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September 21, 2017

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Marriage at Kiev's anti-government barricades

KIEV--She dropped her job to join the revolution against a hated regime. Injured, she was treated by a young man who fell in love with her and a month later, the two were married.

The storyline could be that of Hollywood's newest blockbuster, but it happened in real life on Kiev's Independence Square, where passion has blossomed among the grimy tents of Ukraine's barricaded anti-government enclave.

It all began in December when Yulia Serko, a slim and stylish 25-year-old, left her hometown of Rivne in western Ukraine after protesters rose up in the capital against the president's decision to edge away from the European Union and move closer to Russia.

"I was sick of all this chaos, of this mafia in power," she explains.

The softly spoken brunette went straight to Kiev city hall, which had been taken over by protesters demanding the departure of President Viktor Yanukovych, and volunteered in the kitchen.

One night in early January, a wardrobe used to prop up a barricade keeping Ukraine's riot police out of the building fell on her.

Fearing her arm was broken, she went straight to a makeshift hospital in the building where Bogdan Zabavchuk, a 21-year-old who had studied chemistry, prepared a medicinal concoction to help her.

"A beautiful girl comes along and asks me to help heal her arm," Zabavchuk recalls, smiling as he sits next to his now-wife in city hall, as a man gives a rudimentary English lesson to protesters nearby.

"I wanted to ask for her number, but I was busy and she left straight away."

Three days later, he finally went to the kitchen, asked her out, and the two hit it off immediately.

"On the fourth day of knowing her, I knew she was the person I wanted to spend my life with," he says.

Wedding on TV

When riots erupted in Kiev at the end of January, leaving at least four dead and hundreds injured, Serko was back home for a brief visit.

The violence lasted several days, and Zabavchuk was hurt by riot police who beat him in the ribs.

"I wanted to come back earlier but he didn't want me to. It's scarier seeing this on television than actually being at the heart of events," Serko says, a portrait of Yanukovych sporting a red dot on his forehead printed on her t-shirt, the word "Soon" marked underneath.

She eventually took a bus back earlier than anticipated and he came to greet her at the station in Kiev.

"He took my suitcase but he had trouble carrying it, that's when I realized he had been hurt," Serko says.

He proposed again and again over the next few days, and when she realized he was serious, a priest married them in the city hall.

Serko had told her parents she was getting married a day before the ceremony, but Zabavchuk's mum and dad found out on television after journalists filmed the event.

"My mum burst into tears and she congratulated me. My dad, though, immediately asked to meet my wife," he recalls.

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