Meet the Ukrainian ballerinas dancing to preserve their country’s culture

▶ Watch Video: Ukrainian ballerinas aim to display and defend culture through dance

At the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, Illinois, dancers from the Kyiv City Ballet have more than just choreography on their minds. Most of the performers’ families remain in Ukraine as the war there rages on.

“I’m lucky to hear the voice of my mother, only by phone, but I hope everything will be okay,” said dancer Maryna Apanasenko.

Sasha Moroz, who is also a dancer, shared similar sentiments.

“I’ve been very scared,” he said of his family, who still is in Kyiv. He added that he missed his sister’s wedding in person and had to attend via video chat.

Apanasenko and Moroz are among the 35 dancers with the Kyiv City Ballet. The dance company left Ukraine in February to perform in Paris. Director Ivan Kozlov said they were only supposed to be gone for three weeks, but that Russia invaded Ukraine the day after they left.

“We woke up and realized that our country is under attack,” Kozlov said.

To keep them safe, Paris granted the dancers a residency allowing them to continue to travel, launching their first ever U.S. tour that spanned 15 shows. Funded by a Chicago-based foundation, the tour featured the classic “Swan Lake” and a new work choreographed by Kozlov after the war began called “Tribute to Peace.”

Moroz said their performances have been received “absolutely good” by American audiences. Apanasenko agreed, saying that “the language of dance is international.”

Kozlov said the company is “doing [their] best” to honor their country on the stage.

“We feel sorry that we cannot be in two places at the same time,” he said. “We represent our country. We’re trying to show how brave we are, how strong we are.”

Apanasenko said keeping that goal in mind helps her to keep going.

“I feel stronger when I dance to show the world our light, our energy,” she said. “It’s our place to fight because our task is to save Ukrainian culture because culture is the country and Ukraine has great history.”

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