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From war to stage floor: the journey of the Ukrainian Ballet

Katie Oliver
Ukrainian Ballet
stoyanov forest
Olexander Stoyanov performing Forest Song  Supplied by: Olexander Stoyanov

These dancers have rehearsed in the midst of chaos and sacrificed their own safety to do so.

Dancing in the trauma of a war-stricken country to the stages of Europe, America and now New Zealand. 

When Russia invaded Ukraine in February last year, the Grand Kyiv Ballet was touring France. Director Olexander Stoyanov and his wife, prima ballerina Ekaterina Kukhar, had reluctantly left their children under the care of a nanny. They had no idea how quickly their life would change after that. 

On February 24 at 5am, Stoyanov’s nanny called him in tears. She was alone with their young daughter during the invasion of Kyiv. 

“Putting in incredible efforts, we managed to take our son and daughter from different borders. Those were the scariest days of our life.”

The Russian forces took away their dog, which their daughter was given as a birthday gift just before the war. Through all of this, Stoyanov felt lucky. Their children made it out of Kyiv safely with no injuries. 

In the first few days of the war, the Grand Kyiv Ballet started a charity called the 'Solidarity Tour' in support of Ukraine. This charity brought with it obstacles that Stoyanov and his troupe were forced to overcome.  

He claims their biggest challenge was making the set and costumes during the bombing. In times like those, there would be no power in the city for days on end. 

“The set and costume designers worked by candlelight, while air raid alerts continued to sound and bombs flew. But this only encouraged our people to try even harder.”

Stoyanov found himself responsible for the safety of not only his family but his dancers, too. Despite all of this, everything was completed and the tours continued. 

Stoyanov created a safe base in Poland where between tours, dancers would rehearse and regain strength. Here, they had the opportunity to live in peace.

The 'Solidarity Tour' travelled throughout Europe, Latin America and the USA in a bid to raise money for the war effort. 

Throughout the tour, their performances were visited by royal families, diplomats and politicians. 

In addition to the charity, Stoyanov and his wife helped children escape Ukraine by scouting overseas ballet opportunities for them. 

Stoyanov believes the Grand Kyiv Ballet has a responsibility to represent its country at a high level. He believes they dance for their nation.

“We want to continue to demonstrate to the whole world the indestructible spirit of the Ukraine.”


“We want to continue to demonstrate to the whole world the indestructible spirit of the Ukraine.”
Olexander Stoyonov
Olexander Stoyonov and dancing in a duo for Don Quixote Supplied by: Olexander Stoyanov

Like so many others living in Ukraine, Stoyanov wants to return home to peace. He says he's doing everything he can to accelerate the normalisation of life for his family and his dancers. 

For now, the Grand Kyiv Ballet is still touring. They will be performing ‘Forest Song’ and ‘Don Quixote’ throughout New Zealand during April.

According to Stoyanov, ‘Forest Song’ is a masterpiece of not only Ukraine but also of international choreography.

“This is our national pride, each movement and music are full of Ukrainian spirit.”

The ballet tells a story of a young girl named Mavka, who longs for peace, just as Ukraine does today.

The Grand Kyiv Ballet will perform at the Christchurch Isaac Theatre Royal on April 29.

Olexander solo
Olexander's Solo Supplied by: Olexander Stoyanov