Olya & Niel Jones
It was New Year’s Eve, 2009, in Moscow, Russia. Transplanted Bermudian Niel Jones had just moved to Russia to take a secondment with Conyers Dill & Pearman. He found himself at Vodka Bar with a colleague, keen to celebrate the end of the year in his new Russian home. What he didn’t bargain for was meeting the love of his life, Olya Rozit.
Olya was at the same bar with her girlfriends, drinking champagne and dancing. “At one point, while we were dancing, I felt someone’s eyes on me,” tells Olya. “I thought, ‘What a handsome Russian man.’” Niel’s sentiments for Olya were the same: he garnered the courage and went over to talk to her. “He spoke in broken Russian with a heavy accent, ‘Privert, goverish po Anglisky?’ which means, ‘Hi, do you speak English?’” recalls Olya. “I realised that he was a foreigner who didn’t speak Russian and I didn’t know English, only simple phrases from school lessons.” The couple, determined to communicate, went back and forth exchanging simple phrases in both Russian and English. Even though they were limited in what they could express, they both agreed there was something so special about the other that they would do anything to be together. “I realised that I did not want to let this man go,” explains Olya. “Even if I couldn’t talk to him I wanted to be with him very, very much. I still vividly remember this strong desire to be with him, regardless of everything.”
And regardless of everything, the couple began dating immediately. After six months together, Olya took it upon herself to enrol in an intensive programme to learn English. For eight months, she studied English for five hours a day. From that point onwards, the couple enjoyed a new level of communication, and it was then that they were able properly to share their interests, hopes and desires, falling head over heels in love with each other.
In December 2012, after three years of dating, Niel was preparing to move back to Bermuda, his time with Conyers, Dill & Pearman, Russia, over. Together they hosted a farewell party and invited 60 friends to their apartment to say goodbye to Niel. During the party, Olya tailored and performed a song for Niel: “From Olya, With Love.” When she had finished, Niel dropped to one knee and asked Olya to be his wife. With a simple “Yes,” their sad farewell party for one turned into a happy engagement party for two.
With Niel in Bermuda and Olya in Russia, the couple hurriedly put together a Bermuda wedding with overtones of Russian tradition. Olya always dreamed of having a church wedding, something that is quite rare in Russia with most couples opting to marry in a civil ceremony. It worked out that the beautiful St. John’s Church, where Niel was christened, was available for their special day. “We wanted our ceremony to be traditional, formal and conducted in a place that would impress upon us and our guests the solemnity of the occasion,” the couple explains. They even opted to have a Russian translator to interpret the exchange of vows for Olya’s family. Bishop Nicholas Dill officiated, treating the couple and their guests to a marriage analogy: One strand of rope, he told the congregation, is not strong enough on its own, but when three strands are woven together, they are unbreakable. Bishop Dill explained that Olya is one strand of the rope and Niel is another, and that their faith in God is the third.
Following such a formal ceremony, the couple welcomed their guests to a more laid-back, garden-style wedding reception at the home of friend and neighbour, Shelly Greene. The theme was a combination of both Bermudian and Russian culture. Catering to the Russian tradition was a special performance of “Kalinka-Malinka” by Russian girls in costume. Russian guests also took part in the “Gorka” chant, representing the guests’ wish for the happy couple to display their love with a kiss. And of course, no Russian gathering is complete without vodka, which was in ample supply. For their wedding favours, the couple cleverly handed out traditional Matryoshka, Russian nesting dolls, to their Bermudian guests and Bermuda sand ornaments to their Russian guests.
Although the couple had to overcome a few serious immigration hurdles to get some of their 30 Russian guests to Bermuda to take part in their big day, this only emphasised the theme of Olya and Niel’s love story: that love conquers all and nothing must stand in the way of two people destined to be together.
Photography by Sacha Blackburne