History of Marriage in Ukraine in Soviet History

The state in which a man and a woman are formally united to live together (usually to procreate), and by which they establish legal rights and obligations concerning each other. In Ukraine, as everywhere in the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a marriage was considered valid only if it was registered with the ZAHS, the civil registry. The legal age for marriage in Ukraine is 18 for men and 17 for women. Entrance into marriage is marked by the acceptance of certain moral, social, and economic obligations. Though the rights and obligations of both spouses are not as clearly defined as they are in the marriage contract in Western countries, full equality in rights and obligations (eg, equality in the ownership of property and equal rights in the raising and support of children) is presumed. The principle of the economic equality of spouses becomes apparent during divorce when the division of property is carried out according to that principle irrespective of actual income. Spouses also have an equal responsibility to render each other and their children financial assistance.

Marriage between close relatives is not permitted, nor is marriage to a mentally ill person who has been declared legally incompetent or to a person already married. In the 1940s and 1950s, marriage to a foreigner was forbidden in the USSR, and such marriages are still hindered by a range of administrative formalities (eg, the need to obtain the necessary certificates and visas). The prevention of a marriage on the grounds of religion, nationality, or race is legally forbidden. Likewise, it is forbidden for parents or the civil authorities to force or prevent a marriage.

Before the Revolution of 1917, civil marriages did not exist. Marriages had to be concluded in religious institutions, usually in a church with a service conducted by a priest. Although divorce was legal, it occurred rarely because it was virtually impermissible in the eyes of the ecclesiastical tribunal that decided such a matter. The parents of the bride and groom played a significant role in the conclusion of the marriage by giving their blessing (that is, permitting the marriage) and by taking part in all discussions concerning the household, such as the bride's dowry and groom's property. As a rule, the wife moved into the home of the husband, where she was subservient not only to the husband's parents but to all his relatives.

The Central Rada passed legislation allowing civil marriage and divorce. After the establishment of Soviet rule church weddings were abolished, government registration of marriages was introduced, and divorce was made relatively easy. The first Soviet decrees on marriage in Ukraine were issued on 20 February 1919; they recognized common-law marriages as well as registered marriages. Those laws, together with the quick destruction of the traditions of the old society, resulted in a significant change in the character of marriage, especially in the cities, and also in a noticeable weakening of the marriage bond. Demographic changes in the structure of the population, the increased number of urban dwellers, and the waning influence of religion all gave rise to a decrease in the number of marriages. However, the decrease was offset by factors conducive to the growth of the marriage rate, such as the simplification of the procedure for marrying and the increasing economic independence of young people. Thus, whereas between 1911 and 1914 there were 7.9 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants in Ukraine, by 1926 the figure had grown to 12.1 (see Table 1). At the same time, the length of married life increased as a result of the decrease in mortality. In the 1920s a Ukrainian woman who had reached the age of 15 would spend 29 years, or 58 percent of her remaining life, married. In the 1920s, changes in the marriage law and changing conceptions of morality also resulted in a rapid increase in the number of divorces.

Because of the growth in the number of divorces and the large number of male deaths during the terror of the 1930s and the Second World War, the length of time women remained married had decreased to 25.6 years by 1958–9. Thereafter the figure increased gradually, and it had reached 31.3 years by 1979.

In the mid-1930s the Soviet regime took measures to strengthen the stability of the family. The family was assigned an increasingly critical role in sustaining new patterns of authority, maintaining high birthrates, and maximizing the productivity of the labor force by accommodating itself to female employment. While working outside the home, however, wives were still expected to provide a full range of domestic services. The intensification of the state's demands on the family was accompanied by greater state regulation. The state forbade abortion and made divorce more difficult to obtain by introducing court proceedings. In 1944 common-law marriage was invalidated.

During the 1960s, limitations on divorce were gradually relaxed, and a fairly rapid rise in the divorce rate ensued. At the same time, as in the West, the age at which people first married increased, to an average of 24 for men and 22 for women. The number of people married, divorced, or widowed has also increased (see Table 2), as has the number of births to young parents and illegitimate births. Premarital relations have increasingly become the norm, and the three-generation patriarchal family has been replaced by the nuclear family.

The integration of Ukraine into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the consequent large-scale in-migration of Russians has resulted in a rapid rise in ethnic intermarriage, which Soviet authorities encouraged as a way of promoting Russification and hailed as a virtual act of internationalism. Whereas in 1927 ethnically mixed marriages constituted only 6.5 percent of all marriages in Ukraine, in 1979 they constituted 21.9 percent. In 1979, 30 percent of all urban and 9.3 percent of all rural marriages were between members of different nationalities. In 1979, 63 percent of all marriages were between partners both of whom listed Ukrainian as their nationality.


Pustokhod, P.; Tratsevs’kyi, M. ‘Shliubnist’ na Ukraini,’ Demohrafichnyi zbirnyk, vol 7 (1930)

Hurevych, Z.; Vorozhbyt, A. Stateve zhyttia selianky (Kharkiv 1931)

Chuiko, L. Braki i razvody: Demograficheskoe issledovanie na primere Ukrainskoi SSR (Moscow 1975)

Ponomarev, A. Mezhnatsional’nye braki v USSR i protsess internatsionalizatsii (Kyiv 1983)

— Razvitie sem’i i brachno-semeinykh otnoshenii na Ukraine (etnosotsial’nye problemy) (Kyiv 1989)

A. Babyonyshev, B. Krawchenko

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