Al Jazeera: When Oksana Slipchenko first exchanged glances with the man she would eventually marry, she was immediately drawn to his eyes. “They were like … a small kitten’s eyes,” she recounts with a giggle. She pauses to think of a more appropriate term. “I think defenceless is more the word.”
As the couple sits in their sparsely furnished one-bedroom apartment in Tbilisi on a November afternoon, Oksana’s husband Sergio Skudin flushes with embarrassment. Oksana, who is Ukrainian, and Sergio, who is Russian, first met on New Year’s Eve 2018, during a three-day train journey across Belarus. Oksana, a professional pianist who worked as a concertmaster at a music school in Irpin, Ukraine, was immediately drawn to the shy, soft-spoken Sergio, an archaeologist and independent researcher who often worked on expeditions for the Russian Academy of Sciences. An initial friendship soon blossomed into a long-distance relationship, with the two frequently crisscrossing borders to see each other. In the summer of 2020, they married in Kyiv.