stories as a way of boosting morale and preserving memories. Along with three friends she set up a website called You, Me, War — 100 Love Stories, and recruited 20 volunteers to help gather heroic tales of romance, like that of Anya and Sasha.” SundayTimes

Yevhenia and Zhenya

Yevhenia Emerald, 32, was an entrepreneur running a successful jewellery business before the Russians invaded. She volunteered immediately, leaving her ten-year-old daughter with her grandparents, and became a sniper with the Safari regiment. Dubbed the Ukrainian Joan of Arc after her call sign, she soon attracted media attention. Zhenya Stypaniuk, a 32-year-old volunteer machinegunner, read an Instagram post about her and spotted they had a mutual friend. He reached out. Yevhenia says there was an immediate connection and when she got time off, she agreed to meet Zhenya in Kyiv. “

Two weeks after they first met, Zhenya proposed. “Everything is fast,” Yevhenia says. “We do not postpone anything for tomorrow, because tomorrow may never come.”

The pair were married in October, an army general officiating. Unbeknown to Zhenya, Yevhenia was pregnant with his child. “I cried so much when I found out,” she says. “I called my friend and said, ‘Shit, what should I do? I’m a sniper! They will say that she got pregnant in those trenches.’ ”Eventually she told her commander and was sent back to Kyiv. Zhenya was delighted. Their baby girl is due any day.

Anya and Sasha

“They met in the trenches of the eastern front last July when she came to tend the wounded. “I immediately liked her,” Sasha says, smiling. “I was impressed by how strong and fearless she was. She ignored me to start with but I was persistent. I tried to find any excuse to see her. I’d say, ‘I don’t feel well, give me vitamin C.’ ” Anya was taken by his “upbeat manner” and the small gifts he brought her, such as a carabiner — useful for clipping things to her pack.”

Anya, left, and Sasha met when she was treating casualties on the eastern front

The first time Sasha told Anya “I love you” was about a month after they met. They were under intense shelling that left several of their group dead or wounded. As Anya tried to help one man who had lost an arm, Sasha shielded her with his body.

Natalia and Anton

Natalia Borysovska and Anton Mankivskyi fell in love while serving together in Ukraine’s Donbas region in 2019 and were married in 2020.

From NPR:

Dreams for the future are often an early casualty of war. Years ago, Natalia suffered a combat wound that left her able to get pregnant, but only via artificial insemination. They had planned on having the procedure in Kyiv to start their family, but when the bombs began to fall in February, non-essential surgeries were paused in the hospitals and the couple took their place in the trenches.

“After we win — and we will win,” Anton says, they want to build a life of the kind of quiet that isn’t full of foreboding. With kids, in a safe and free Ukraine, and, while he’s dreaming, Anton says he’ll throw in his dream car: a ’69 Mustang.

Iryna and Petro

Iryna had started working at a co-ordination center organizing volunteers and raising money for ammunition and cars — driving them from Germany and Poland to Ukraine herself, often through shelling. She began delivering ammunition to the front line. On one trip to the Donbas last March, she noticed a soldier, Petro, who had just come from the front. He was lying exhausted on a cot, half-sleeping, one eye looking at her. “I immediately noticed his blue eyes,” she says.

Back in Kyiv a few days later, Iryna noticed a missed call from an unknown number. “Who is it?” she texted. A selfie came back. It was Petro. “Do you remember me?” he asked. “Of course,” she replied. “Your blue eyes …”

And so it goes. On April 6 last year he proposed near Bakhmut, better known for bitter combat than romance. Somehow he produced a ring, red tulips and patriotic yellow and blue balloons. They married a few weeks later in a village near the front. The only guests were Petro’s commander, his fellow fighters and a family of local refugees. Petro conjured up a wedding cake and flowers. He also had a white wedding suit made for her but Iryna felt white was not appropriate, so wore khaki trousers and a T-shirt — like him.

More at Sunday Times and @christinalamb on Twitter

Ukrainian territorial defense fighters Valeriy (C) and Lesya (R) during their wedding ceremony at a blockpost near Kyiv (Kiev), Ukraine. Russian troops entered Ukraine on 24 February leading to a massive exodus of Ukrainians to neighboring countries as well as internal displacements. CDEnews

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