Exiled Kyiv City Ballet given Paris residency

Kyiv City Ballet is used to being away from home, often touring for nine months of the year. But having arrived in France just a day before war broke out back home, its dancers suddenly became exiles overnight.

Exiled Kyiv City Ballet given Paris residency
Ukrainian dancers of the Kiev City Ballet acknowlege the audience at the end of their performance at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

Paris authorities have given them refuge with a residency at the city’s Chatelet Theatre.

The team tries to put on a brave face, though their eyes are often reddened with emotion.

The most wrenching aspect is that the company has been cut in two, one half having remained in Kyiv while some 30 dancers came to France for a children’s version of “The Nutcracker”.

“The others will try to join us,” said Ekaterina Kozlova, deputy director of the troupe that she founded in 2012 with her husband.

Ukrainian dancers of the Kiev City Ballet warm up on stage as part of a training class with French dancers of the Opera de Paris. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP

“We feel that now it is especially important for us to share the beauty of ballet. We tell our dancers before going on stage that they have a unique opportunity to share their voice,” she added.

In a unique evening at the Chatelet this week, the troupe performed and led a dance class alongside their colleagues from the Paris Opera to raise money for the Red Cross.

They received a long ovation, especially when they changed into T-shirts in the blue-and-yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag for a rendition of the traditional folk piece “Men from Kyiv”.

There was also a moment of high emotion when they sang the national anthem in front of a projection of the flag.

But behind the scenes, it was harder to stay positive.

“It’s very difficult. Several times a day, someone starts crying because they have received bad news or scary news or no news,” Kozlova said.

“We have a young mother who has her daughter in Ukraine. Everyone is stressed, emotionally drained.”

Everything had started so well, with the company excited to be back on the road after the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We arrived in Paris on February 23rd and we were so happy, we love being in Paris. We were planning on being here a few weeks then going back home,” said Kozlova.

But the very next day, they awoke to an avalanche of text messages and missed calls from family and friends.

“Since then, we’ve all been in a state of shock,” she said.

For dancer Vladyslav Dobshynskyi, 23, it is hard to tear his mind away.

Dancing can offer momentary distraction, he said, “But it’s not possible to forget. Even when you’re on stage, you worry about your loved ones.”   

Olga Posternak, 34, performed a pas-de-deux from Swan Lake with Paris Opera principal dancer Paul Marque.

But her mind is always on her husband and brother back home, safe for now somewhere near Lviv in western Ukraine.

“We call our families day and night,” she said.

Kozlova said they were determined to keep touring around Europe and the world, and have already lined up appearances in the French cities of Nantes and Tours.

She said she was “overwhelmed” by the generosity of France, which has included offers of housing from individuals and organisations, and dance shops who have provided them with pointe shoes and leotards.

And above all, they rely on each other.

“In Ukraine, we say that where we have family, we are at home. And in this troupe, we feel like a big family”.

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France ships seeds to Ukraine in bid to avert global food crisis

France has shipped 31 tonnes of seeds to Ukraine in a bid to avert a food crisis stemming from Russia's invasion, the French foreign ministry said on Friday.

France ships seeds to Ukraine in bid to avert global food crisis

The aid from France, the EU’s biggest agriculture producer, aims to soften “the disastrous impact of the Russian invasion on Ukraine’s food security” by allowing the potential harvest of 260,000 tonnes of food, the ministry said.

The shipment includes seeds for beets, carrots, cabbage and tomatoes.

France also supplied Ukraine with 600 tonnes of seed potatoes in April and May to counter planting disruptions amid the fighting.

ANALYSIS Is France self-sufficient for food?

The Russian naval blockade of Ukraine’s Black Sea ports has stopped grain shipments from the world’s fourth-largest exporter of wheat and corn, raising the spectre of shortages and hunger in low-income countries.

Cereal prices have soared on global markets, and French President Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday that France was assisting in transporting Ukrainian grain by truck via Romania.

The Ukrainian government says 20 to 25 million tonnes are currently blocked and could start to rot if they are not shipped soon.

The UN has warned of a “hurricane of hunger” — mainly in African countries that import more than half of their wheat from Ukraine or Russia, also a major producer.