Young Love Meets Russian Repression. They Said ‘I Do’ in a Moscow Prison

Nadezhda Shtovba did not wear a white dress to her wedding. There were no bridesmaids or groomsmen. She and her husband, Yegor, did not exchange wedding bands either — rings are banned in Butyrka prison.

That is where Yegor Shtovba has spent the past 15 months in pretrial detention. In September 2022, he had read a love poem written for Nadezhda at a public gathering, his first time sharing his work in front of a crowd. He was detained that night as the police raided the event, and was eventually charged with “public calls for activities directed against state security.” The police accused him of cheering an antiwar poem read by another poet, an act that he denies.

His marriage to Nadezhda, in a short ceremony last month in a prison in downtown Moscow, was the first time the couple had any physical contact since his arrest.

“For 10 minutes, we just stood and hugged,” said the newly minted Ms. Shtovba, who recently turned 18 and sews plush toys for income.

The wedding, in the presence of a registrant and prison officials, was a testament to their young love, which can be glorious but also complicated, confusing and hard to navigate even in good circumstances. In Russia, an authoritarian state in the midst of severe crackdown on freedom of expression, it can turn the joyous moment of marriage into a trying struggle.

Nadezhda Shtovba after her wedding ceremony in a prison in downtown Moscow.Credit…via Aleksandra Popova

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