On October 22, Yelena Mikhailova and her longtime partner, Maksim, were married at the civil records office (ZAGS) in Pytalovo, a town in the Pskov region on Russia's border with Latvia. The hastily arranged wedding came just days after Maksim was called up to fight in Russia's unprovoked war against Ukraine in a mobilization decreed by President Vladimir Putin on September 21.
"I never thought everything would happen so quickly," Mikhailova said. "We weren't prepared for a wedding, but events pushed us to get married.... We didn't exchange rings because we didn't have the money to buy them. We decided we'd get them later when he comes back and, hopefully, they pay him at least some of the money he's been promised."
"We don't have much income," she continued. "Maksim doesn't really have work but he gets by on odd jobs. Lately he's been working as a mechanic. Now the main thing is to gather the things my husband needs. I bought him some warm socks and clothes so that he'd have them when they send him over there."
Mikhailova's story is far from unique. Since Putin announced the mobilization less than six weeks ago, virtually every region across the country has seen a spike in marriages. In most regions, mobilized soldiers are allowed to marry the same day that they submit their paperwork with their partners. Some regions have arranged buses to get soldiers and their fiancees from mustering bases to the nearest marriage registration office, while others have arranged temporary wedding halls at the bases themselves.
Mikhailova's reason for getting married to Maksim, with whom she has lived for 19 years and raised two children, is also typical. "Mobilization is a bit frightening," she told RFE/RL's North.Realities. "Anything could happen to him. In any case, legally married wives have more rights, so we decided to formalize our relationship."
'We Are Marrying Them In Bunches'
Wives are entitled to a payment up to 7 million rubles ($115,000) if their husband is killed or up to 3 million rubles if he is wounded in combat. The state also pays for transportation and accommodation for spouses to visit wounded men in the hospital. And onetime payments for the families of mobilized soldiers range from 50,000 to 150,000 rubles ($815 to $2,450), depending on the region.
The deputy head of the Pytalovo district in charge of mobilization, who asked not to be identified to protect his relatives near the combat zone, says the number of weddings of mobilized soldiers in his district has skyrocketed. "We are marrying them in bunches, several couples at a time," he said. He mentions as well that mobilized soldiers are forming lines at the offices of notaries to file wills before being shipped out.
The independent Russian-focused outlet Mediazona conducted a study of the national marriage spike. Using data gathered from regional civil records offices, it estimated that at least 492,000 men had been mobilized since September 21. In Buryatia, an impoverished region in southern Siberia that had already contributed a disproportionate number of soldiers to the Kremlin's invasion of Ukraine even before mobilization, the number of weddings rose from 83 per week before mobilization was announced to 662 per week after.
In all, the 75 regions that reported marriage data to Mediazona carried out 31,000 weddings of mobilized soldiers in the four weeks after Putin's September 21 announcement. Local media in Astrakhan reported that a record 104 couples were married just on October 22. The town of Kamen-on-Ob in Siberia's Altai region reported 71 marriages between September 21 and October 15, compared to 23 during the same period last year.
The Zabaikalye region, in eastern Siberia, reported a record number of weddings in September and October. "Workers at the regional records office conducted accelerated procedures on the same day as a mobilization notification was presented 1,211 times," the local administration newspaper reported.
Anton Pinezhaninov is a native of Kotlas, a town in the northern Arkhangelsk region. He was mobilized and sent to a base in the Leningrad region so quickly that he didn't have time to marry his longtime partner, Maria, with whom he has two sons.
Maria, however, traveled to Pinezhaninov's base to conclude the wedding at a ZAGS in St. Petersburg after St. Petersburg Governor Aleksandr Beglov ordered officials to expedite the weddings of mobilized soldiers.
Larisa Solovyova, whose son was also quickly mobilized from Kotlas, told RFE/RL he had been turned away by the local ZAGS, where officials insisted on enforcing a one-month waiting period. "Is my son heading off to summer camp?" she said. "He's going off to war. But the bureaucrats refuse to work under wartime conditions.... I won't give my son's name -- the enemy doesn't need to know. I am really worried about him."
Kemerovo region Governor Sergei Tsivilyov on October 13 organized and presided over the weddings of seven mobilized soldiers in the Siberian city of Omsk, wearing a large Latin letter Z on his label, the Kremlin's symbol of support for the invasion of Ukraine.
'Just For All This To Be Over'
In September, 34 couples were married in the town of Kostomuksha in the northwestern Karelia region. One of them was Anna Vasilyeva and her mobilized husband, Aleksei. "When mobilization was announced, I still wasn't sure that I loved him," Vasilyeva told RFE/RL. "We were just dating and getting to know each other. But when his notification came, we were both struck suddenly, and we understood that we loved one another."
"I went to his base in Tver," she continued. "They gave him leave from his unit and we went to the central ZAGS, showed them his notice, and were married. The line was very long, and we stood for a long time. It was stuffy and uncomfortable."
After the wedding, over beer and sausages, Vasilyeva says she tried to persuade her husband not to go to war. "I told him to go to Georgia or to hide somewhere like other men from Karelia had done," she said. "But he refused. He and I have very different views on life and what is going on. His unit has been seriously 'brainwashed' by experienced instructors from the Vagner [private military] company."
"When we parted, I told him to remain human no matter what happens," she added. "Not to torture anyone if a Ukrainian surrenders to him. I sent him off, but I don't believe he will come back, although I tell him all the time on the phone that I am waiting for him and he must come home. But I am not confident he will remain the same good, sweet boy that I have known so long."
Back in Pytalovo, near the Latvian border, Yelena Mikhailova is alone with her two sons. "Who is going to feed us?" she asked. "He is gone. We have two sons -- who is going to raise them? And I'm also afraid for our eldest, who is 17. I didn't need a wedding. I don't need anything. Just for all this to be over."
"We want to live like we lived before," she said.