When I left Kyiv, I thought I would never dance again
April 04. 2023. – 12:00 PM
Leaving her ballet shoes behind, 29-year-old ballet dancer Ganna Muromtseva fled the Russian invasion last year with a single bag in her hand. On the train from Kyiv, packed with thousands of refugees, she wondered if she would ever perform on stage again. Today she is a ballerina at the Hungarian State Opera, but hopes to return to her homeland one day.
Ganna Muromtseva was awoken at five in the morning by a phone call from a friend on 24 February 2022. Two days before, she had performed at the Ukrainian National Opera, where she was a lead dancer.
The friend told her that war had broken out.
"No one understood what was happening. It was like a terrible, shared nightmare," Muromtseva said. She decided to leave the country immediately. The ballerina, who lived in downtown Kyiv, packed only one backpack. Although she was at the peak of her career as a lead dancer with the Ukrainian National Opera, the war changed her plans: she didn't even take her ballet shoes with her.
She packed her bags in three hours, calling Belgian friends to ask for shelter. She then picked up her mother and grandmother and they set off by car – as many others in Kyiv did at the time. There was a huge traffic jam, her car started to slowly run out of fuel, as did the petrol stations, so they had to turn back. They stayed in Kyiv for a few more days, unable to get on the road by car. Due to her grandmother's diabetes, they couldn't take the train.
At the beginning of March, she was already on a train with a friend, on her way to western Ukraine. The two of them were able to get the last seat on the train. A few days later, she found a driver for her mother and grandmother and persuaded them to leave Kyiv which was being bombed by Russia at the time.
After a gruelling 12-hour journey, the family members met again in Lviv and travelled to Belgium to stay with a family they had holidayed with once before when Ganna was a child. "I couldn't believe what was happening. I felt like I was in a scene from a medieval film," she said of that time.
Muromtseva was registered as a refugee in Germany last year, and she was also given new ballet shoes – and a place to practice before applying to the Hungarian State Opera, which already has several Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian dancers, including soloists.
She left Kyiv and started a new life in Budapest at the height of her career.
Muromtseva and Boris Zhurilov at a rehearsal for Swan Lake with ballet master Irina Prokofieva at the Hungarian State Opera House, 9 February 2023
"When I left Kyiv, I thought I would never dance again. I said goodbye to my career," she says during rehearsals for Swan Lake in Budapest. She dances the lead roles of the innocent, ethereal white swan Odette and the seductive and manipulative black swan Odile.
Costume fitting at the opera's costume workshop, the Eiffel House.
Muromtseva had danced the same part for more than five years with her Kyiv company in Ukraine, China and Japan, but it was a dream come true to perform it at the Hungarian State Opera House after a year of surviving from one day to the next. She had to rebuild herself both physically and mentally as a dancer. "I am happy to be back on stage. Working in Budapest is different. I feel I have to prove myself. You have to be very flexible mentally too, not just physically," she said.
The Ukrainian dancer cares for her mental balance every day by taking long walks and has already made new friends since arriving in Budapest last summer.
Although training and her strict schedule help, Muromtseva says that when she returns to her rented apartment, she sometimes cries to unburden herself. "We call it war-life balance and not work-life balance. It was hard, but it's a little easier now. Do what you love and you'll have the strength to do what you need to do." – she said.
Her mother and grandmother returned to Kyiv last year. She is happy to work in a neighboring country, as she is close to her family members if they should ever need help. Her mother will visit her soon, which gives her strength: "It means a lot to me because she and my grandfather were my biggest supporters in ballet." Muromtseva's father also lives in Kyiv, and her godfather has just returned from the front wounded after being away for several months.
Although the Hungarian State Opera House signed her for another year, which is an opportunity she is delighted to have, Muromtseva would like to return home one day. “I look forward to the day when I can dance on the Kyiv stage again, but for now I have a contract here.”