How we met: ‘I took a good look at his photo to see whether he might be sleazy’

In 2015, Emma joined a language website. She was looking for someone to practise her Russian with and she didn’t want a boyfriend – besides, she already had one. It quickly became clear many people were on there to flirt or get together. “When I saw Dmitry’s profile picture, I expanded it to see whether he looked like he might be a bit sleazy,” she says with a laugh. But he was, she says, “the first person I met who seemed relatively normal”.

They started talking by Skype, about twice a week. Was there a spark? “I don’t think I thought of you in any romantic terms,” Emma says to Dmitry. “We were very clear this was just about language. I liked you and I thought you had a nice smile, but I didn’t think anything else.” Dmitry says his “mood was better every time after we’d had a chat. I felt really positive. But I think it started only when we finally met in person.”

A year later, they met in St Petersburg, where Emma had gone for a 10-day language course. She spent three days with Dmitry and his brother. “We never actually spent any time alone together,” she says. She admits to thinking he was “quite good-looking. Because I was in a relationship, I suppressed it. I think I also thought: ‘What’s the point? He’s in Russia, so it wouldn’t work anyway.’”

Apart again, they started to text more frequently. “I noticed I was thinking about her all the time,” says Dmitry. “I was trying to engage in different things and I tried to deny the whole idea I had feelings for her, because I thought: what are the chances for us to be together?” He tried not to text Emma, but lasted all of two weeks. One morning, he sent a text asking: “Do you think we’d be good in a relationship?” Emma had been thinking about him, too. She broke up with her boyfriend and they started messaging “pretty much continuously”. “At some point, we realised we should meet again and spend time together, just us,” says Dmitry.

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Emma went to St Petersburg in September 2016. “I worried that maybe it was an infatuation and that spending time together would make us realise it wouldn’t work,” she says. “The first few days, it felt a bit awkward – we weren’t in a relationship, we didn’t know whether to hold hands or not. As time went on it got more comfortable and by the end of the holiday we were like: OK, let’s give it a go.”

It was difficult for Dmitry to get a visa to the UK, so they met in between every three months in countries such as Georgia and the Czech Republic. This continued for 18 months until they decided to get married, which they did in Moscow in February last year. Dmitry was introduced to Emma’s family the night before at the airport; Emma met her new mother-in-law for the first time in the taxi on the way to the register office.

Back in the UK, she started the long process of getting a spouse visa for Dmitry, who had had to stay in Russia. At the same time, the novichok poisonings were unfolding and relations between the UK and Russia were breaking down. “All my friends were like: ‘Do you think that’s going to affect the visa decision?’ and I said: ‘Of course not; Dmitry’s not an oligarch or anything,’” says Emma. “But I got a bit nervous – and then we got rejected.”

They were told Dmitry’s English language qualification wasn’t valid, even though it was. “It was really stressful,” says Emma. “I didn’t know if it was a mistake or they were rejecting him for some other reason.”

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A month later, as they were about to start the expensive and time-consuming reapplication, the Home Office said their case had been reviewed and they were granted a visa. Dmitry arrived in the UK three weeks later; they had been apart for five months. “We’re really happy,” says Emma. “It’s really nice not having to look at each other on a screen.”

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