Georgia is becoming a marriage center for Russian emigrants amid war uncertainty

TBILISI, Georgia — Alexei Yermolaev hardly expected that he would propose to his girlfriend Anna Volshuva in the middle of the night surrounded by packed bags.

It was a few days after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, and Yermolaev had just bought a one-way ticket to Tbilisi, in the southern Caucasian state of Georgia, amid rumors of mobilization and martial law.

For him, fleeing the country meant leaving Volschuva in St. Petersburg for the time being – and he did not want to get on his plane without cementing his commitment. I didn’t even have a ring,” Yermolaev recalled.

Despite the circumstances, Volshuva said yes.

A little over a year later, after Volshuva followed him to Georgia, the couple married in Tbilisi.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and its “partial” mobilization in September prompted hundreds of thousands of Russian anti-war opponents to hastily flee abroad. Amid the ongoing unrest and uncertainty, many subsequently decided to tie the knot.

While such marriages have taken place in all countries where fleeing Russians have settled, Tbilisi has become a marriage center thanks to its relaxed marriage regulations.

Foreigners wishing to get married in Georgia simply need to arrange a registration appointment at a government building in Tbilisi – the so-called House of Justice – provide notarized translations of their passports and appear at the appointment with two witnesses.

“It’s like Las Vegas,” Volshuva said.

“Outside of Tbilisi there are even civil registry offices that are open 24 hours a day… You just show up, present your passports and in two hours you’re married.”

A Russian couple is getting married in the picturesque town of Signagi in eastern Georgia.  Courtesy of Ekaterina Alexandrova

A Russian couple is getting married in the picturesque town of Signagi in eastern Georgia.
Courtesy of Ekaterina Alexandrova

Although the Georgian government does not release data on the number of foreign couples registering marriages in the country, six newlywed Russian men and women who spoke to the Moscow Times all said they have friends and acquaintances who are also married in the country of the South Caucasus last year.

“When it comes to emigration, people live in conditions of high uncertainty and want to develop concrete plans that can keep them going,” said sociolinguist Vlada Baranova, who is part of a team of independent researchers studying Russian emigration after the crisis erupted the war in Ukraine.

“Without knowing what will happen tomorrow, [emigres] “We do all sorts of things to anchor ourselves — even for a young couple, it’s perfectly reasonable to get married to get humanitarian visas and move to get citizenship somewhere or something like that,” she said.

Baranova, who now lives and works in Helsinki, Finland, got married herself in Tbilisi after fleeing Russia for Armenia last year.

“As long as my partner and I lived in the same country, there was never really a reason to get married. But then we realized that our life as a legal couple outside of Russia would probably be easier.”

Yermolaev and Volshuva said they had similar motivations when they decided to formalize their partnership in Tbilisi.

“There was so much uncertainty,” Yermolaev told the Moscow Times. “We had to cement our relationship somehow.”

At the wedding of Yermolaev and Volshuva, they were joined by only three friends. The couple then strolled the streets of downtown Tbilisi, soaking up the nighttime atmosphere before indulging in a celebratory glass of wine.

While some Russian émigrés have settled permanently in Georgia, tens of thousands more stay for just a few months, eventually in search of more distant lands in Europe, South America, or Southeast Asia.

For such couples, marriage was a way to ease the way forward.

A view of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.  mostafa_meraji / pixabay

A view of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.
mostafa_meraji / pixabay

Everyone who spoke to the Moscow Times said their plans to move to another country were their main motivation for getting married.

“For me it was a kind of insurance for the future,” said Baranova.

“These practical steps are important for building a life in other countries, like making sure someone gets a visa with their spouse, or maybe even starting a business somewhere together.”

Russian couple Alexandra Barmina and Fyodor Wesselov, who married at the House of Justice in Tbilisi in the fall before moving to Germany, said obtaining a marriage certificate was vital to their move.

The couple received humanitarian visas from Germany – but due to the nature of the German immigration system, they could theoretically have been separated upon arrival and sent to different cities if they couldn’t prove their relationship was real.

“Maybe I would be told to live in Bavaria, and Sasha would go to Nuremberg,” said Veselov.

“We knew we had to get married to avoid such a scenario.”

For the anti-war couple, getting married in Georgia was merely a way to avoid the possibility of a breakup — not a romantic endeavor.

“We always thought marriage was a bureaucratic necessity, but nothing more,” Barmina said.

“Our relationship – which has lasted for more than a decade – hasn’t changed.”

Activist Yekaterina Alexandrova and her husband with Georgian marriage certificates.  Courtesy of Ekaterina Alexandrova

Activist Yekaterina Alexandrova and her husband with Georgian marriage certificates.
Courtesy of Ekaterina Alexandrova

Not everyone who is getting married in Georgia does so with long-term partners. Some met their new spouses in the uncertainty of war and emigration.

Activist Yekaterina Alexandrova, who previously worked for Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, met her now-husband Igor in Tbilisi just a week after fleeing their homeland in Siberia.

“Criminal proceedings were already underway against me because of my political connections, and there was a risk that a second trial would be opened. I had to go immediately,” Aleksandrova said.

But her then-boyfriend wasn’t ready to leave his life behind and move abroad, so they broke up.

Aleksandrova and Igor got married in August after just a few months of dating and, like all couples interviewed by The Moscow Times, decided to forego the pomp of a wedding ceremony.

We can always get married later,” Alexandrova said.

A family history in which one does not look back

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There is no official data on the exact number of Russians who have passed through Georgia or are still living in the country.

However, Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili called Last month, 80,000 Russians lived in Georgia. If true, that’s significantly fewer than 112,000 Russians allegedly They live in the South Caucasus country after Russia announced a “partial” mobilization in September.

Yermolaev, who fled St Petersburg when the invasion began, said he and now-wife Volshuva planned to move to Poland this year if they could gather all the necessary documents.

However, the process will likely take many months and involve a long period of time in which they will again live in different places.

“Emotionally, being apart for so long isn’t going to make our marriage any easier for us,” Yermolaev said.

“At least now we know we won’t have any trouble proving we’re a couple.”