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Artists perform during the Ukrainian troupe's Alice in Wonderland show in Tuscany
Copyright  Alessandra Tarantino/AP

In pictures: Ukrainian circus troupe stuck in Italy vows to keep performing

By Euronews  with AP

Members of the Circus Theatre Elysium of Kyiv were abroad in Italy when Russia invaded their home country on February 24. Now the acrobats, dancers and organisers of the glittering troupe are trapped in a strange land, on a seemingly never-ending "Alice in Wonderland" tour.

With no prospect of safely returning home, the performers resolved to keep trying to work and to send money back home, extending their run until the end of June.

Alessandra Tarantino/AP
The Kyiv troupe's run in Italy was supposed to end in mid-March before their country was plunged into warAlessandra Tarantino/AP

The response from theatres across northern Italy was overwhelming. The Elysium circus's show is booked from Assisi in Umbria to Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna, while the town of Reggia Emilia rallied to find them temporary accommodation and medical support.

Performances have sold out night after night to warm reception from the Italian public. 

After the performance in Pistoia, Tuscany, the curtain opened again to reveal the performers onstage holding the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine. They were met with a standing ovation and shouts of "Slava Ukraini" ("Glory to Ukraine").

Behind the scenes, however, the circus performers are struggling with anguish over what is happening to their country and guilt and fear for their families back home. 

Alessandra Tarantino/AP
Oleksandr Bandaliuk, left, who plays the Mad Hatter, and his wife Yulia, a dancer, said Russian soldiers had overrun their homeAlessandra Tarantino/AP

"It is very hard to work and dance on the Italy stage because we know in our country now is war," Oleksandr Bandaliuk, who plays the Mad Hatter, told AP while his wife painted gold glitter into his purple beard. "We can't go to Ukraine because in my house now is Russian soldiers."

Yulia Palaida, who plays Alice, expressed similar feelings. "In all this time here in Italy I feel guilty about people who are staying there," she said, "about my family who are staying there because they are not safe, and I am safe, and I cannot help them. I am fighting with these feelings that it is unfair."

Alessandra Tarantino/AP
Children dance backstage, imitating their performer parents, during Elysium's show in PistoiaAlessandra Tarantino/AP

Some members of the troupe have fortunately been reunited with their families. After the invasion, the show's executive director Oleksandr Sakharov and Italian producer Roberto Romaniello launched a fundraiser in Italy and managed to bring about 50 people - 10 of the performers' families - to Italy.  

Producer Roberto Romaniello added, "we have four to five dogs, a cat, and a grandmother, who is [a] 79-year-old babushka, who is the matriarch of all of us, the grandmother of the company."

Alessandra Tarantino/AP
Acrobats from the Elysium circus perform in the Alice in Wonderland showAlessandra Tarantino/AP

In addition to bringing over some of their families, the circus performers feel it important to keep working so they can provide financial assistance for the war effort. 

For dancer Anastasia Beznosenko, the backstage effort of getting into outlandish outfits - wigs, corsets, top hats and costume makeup with pearls and glitter - help to push wories out of her mind.

Nevertheless, she said, "It is very difficult to smile and to be onstage in a good mood, and to think about your family, your relatives who are in danger now."

Alessandra Tarantino/AP
The 50-strong group are now expecting to remain in Italy, together with another 50 of their family members, until the end of JuneAlessandra Tarantino/AP