Young ballerinas from Kharkiv are now among millions displaced by Ukraine's war
Updated April 14, 2022 at 12:52 PM ET
LVIV, Ukraine — On a brilliant spring afternoon, Kateryna Klevtsova pulls a bright-pink suitcase through a park in Lviv. She is trailed by her two daughters, 11-year-old Maria and 7-year-old Nadia.
"They are ballerinas," Klevtsova says, her voice weary. "And I am a teacher at the Kharkiv ballet school."
Here's how fast the war in Ukraine has shattered lives: At Christmas, Klevtsova's children danced in a lavish production of The Nutcracker in their hometown of Kharkiv. With Easter approaching, Kharkiv is now under siege by Russian forces who have been shelling the suburbs with artillery and rockets.
"It's a very beautiful city," Klevtsova says, "but now it's broken, day after day more. It's very painful for me, you know."
More than 10 million Ukrainians — roughly one in four people — have been displaced by this war, most of them women and children. For now, the city of Lviv in western Ukraine is safe. It's packed with families like the Klevtsovas who've been scattered by violence, separated from their loved ones and their old lives.
To show what her family has lost, Klevtsova takes out her phone and pulls up photographs and videos of children learning the steps of the ballet.
After watching herself in one phone video, 11-year-old Maria grins and goes in her puffy white coat and tennis shoes to give a little performance right there in the park. She stretches forward gracefully, one leg rising behind.
But when asked about these last few days, the girl slumps and looks away.
"Yes," Maria says, "I worry. This is for me a nightmare."
Her father has stayed behind in Kharkiv as part of the territorial defense force.
"I worry," she says, "yes, so much."
Like many displaced persons passing through Lviv, the Klevtsovas still seem in shock by this war that started roughly 50 days ago.
The girls' mother says she used to live in Moscow, loved it there and still has many friends in Russia. Now she feels betrayed.
"All my dreams about my children, because they are small ballerinas, they are broken," she says.
Klevtsova finally decided it was time to flee when she saw images of dead bodies scattered in the suburbs around Kyiv. The family has been in Lviv almost a week and now plans to leave for France, where they will stay a while with relatives. They've just bought the pink suitcase for that trip.
But money is already tight and Klevtsova is not sure how long she'll be welcomed by her family.
"I don't know. I don't have work now. I don't know what I will do after," she says.
Despite her fears, and her doubts for the future, Klevtsova believes people in Kharkiv, including her husband, will keep fighting and she will one day be able to return home.
"Yes, of course I believe," she says. "I believe and I want to go home. And I believe we will win."
And then the Klevtsovas set off again, a mother and her two little ballerinas, pulling their pink suitcase through the park.
Iryna Matviyishyn contributed to this story in Lviv.
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