Monday, May 23

Ukrainian dancers escape the war: “We lived in a basement until the Russians entered”


On Sunday, February 21, the kyiv National Opera Ballet was performing Swan Lake and rehearsing the bayadera, a highly complicated three-act play. On the 24th there were no more rehearsals, performances or ballet. Just war. Five Ukrainian dancers have joined the National Dance Company after fleeing their country and within the framework of the Emerging Talent program. Three of them have agreed to tell the press about this nightmare month in which they have left their families behind in exchange for surviving, as some claim.

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“I thank the National Dance Company for the opportunity to be safe,” said Anastasia Kovalevska, 21. “A week before coming, we lived with my family in a basement until the Russian soldiers entered, pointed their weapons at us and kicked us out of the house,” she said through tears and hugging her companions.

The young woman lived in Makarov, one of the cities hardest hit by Putin’s army and which had been occupied days before the start of the armed struggle. At the beginning of March, her mother, aunt, her cousin and her little brother escaped by car, drove to the Polish border and from there to Italy, where most of them have stayed. She anastasia she left because she needed to continue training and in the neighboring country they did not offer her the opportunity.



The three are grateful to the Spanish ballet and its director, Joaquín de Luz, who has asked for sensitivity and understanding before starting the press conference. He learned about them thanks to the veteran dancer Anastasia Matvienko, who has managed the residences of a large part of the 80 women who are part of the kyiv company. The dancers have been distributed throughout the Baltic countries, Poland, the Czech Republic or Slovenia. The five who are now in Madrid live in a flat loaned by a member of the Company and no one knows how long they will stay. “In principle it is something temporary, they are wanting to return to their homes,” says De Luz.

The truth is that they all count the days to return, reunite with their loved ones and with the members of the ballet who have had to stay fighting. All the dancers of the kyiv Opera are part of the territorial defense of the capital. “We live between two realities. The one here, which is in peace, and the one we have left behind. I pray a lot for the soldiers who are defending our country and for being able to come back soon”, admits Lisa Semenenko, 24 years old. She is also moved when she remembers how she escaped the country in an overcrowded refugee train, where not even the older ones had seats, and which took her for 12 hours to the border. “I could tell more things, but the wound is open and it is very difficult because atrocities continue to be committed,” she apologizes.

The veteran of the group is Katia Khanivkova, despite being 25 years old. She, like Lisa, has all of her family in the Ukraine and acknowledges that they are dismayed, but that “the atmosphere of the company compensates” for the sadness. “I am looking forward to going back to my country and celebrating the victory,” she says with a sigh of hope. She fled by car with her sister for four days, “because the roads were destroyed and we went through the forest.” She knew that she had to find a way to leave and continue training.

Professional dancers or dancers have that handicap: every day without practicing is a lost day. “Many will think that ballet is secondary in a war. But being a dancer is not a profession, it is our identity”, explained Joaquín de Luz. The director of the CND has “taken off his hat” to his team and the rest of the cast. “Their attitude has been exemplary, they have donated everything, clothes and food, and they have made them feel welcome,” he added.



Katia is part of the ranks of the English National Ballet and will play the role of Giselle together with Joaquín de Luz, in the shoes of Albrecht, during the show on May 20 and together with the soloist dancer Yanier Gómez Noda on the 21st. For their part, Lisa and Kateryna Chupina –who did not want to participate in the press conference– will join the dance corps of Giselle in the role of Willis. The others will continue rehearsing and developing their artistic potential alongside the CND dancers.

The ballet, in the front line for peace

The first sector of culture to take action in solidarity with the invasion of Ukraine was ballet. Russian companies and shows were canceled in a cascade of major European theaters, such as the Royal Opera House in London or the Teatro Real in Madrid, and important events such as the Mérida Festival.

Some Russian dancers also said goodbye to their companies in protest, such as Olga Smirnova, who left the Bolshoi in Moscow to join the Dutch National Ballet. On April 5, Smirnova danced in Naples with Anastasia Gurskaya, one of the stars of the kyiv Opera, to collect funds and defend peace.

The war surprised the kyiv City Ballet in a temporary residence in Paris, where they have been since last February. Although they thank the Thèatre du Chatelet for their hospitality, they still do not give interviews because they are “both physically and emotionally exhausted”, according to the deputy director of the company. Associated Press. “Everyone is worried about their families, loved ones and friends who have remained there, in our home. It has been very difficult”.



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