Love in limbo in rebel-held east Ukraine

When Alla Syrovatskaya`s boyfriend of some two years proposed to her she immediately began planning her autumn wedding, the traditional ceremony she dreamt of and the dress she always wanted.

Kiev: When Alla Syrovatskaya`s boyfriend of some two years proposed to her she immediately began planning her autumn wedding, the traditional ceremony she dreamt of and the dress she always wanted.

But what the petite shop assistant couldn`t possibly envision was the Russian-backed rebellion that came a few months later, plunging her home region in east Ukraine into conflict and uncertainty. 

Now, autumn has long come and gone and, like many others here, Syrovatskaya and her fiance Maxim Kondakov have had to put their lives on hold. 

Financial worries, the constant instability and dark shadow of war meant that they had little option but to postpone the wedding. 

"Nowadays, you can`t make any plans for the future as you have no idea what tomorrow will bring," Syrovatskaya, 25, told AFP.

It is not just that, however.

Since the pro-Moscow separatists ousted the central government from chunks of the industrial east, Kiev has officially closed down all its social services in the rebel-held areas.

That means that those who want to get married here have another dilemma -- they don`t know if their weddings would even be legitimate. 

"We have no idea if our marriage would be valid or not, we had no certainty so we decided to postpone the event until we could confirm what the situation is," fiance Kondakov, a steelworker, said. Tatyana Allakhverdieva is the temporary head of the registry service for the rebels` self-proclaimed Donetsk People`s Republic. 

In theory from the start of the year she was meant to start handing out wedding certificates from the unrecognised statelet.

But, she says, it`s difficult to come up with legislation that quickly and for now the separatist authorities are still using the Ukrainian wedding certificates that were left behind when the armed rebels took over.

That doesn`t necessarily mean that they going to be officially recognised, she conceded.

"Since December 1, all the documents that we give out here in our people`s republic have been declared illegitimate," Allakhverdieva, who has two sons fighting for the rebels, said. "Ukraine is blocking us."

As an example, she says, some women who crossed over into government-held territory to change their surnames in their passports after getting married were told that their rebel-issued wedding certificates were invalid.

And it`s not just marriages, but the whole normal cycle of life that has been plunged into an legal grey zone.

Birth, death and divorce certificates also given out by the rebel authorities seem to have little value. 

That means that, officially at least, the babies registered as born here over the past month "don`t exist," she said. 

"The lives of our inhabitants are frozen," Allakhverdieva admitted. But life cannot be put on hold forever. 

The number of weddings may have dropped by some 50 percent this year in the Voroshilovskiy district registry office in Donetsk, but on a recent weekend young couple Yulia and Dmitry Kolobov gathered their loved ones to finally tie the knot. 

They`d put off their wedding since the summer when they temporarily had to flee the region due to the heavy fighting. 

Now the bump under Yulia`s wedding dress has become more pronounced and, as fighting dropped off over the past month, they wanted to seize the chance.

"We decided that all this should not be an obstacle to stop us building a life," Kolobov, 23, a railway worker said, standing nervously in his best suit. 

"Life has to continue and war cannot prevent it," he said, his arm around his new wife. "We wanted to marry, have our kids, build a family." 

But as the music of the wedding march subsided and the couple stood waiting for the Mercedes they`d hired to whisk them away, there was some uncertainty over which marriage certificate they`d just received.

"Ukrainian," said Yulia, with certainty.

"No, Donetsk People`s Republic," said Dmitry.

"Ok, we`ll have to check that out," they agreed. "We haven`t had time yet."

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