As foreign outrage mounted over evidence of possible executions and other atrocities by Russian forces in Ukraine, world-renowned ballet dancers from the two countries at war danced together in a performance in Naples to appeal for peace.
A Ukrainian ballerina who fled the war in her homeland and a Russian ballerina who quit the Bolshoi Ballet over the Russian invasion danced in the San Carlo theatre in Naples during a sold-out benefit performance Monday night to raise funds for the Red Cross and champion the cause of peace in Ukraine.
The Naples' historic theatre billed the late-night event 'Stand with Ukraine - Ballet for Peace'.
The importance of being together
Among the stars at the event was prima ballerina Olga Smirnova, who quit the Bolshoi last month and is now dancing with the Dutch National Ballet.
Another headliner is Anastasia Gurskaya, a top ballerina in Kyiv's Opera, who fled the fighting in Ukraine.
"I think it's important in this situation, in this time, to be together on the stage, to do little things, the smallest things, what we can do for Ukraine," Smirnova told reporters in the theatre ahead of final rehearsal.
Fellow prima ballerina Gurskaya said her performance is a way to help Ukraine.
"My life is upside down now, and I've never been in Italy in this city, and I've never danced with stars like today, with world ballet stars, and I am so excited about it and I don't know why this happened to me," the Ukrainian dancer explained.
"I am really happy I am here and I can help and support my country with my dancing today, this evening."
The theatre's artistic director, Alessio Carbone, hailed Smirnova's participation in the event.
"Olga is a very strong image for us because obviously she was the first dancer who publicly opposed the regime, so to have her with us tonight is an inspiration for courage" Carbone said in an AP interview.
Before rehearsals, one of the Ukrainian dancers spoke about a small town near Kyiv where the chilling discoveries of civilian bodies emerged in the last few days.
Among the 26 international dancers who performed in Naples on Monday, five were Russians and nine were Ukrainians.
The show went ahead despite controversy
Despite the event's description, the prospect of Russian dancers dancing on the same stage with Ukrainians reportedly angered Ukraine's consul in Naples who asked the artistic director of the show to shun the performance.
Furthermore, just before the evening show started about a dozen protesters, some wearing Ukrainian flags, demonstrated outside the theatre to show discontent over the participation of Russian dancers on the stage.
Check out the video above to see the dancers performing at 'Stand with Ukraine - Ballet for Peace'