As the war in Ukraine rages on, dancers from the country’s most acclaimed ballet company are using their artistry to make a stand.
Armed with pirouettes, pliés and jetés, dancers like prima ballerina Olga Kifyak-Fon-Kraimer are using their skills to showcase Ukraine’s culture. Ballet has long been one of Moscow’s most revered cultural exports, but many of the best dancers are from or trained in Ukraine.
“We dance in spite of Russia,” said Kifyak-Fon-Kraimer, whose brother was killed fighting against Russia. “It’s very hard. But we are Ukrainians. We are unbreakable.”
Some dancers even went to the front lines, especially as theaters were shut down during the first months of the war. Oleksander Shapoval, a principal dancer at the Ukraine National Ballet, was a once-in-a-generation dancer who performed in 30 different roles over 28 seasons. In September 2022, he was killed in a Russian mortar attack.
The father of two was remembered as a “courageous romantic,” a mentor and a friend.
“It was very difficult for, I think, for all (the) company,” said Mykyta Sukhorukov, who has taken over Shapoval’s role as the company’s principal dancer.
Now, Sukhorukov is dancing the lead role in “Don Quixhote,” a romantic comedy bringing laughter to audiences in Kyiv. American volunteer Paige Vienne attended the performance and said it emphasized the resilience of the Ukrainian people.
“A lot of people back home … asked me if Kyiv was destroyed, and I said ‘Absolutely not,'” Vienne said. “To continue on is really the Ukrainian spirit. It’s really incredible to see that people continue to just not exist, but live.”
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