From war to circus: the American respite of Ukrainian dancers

YONKERS, United States: Radiant on stage, Anastasiia, Anna and Olga, three young Ukrainian dancers, have found a semblance of calm in the circus that welcomes them near New York. But their lives are still hanging on the war raging in their country.

In their trailer, they can now sleep a whole night without waking up to the sound of explosions and the fear of bombardments.

“I went a month without a full night’s sleep. We couldn’t go out to buy food, we were stressed and scared all day,” said Anna Starykh, 21, under the Flip Circus tent in the parking lot of a mall in Yonkers, north of New York.

Near the banks of the Hudson River, nothing seems to disturb them, when, perfectly made up in their black clothes, they warm up and prepare to go on stage, in the company of colleagues from Italy, Spain, Argentina, from Venezuela or Mexico.

“Work really helps us calm down and stay positive,” says Anna. But the concern for their families in Ukraine is palpable.

“I don’t know what situation they will be in tomorrow, next week, in a month” and “I’m crying”, says Olga Rezekina, 22, whose family lives in Odessa, “pearl of the Black Sea”.

– “Horror movie” –

Before the war, Anastasiia Savych, 20, and four other Ukrainian dancers, two men and two women, had already stayed in the United States and worked for the circus Flip. But when the Russian invasion began on February 24, the group had returned home to renew visas and reunite with their families.

The two men had to stay in Ukraine, mobilized. They were replaced by Olga and Anna, who together with Anastasiia, Irina Nazimova and Veronika Gabelok now form the Ukrainian quintet of this circus.

Anastasiia began her journey by train from kyiv on the first day of the invasion. “I had never seen the capital so empty: no cars, no people, everything was closed… it looked like a horror movie,” she says.

Passing through Poland, she finally arrived at her destination in the United States on March 22, with Anna and Olga. Irina and Veronika departed via Romania and arrived in the United States on March 10.

More than five million people have fled the country since the start of the Russian invasion, according to a latest report from the United Nations.

– “Guilty” –

“When I came here, I felt guilty because (…) we are fleeing our country,” says Anastasiia. But her mother convinced her that she would not be able to help the family in Ukraine.

Now she is just waiting for the message that will tell her the war is over and “we have won,” she says.

“I’m 20 and I want to stay young (…) and not have to talk about the war”, admits this only child, for whom “the last three years” have already “been difficult” because of the Covid -19.

Projects for the future? “Live and be safe,” Anna replies. “Traveling around the world,” says Olga. Anastasiia dreams of staying in the United States.

Alexa Vazquez, who runs the Flip Circus, founded by her family in Mexico more than fifty years ago with two other cousins, recalls that when they tried to get the band out of Ukraine, “the (Ukrainian) airports were closed and it was difficult to contact them all”. “Having these girls here safe means a lot to us. They are friends, like a family”, tells AFP the acrobat, worried about the fate of the two men who remained in the country.

Radiant Ukrainians appear in several numbers of the show, which does not use animals. “People come and want to see a great show. If you have a problem, you leave it behind the scenes,” says Olga.

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From war to circus: the American respite of Ukrainian dancers