WASHINGTON, D.C. — The war in Ukraine has hit it’s one year mark. After the Russians invaded Ukraine, we sent our journalists to Poland to cover the humanitarian crisis and when the war continued months later, we sent journalists into Ukraine to show you the harsh reality of war. Now, a little bit of Ukraine is coming to us.
Before the show begins at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., ballerinas take their time to stretch, warm up and practice their leaps and turns. This is a unique company; these dancers are Ukrainian refugees.
“I had this idea with my producer to get as many Ukrainian dancers to Holland as possible so they can be dancing until the war lasted,” said Igone de Jongh, the artistic director for the United Ukrainian Ballet. “So we are a company of 65 and we are a big family now.”
Following the Russian invasion in Ukraine, The United Ukrainian Ballet was created as a safe haven in Holland for these artists. Giving them a chance to continue their passion while they wait for the war to end. They’re now on a world tour performing a piece called “Giselle”.
“’Giselle’ by Alexander Ratmansky, he’s a good friend of mine, is very special because he made it specially for us,” said de Jongh. “It shows how proud and how strong these dancers are and how much they love their work.”
“Giselle” is a story about love, madness, betrayal, death and forgiveness. They said these are themes that resonate with today’s situation in Ukraine.
“We have become so strong together and they keep dancing,” said de Jongh. “It’s very emotional experience.”
They hope their performance shares the beauty of ballet but also keeps the war in the spotlight.
“It was something I do every day so I couldn’t imagine my life without it,” said United Ukrainian Ballet ballerina Evelina Chapska.
Evelina and Marta have been dancing since they were children. They’re part of the company The United Ukrainian Ballet, a company comprised of Ukrainian refugee ballerinas.
“Daily life can be tough sometimes but when I get into a studio it kind of takes the pressure away,” said United Ukrainian Ballet ballerina Marta Zabirynnyk. “You don’t think about anything else but dancing.”
For them, the stage is their refuge.
“It’s really part of me and it’s important for me because I feel myself so free, I feel myself so beautiful while dancing,” said Chapska. “And also while it’s war in Ukraine, it’s a way for me to forget sometime because during my dancing I play my role, I pretend I’m another person. It’s something special for me.”
Evelina recently returned to her home in Odessa, Ukraine, which is one of the hardest hit places. She journeyed back to see her parents who she hasn’t seen since the war began.
“My parents are okay, they’re in Odessa it’s one of the most problem cities,” said Chapska. “The main problem there is, is light. They can spend all day there without light, water and electricity so it’s very cold and especially now that it’s winter. So that’s the main problem for them but thank God they’re okay.”
Evelina is happy to continue her passion but said it’s an emotional struggle.
“People suffer in Ukraine and it’s the biggest problem for me and for all of us because now we live happy but we know our country, our native cities they suffer, people suffer,” said Chapska. “It’s the most difficult thing for us.”
Some of the other dancers have returned home since the war began. They’re sharing glimpses of the destruction left behind through dance. They hope that through their dance, the world can be reminded of what is happening to their home.
“My soul suffers because what you see in your native country, what you see in your native cities bad things happen,” said Chapska.
“I think at first we’re doing it for us, dancing and doing what we love and one of the goals of our company is to raise awareness just to keep reminding that the war is still going that it’s still there and Ukraine still needs help,” said Zabirynnyk.