War upends lives of Ukrainian-Russian couples — can their love stand the test?

“It’s dangerous just going for a walk. No one can guarantee that you won’t get shot,” says Rita*, a 22-year-old who lives in central Kyiv.
Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, she has stocked up on food, but the stress of the war means she hardly ever has an appetite.
“During the first nights of the war, I was afraid to even fall asleep,” she says. “Then I got used to the sirens day and night telling us to head down into the air-raid shelter. Sometimes I didn’t because I was sound asleep.”
Rita initially wanted to go abroad but now intends to remain with her parents in Kyiv.
“It’s a strong decision I couldn’t understand at first,” says Andrej, her 26-year-old Russian boyfriend who lives in Moscow. He had wanted her to leave Ukraine with her family and said he would join them, but now, a month into the war, said the risk of being shot while fleeing the country makes leaving too dangerous.
‘It is unclear if we’ll be together after the war’
Though the couple cannot be physically together, they remain in constant contact. Still, they try not to talk about politics.
“In the beginning, he sent me Russian news reports and I sent him ours,” Rita says. “And then we got into bad arguments.” She criticizes that people are enthusiastically watching Putin on television, while children in Ukraine are dying. Rita confesses that she is full of both fear and hatred.
“I am extremely worried and realize that this is something the Russian people did. War in our century is actually quite absurd,” Andrej says. But he tries to avoid talking about politics saying: “I’m not a political scient. I don’t want to get involved.”
Rita, however, won’t remain silent: “When you see photos of dead children, you cannot feel any love for Russia. We hope that our army is able to recapture our territories.”
The young woman said she wished her boyfriend was in Kyiv to see it with his own eyes, “so he wouldn’t ever think about saying anything bad about Ukraine.”

Although he’s Russian, Andrej says he’d be willing to fight against Russian soldiers to protect Rita’s family. But he doesn’t think that would change the situation. Just like he doesn’t think anti-war protests in Russia are changing anything.
“I don’t like it when other people accuse us of being lazy and indifferent. What is a simple citizen supposed to do? Those who take to the streets with flags and signs get long prison sentences. How does that help anyone?” he asks.
Rita and Andrej both say they wish the war never happened and are worried that it might tear them apart. Rita says she loves Andrej but is afraid of having to tell people in Ukraine that she has a Russian boyfriend. She hopes he renounces his Russian citizenship and applies for a Ukrainian passport.
“They say that when people love each other, they are inseparable. But there is something that does separate people,” Rita says. “Nationality means something. I will not turn him against his country, and he will not turn me against mine. It is uncertain if we will be a couple after the war.”

‘We didn’t talk about politics before’
The couple had plans to travel to Georgia in March, but Rita wouldn’t leave the country after the war started and sanctions on Russia would have made it extremely difficult for Andrej to travel abroad.
Now left with nothing to do but wait, Rita looks back fondly on the time they spent together since meeting on Instagram a year ago. This, she thinks, is what maintains their relationship.
A woman exercises near a car and apartments damaged shelling, in Kyiv, Ukraine,Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (AP)
“I stumbled across her chance and gave her a Like, and then a second Like. My Likes were reciprocated and I got in touch with her,” Andrej says. He is a trader in Moscow and she, before the war broke out, was studying environmental protection and working as a model. They met for the first time in Turkey and then traveled to Ukraine, where they spent a lot of time together in Kyiv. Later, they took trips to Albania and Egypt.
Rita introduced Andrej to her parents. Her father, Rita says, is a patriot who was a sniper in the Ukrainian military and now, at 50 years old, wants to join the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces.
The couple had planned before the war to travel and then decide where to live. Rita even considered moving to Moscow and applying for Russian citizenship, but that idea is now completely off the table.
“We didn’t talk about politics before. Our relationship was based on love, mutual respect and shared plans,” Andrej says. They both actually want the same things: To study, to have a family, children, a good income and a prosperous life.
‘Nobody needs this war’
Polina and Pasha also want the same things and also are separated from each other. Both are 25 and both are members of the Church of Jesus Chr of Latter-day Saints, which was how they met as the coronavirus pandemic pushed the church to hold online seminars. Pasha, a Ukrainian, however, is from Odesa while Polina is Russian and lives in Moscow.

“For me, it’s a little unusual to fall in love with a person on a screen, but something is growing in us,” Pasha says, who is currently on a semester abroad program in the Czech Republic. His family is still in Odesa. Polina, meanwhile, is a teacher in Moscow and is training to become a programmer.
The two have never met in person. They were supposed to meet in Ukraine, but after the war broke out they don’t know what to do next.
“When it all began, it was really stressful. But the war also brought us closer together. We have become more open and share many personal experiences. We know people in both countries in our situation, who also worry about one other. No one needs this war,” Pasha says. He is currently assing Ukrainian refugees in the Czech Republic while collecting humanitarian aid for those in need.
Polina says the war is “a very difficult subject” and tries not to talk about it with anyone. But her faith gives her at least some peace. “I want it all to end quickly and peacefully,” she says, stressing that she is against the war and lives in constant fear.

They call each other daily and Pasha says he is certain he has found his better half. “When you feel good together, you don’t have to come up with topics, everything comes naturally,” he says. Both emphasize they have the same tastes and share a sense of humor, interests and life plans to study, travel and raise a family together.
“I hinted to her that I would like to have a daughter. These are things out in the future and may just sound like flirting. But it helps us maintain a feeling of belonging to one another,” Pasha says. “We don’t want to keep putting off actually meeting one another, but it has become so difficult.”
Polina believes, however, that the day will come.
* All names in the text have been changed.

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