Maksim Chmerkovskiy, the celebrity dancer who has been sharing updates from his native Ukraine, says he is on his way out of the country.
The “Dancing with the Stars” champion, who lives in Malibu, California and co-owns dance studios in New Jersey, said the decision to make a move for the Ukrainian border came after a reality check.
“At one point, I got arrested,” Chmerkovskiy, 42, said in an Instagram video Monday.
He called it “probably the least traumatizing moment in this whole thing for as far as Ukraine is concerned.”
“But for me,” he said, “it was just a reality check.”
Chmerkovskiy previously said he was not trying to leave the country because he heard it wasn’t safe.
“I have options,” he later said of heading for the border. “My options are better than most people’s, unfortunately, but I’m just a little nervous… but I think it’s going to be all right. I know it’s going to be OK.”
He asked people not to panic if he doesn’t post on social media or answer calls and texts for a while.
In recent non-video updates on his Instagram stories, Chmerkovskiy said he made it on a train headed to Warsaw, Poland — “hopefully” — after a train to Lviv in the western part of Ukraine, near the Polish border, was “not an option.”
As of Tuesday morning, that train had stopped about 30 minutes from Poland to change wheels, he said in a video filmed outside the train.
“The situation at the train station is insane,” Chmerkovskiy wrote in a previous post. “AT first it feels manageable, but it gets A LOT worse when it comes time to actually board the train. Long story but all I can say now is that I’m a big man with nothing but a backpack it’s TRAUMATIZING.”
The professional Latin-ballroom dancer, who was born in Odessa, Ukraine and came to New York with his family in 1994, previously said he had been in Ukraine for months before the Russian invasion (he briefly returned to California to surprise his family earlier in February before going back to Ukraine).
Chmerkovskiy co-owns the Dance with Me chain of dance studios, which has locations in Fort Lee (another place he’s called home) and Glen Rock, with his brother, fellow “Dancing with the Stars” champion Valentin Chmerkovskiy, and their father, Aleksandr “Sasha” Chmerkovskiy.
He was filming the Ukrainian version of the TV series “World of Dance” until the start of the military conflict. He said his sources from him had believed that tensions with Russia would not escalate as they have.
In recent days, Chmerkovskiy has posted Instagram updates from bomb shelters and Kyiv streets, also sharing videos from across the country showing Russian attacks and the fallout, clips documenting civilians who are putting up resistance to the invaders and images of others who have been injured while trying to leave the country.
Video contains some profanity
He’s been in contact with his family and his wife, “Dancing with the Stars” alum Peta Murgatroyd (they have a 5-year-old son, Shai), who has asked her Instagram followers to pray for his safe return. She has said that people have offered kind words and support.
Before leaving for Poland, Chmerkovskiy recorded a video in which he said he was safe but “in the eye of the storm,” surrounded by journalists. He teared up as he talked about people who he have received and commented on his messages from him over the harrowing days of the invasion.
“There’s a huge community that just all of a sudden blossomed on my social media,” he told his 1.1 million followers.
“This is not about me,” he said, reiterating his plea for people to make a lot of noise about what’s happening in Ukraine, in hopes of stopping the bloodshed. He emphasized that the fighting was “incredibly close” and compared Ukraine to “the size of New Jersey, metaphorically speaking.”
“The reality is I just want to go home at this point,” Chmerkovskiy said.
Later, he wrote that he was riding in a train cabin intended for three people with four adults and seven kids, ages 2 to 11.
“There’s usually up to 30 people in this particular wagon,” he said. “We were told we have to fit 135. Walkways are packed. People everywhere. It’s sweaty and claustrophobic.”
In one of his most recent written dispatches, he recounted an emotional moment on the train. Under martial law, Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 are required to stay behind when their families leave the country.
“What finally broke me is when I was watching an 8-ish-year-old boy hysterically crying and not wanting to let go of his father. Verbatim: ‘If you stay I want to stay too because if they kill you I won’t be able to help.’”
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