Ukrainian Dancers Find Shelter Abroad as War Aggravates At Home


PARIS – When Ivan Kozlov landed in France Kyiv City Ballet On February 23, the drums of a possible Russian attack on Ukraine were getting louder. But he still did not think that President Vladimir V. Putin’s forces would invade.

“Honestly, I couldn’t believe it was going to happen,” said Mr. Kozlov, 39, who has run the company since its founding in 2012. “I thought he was trying to scare us by putting soldiers on the border, that’s all. ”

But the day after the company’s arrival in Paris, hours before their first performance, about 30 dancers of the group awoke in the pre-dawn hours to news of the airstrikes and troop movements flashing on their phones. War had broken out.

This made it nearly impossible for the company to return to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, after the end of its tour de France in mid-March.

“We were all in shock,” said Daniil Podhrushko, 21, one of the dancers, through a translator. “We didn’t believe it.”

two million people fled from Ukraine According to the United Nations, since the beginning of the war. Like their compatriots, Ukrainian ballet dancers have found themselves in the middle of the conflict – either trying to escape or staying abroad on tour or being forced to stay in Ukraine. Now theaters and opera houses across Europe are scrambling to offer aid, shelter or work.

In Paris, the City Hall stepped in to help the stranded Kyiv City Ballet by granting a temporary residence permit where dancers can access their dressing rooms and rehearsal spaces, and even perform at one of the city’s most famous stages, the Théâtre du Châtelet. at shows.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and in France’s upcoming presidential election, the Socialist candidate said Ukraine needs weapons to fight and diplomatic support from the international community. But Ukrainian artists also need help, he said.

“You can only create when you are free and we need to hear what they mean, so that’s what we offer them today,” Ms. Hidalgo told reporters at the Théâtre du Châtelet after chatting with members of the ballet troupe on Saturday. on stage. “They will stay here as long as necessary; I am definitely not setting any deadlines.”

Officials at the Ukrainian Embassy, ​​Paris City Hall and the Théâtre du Châtelet are still working out the financial and practical details of the residence arrangement, but Mr Kozlov said most dancers have found some form of temporary accommodation.

The Polish National Ballet in Warsaw offers shelter to around 30 Ukrainian dancers at the opera house and the opportunity to attend a ballet ensemble class.

“We have about 10 dancers taking classes at the company right now, but we expect more to come every day,” ballet vice director Iwona Borucka said in an email. He had received numerous audition inquiries from fleeing Ukrainian dancers.

“We don’t have enough vacancies and the budget to hire them, but hopefully we’ll be able to offer jobs to at least some of them soon,” he said.

A spokesperson said that in Budapest, the Hungarian State Opera Ballet is in talks to offer positions to Ukrainian dancers. Two students from the Kyiv State Choreographic School were admitted to his school; and Anna Mária Steiner-Isky, chairman of the board of the Hungarian State Opera Ballet Students Fund, drove 190 miles to the border to pick up the two students she now shelters at home.

in Prague, Filip BarankiewiczThe Czech National Ballet’s artistic director said his company wanted to “offer ballet studios to provide a safe place to practice and at least give hope to Ukrainian dancers.”

“Requests come in every day,” he said in an email.

But in Kiev, Ukraine’s Taras Shevchenko National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre, an ornate building located a block away from the city’s famous medieval Golden Gate, has been closed since the Russian invasion and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky declared martial law. Unlike the opera house in Kharkov, which was damaged in the Russian attack on this city, it has not been damaged so far.

As the opera and national ballet troupe disbanded, the only people left in the building are the security guards guarding it. Some of the 170 dancers leave Kiev for the West by train, while others take shelter in the city with their families.

At least two dancers, director Oleksiy Potyomkin and soloist Lesya Vorotnyk, from the National Ballet troupe based in the Kyiv opera house, took up arms. Serge Bondur, He is a former dancer with the honorary title of “People’s Artist of Ukraine” and works in the company as a rehearsal director and teacher. Mr Bondur said he last saw Mr Potyomkin in early March at the Kyiv railway station, where both of their families were boarding a westbound train.

Mr. Bondur, who is in his 50s, said in a phone call from Kiev that he was still in his apartment, not far from the opera house. Speaking through a translator in Russian, where he grew up in the Soviet Union, he said that his wife and 14-year-old son are now in Italy.

At the Kyiv City Ballet, the former dancer stayed behind to take care of a friend, Olga Drozdova, who had contracted COVID-19 and was connected to an oxygen machine. His nurse left Kiev, so Mr. Bondur brought him home.

Even as explosions and air raid sirens become more common, its electricity, gas and internet still work. “If the situation worsens,” he said, “I’ll have to take him to the hospital, which at least has generators.”

Back in Paris, Ekaterina Kozlova, the rehearsal director and deputy director of the Kyiv City Ballet, said she was overflowing with a mixture of relief and anxiety. But we are very happy to be here because we feel like friends,” she said. “It’s overwhelming how great everyone else is.”

“We are some of the luckiest people to be in Paris,” he added, pointing from the stage toward the red velvet seats and the ornate decorations of the Châtelet’s main auditorium. “To be safe in this beautiful theater.”

On Tuesday, the company held a private show at the Théâtre du Châtelet, which featured dancers from the Opéra de Paris, as well as an open rehearsal led by Mr. Kozlov and Aurélie Dupont, ballet director of the Opéra de Paris. All proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Acted and the Red Cross to support Ukrainian civilians.

The dancers of the Kyiv City Ballet said they felt shaken by the war, but at the same time they were entrusted with the task of representing and protecting the Ukrainian ballet as the conflict returned home.

“Before the music starts, all our thoughts are about the situation in Ukraine,” said 19-year-old Oleksandr Moroz through a translator. “But when the music starts, we’re professionals and our thoughts shift to the performance at hand.”

In the already close-knit ballet world, Ukrainian and Russian dancers are closely linked and often trained and performed together in the same schools and cities. This made the war even more heartbreaking. From 2007 to 2010 St. Mr. Kozlov, who danced with the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg, said that he still has many friends in Russia.

“They say they want to say or do something to me, but they can’t because they’re afraid,” he said, referring to the Kremlin’s intense stance. blow to freedom of speech.

But in Kiev, Mr Bondur said he had not received such a message of support from his former Russian colleagues. These days, instead of teaching and leading rehearsals, she provides food and medicine to her neighbors and stays in touch with other dancers on WhatsApp.

“We only care about our loved ones and try not to panic and have total control,” he said. “All we can hope for is that the bombs don’t fall from our skies.”

aurelien breed Reported from Paris and Marina Harss, Sarasota, Fla.



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