Share story

DONETSK, Ukraine — It was a weekend of love in this city of war.

First came the wedding.

A rebel leader wearing fatigues and a cast on his broken right arm marched into the city’s main wedding-registry office Friday with his betrothed for a marriage ceremony that was attended by several dozen armed militiamen.

The wedding, much of which was broadcast live on Russian television, was billed as the first ever registered in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic.

But a worker in the office who was too afraid to give her name said the staff had performed the ceremony under duress and without documents, and that the happy couple, identified as Arsen Pavlov and Elena Kolenkina by The Associated Press, were, in fact, not legally married under Ukrainian law.

But that did not seem to detract from the occasion. The bride wore a long white strapless dress, a veil, a gun and holster over her shoulder. Her long black hair was braided with a St. George’s ribbon, a symbol adopted by pro-Russia separatists, who have largely retreated to Donetsk and Luhansk for a last stand against the Ukrainian government forces.

Pavlov, a stocky young man with a scruffy red beard who also goes by the name Motorola, held his bride’s hand with his good arm, slipped a ring on her finger and kissed her as organ music played.

Then, on Saturday, it was singles night.

Local television advertisements had invited women from Donetsk and nearby towns to show up at Lenin Square at 8 p.m. to meet bachelor rebels.

A rebel leader’s Facebook posting said the goal was to “acquaint our unmarried guys with the best, truest and most beautiful women on earth.”

Shortly before 9 p.m., women began trickling into the square. A loudspeaker was playing music, and the water in the fountain had been turned on for the occasion. Some were young and single, but most were middle-aged and ideological.

Many were holding daisies, though one shy young woman in a black miniskirt and a green sleeveless top acknowledged that they had been given out by the organizers.

“I decided to have some fun,” said another woman, Alina Chernoglazova, a 24-year-old electric-station worker who was wearing a tight, gauzy dress the color of a yellow highlighter. “It’s war. Who knows what will happen tomorrow.”

With a full moon rising and music blaring, a heavyset master of ceremonies broke the news to the crowd that most of the fighters had gotten stuck in a battle in the town of Karlovka and would not be coming.

“Awwww, too bad!” Chernoglazova shouted, tossing her blond hair, which she had curled especially for the occasion.

But several minutes later, two fighters emerged next to the emcee, looking uncomfortable but delighting the largely female crowd.

“Mo-lod-tsi!” the women shouted, using the Russian word for “good guys.”

Chernoglazova smiled, and pushed her way forward to get a photo next to them. “They gave us two so we wouldn’t be too disappointed,” she said.