(MOSCOW) — It’s a nice day for a … fright wedding.
Russian companies are potentially giving new meaning to “shotgun wedding– sending in a platoon of former police and special forces soldiers dressed in full combat gear to simulate a police raid on your reception and leave you tied in knots while tying the knot.
The wedding raids are just some of the services offered by the companies intended to spice up personal events, from birthday parties to flower deliveries. In all of them, a group of masked men in uniform toting assault rifles surprises the recipient by pretending they are the target of a real police operation.
Among the most popular are marriage proposals, disguised as realistic drug stings. A carload of masked “police” will pull over a couple as they’re driving and hold them at gunpoint while they search the vehicle. During the search, they find a bag of drugs or a weapon planted there in advance. To the prospective fiancee’s horror, their partner admits it’s theirs.
Just as she starts to panic, the man — it’s almost always men — will suddenly get down on one knee and pop the question.
“It’s kind of extreme,” Sergey Rodkin, who founded Spetsnaz Show, one of the larger companies, based in St. Petersburg, told ABC News. “It’s emotions, for the love of God! It’s all for the sake of emotions. It’s a sharp swing — up and down. What else can you think of? [Arrive] on a horse — it’s boring.”
Creative proposals are common worldwide, but the Russian pranks stand out for their frightening realism and their roughness: in videos of the stunts online, actors almost indistinguishable from real police force people to lie on the floor and go through real questioning; in some, the wife-to-be is pinned with a gun pointed at her.
The women proposed to are sometimes terrified— perhaps not least because Russian police are known for routinely planting drugs and even minor possession charges can lead to years in jail. In one of Spetsnaz Show’s pranks, the pretend officers try to force a woman to sign a confession.
Despite the ordeals, Rodkin’s teams, which have done dozens of such proposals, said virtually all the women said yes. “It’s mainly tears of joy,” said Ramil Mukhametov, who runs the shows in Naberezhnye Chenly, a town in central Russia.
Sergey, 23, was nervously awaiting his proposal to his 21-year-old girlfriend. He had ordered a special forces team to stop his beloved on the way from the airport. The ring would be in a box of “drugs” in the car. Sergey himself would be dressed as one of the police team and at the crucial moment would pull off his ski-mask to declare his love.
“It’s just a type of unforgettable proposal so that later we can remember it,” said Sergey (ABC News has left out his last name since the proposal is still in the future) . Sergey, who works in Russia’s security services but preferred not to say which, had decided against a more traditional proposal involving a bouquet-throwing at another wedding, thinking this was something they could show their grandchildren.
“There will be no kind of psychological pressure on her to make a definitive answer,” he said. “I am a confident person so there’s no two ways about it, she will say ‘yes.’ It wouldn’t matter if it was with weapons, pressure or just something romantic, in any case, the answer will be ‘yes’ and I am 100% sure of that.”
He acknowledged some worry his presumptive bride could get be upset or even angry, but hoped it would be alright.
“I think even if she gets very angry with me at that moment — although maybe she won’t even have time to — the surroundings around her, particularly the special forces themselves and the people watching, who film I think in front of a crowd she won’t be able to get mad at me,” he said.
Rodkin has been running the pranks for around 10 years and he said the reactions were usually positive. They had only had a handful of negative incidents early on due “to lack of experience,” he said. Some of the stunts are made to look more obviously like jokes. At the weddings, many of the guests — especially older people and those with children — are warned in advance.
“We very often refuse to do things, we make changes to make sure that it won’t be traumatic for the mind, for the heart,” Rodkin said.
All of Rodkin’s performers are former military or police, drawing on the deep pool of trained veterans in Russia, which has some of the world’s largest militaries and security services. Mostly, Rodkin’s men work on movie and television shoots, he said, doing the pranks on the side. A proposal on average costs around $500 and a wedding performance about $600.
The raids seem somewhat fraught with risk — what if a guest has a gun or perhaps really was being sought by police? But Rodkin and his colleagues said they screened every event beforehand and in any case their training meant they can swiftly defuse any any situation.
Mukhametov said the men storm the buildings in 20 seconds, giving no one time to react. Anyway, he noted, “If there is some kind of resistance, we detain them, let’s say, in handcuffs and take them to the police.”
The wedding pranks play partly on an old tradition once common in Russia and Central Asia of “bride-kidnapping,” where a bride would be abducted by her new relatives ahead of the ceremony.
Alexandra Altman, who ordered a raid against her husband at their wedding this July at a hall a little outside St. Petersburg, said she had wanted the stunt because it would be memorable and no one else had anything similar.
“I have been to the weddings of my friends and people I know. And it’s banal, to my taste,” she said.
At the wedding, black-clad gunmen stormed in just as the couple started their first dance. Stanislav was dragged away with his hands behind his back. Afterwards, the troopers made the guests do push-ups in bullet-proof vests.
Altman’s new husband was delighted. “Everyone’s smiling,” Stanislav Shishkin said. “It’s ever harder to surprise people. And this is really something that can surprise.”
Rodkin has franchises in 14 regions all across Russia and at least several other companies offer similar performances. The pranks seem to draw on a fascination with military hardware in Russian culture, partly encouraged by the state in a country that has long had a militarized society. And recently under president Vladimir Putin — himself a former spy — the army and security services have become increasingly venerated, especially since Moscow’s invasion of Crimea in 2014.
Sergey, the young man planning to propose, said he was more nerve-wracked as the big day approached. But he thought in the end they would both remember it “with a smile.”
“And so I think there’s no other options,” he said. “Only yes.”
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