Ukraine 2007, Part 3
The wedding on Saturday wasn’t until 2 PM, so we had some free time in the morning. Within walking distance from the hotel was a World War II era bunker built into several meters of solid rock. The tour guide explained that the bunker was originally constructed before WWII, ostensibly for use in the event of an invasion from Poland, but was quickly appropriated by the Soviet military during WWII. What the bunker was used for by the Soviets is not entirely clear, as all official records are kept under lock and key in Moscow. Much of what is known about the bunker comes from Germany, and the records that the German army kept when they occupied Korosten and the bunker. What is known is that the men tasked with the construction of the facility were all executed upon its completion.
Our tour guide walked us through several rooms, and presented to us many of the accouterments and relics found in the surrounding area. There were uniforms, gas masks, shells and ammunition, and quite a bit more. One of the more interesting items on display in the bunker was a baby carrier designed to protect from chemical warfare.
We trekked back to the hotel, and after a quick freshening up we congregated in the lobby. Ann and Igor led us across the street to the wedding facility. The Ukrainian state does not formally recognize religious weddings, so many people in Ukraine opt for both a civil and a church wedding. Ann and Igor elected to only have the required civil ceremony, which was held in a very nice chapel-like room in a fairly nondescript building. The civil service is fast and no-nonsense, and it felt something like a Las Vegas drive-through wedding: when we arrived, another couple was about to wed, so we waited in the lobby. It wasn’t five minutes later that they came out and we shuffled in.
They shared a drink, and then a kiss, and finally had a ceremonial knot tied around their arms to symbolize their union. Finally, Ann and Igor bowed to their parents in gratitude, and the parents expressed their consent and affection for the newlyweds. After that, we all walked across the street back to the hotel for the reception.
The wedding reception was a most unique experience. Ann had told us when we arrived some of what to expect. Originally they had planned a small, intimate reception so that folks could celebrate together without a lot of fuss or hooplah. When Igor made the final preparations, he announced to Ann that they had booked a live band, a wedding planner, and even arranged for fireworks! (This last was not such a big deal, it turns out: there are fireworks almost every night in Kiev!) Ann was a little anxious, not knowing entirely what to expect from the decidedly more complicated reception.
When we entered the reception hall there was another table laden with food and drink. We feasted through the night, enjoying the delicious food and making many toasts. The “wedding planner” turned out to be a sort of master of ceremonies, making sure that the evening moved along without too many awkward pauses. She did a surprisingly sophisticated job of not pushing things too fast, though, so that the entire evening was casually paced for everyone’s enjoyment. I’d never seen anything like this wedding planner in the U.S., and frankly that’s a shame because she did a superb job coordinating events throughout the entire reception! She worked closely with the band to ensure music selections kept the pace moving, while slowing things down sufficiently to make time for toasts. She spoke in private with various guests to learn things about Ann and Igor, and she incorporated these facts into her routine, or used them as introductions when asking someone else to present a new toast.
After we’d been plenty lubricated by toasts, the wedding planner asked us all to participate in a number of games. The Americans in the audience were a little hesitant, not knowing what to expect, but it proved to be uproariously funny, and made for some of the more entertaining parts of the evening. Without the facilitation of this wedding planner, there would have been very little natural interaction between the Ukrainians and the Americans at the reception, since we were separated by language and culture. With her assistance, though, we were able to breach these barriers to become friends and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.
The formal reception was scheduled from 3 PM to 11 PM. Around 9:30 our energy began to wane, so several of Igor’s friends brought forth acoustic guitars. They sang songs in Ukrainian, and while I didn’t understand any of the words, it was clearly a very emotional addition to the celebration. When the reservation on the event hall expired, the celebration moved up to the newlywed’s wedding suite. I shared a few more toasts, and then excused myself to collapse in my room.
It was a wonderful ceremony and celebration, and I am proud and honored to have been able to share it with my sister. I’m glad that my kids got to see such a unique cultural event. And I’m extremely happy for Ann and Igor.