The Ukrainian circus arrives in town and stays in Italy, in the middle of the war

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Ukrainian circus troupe performs endless “Alice in Wonderland” tour in Italy

PISTOIA, Italy – A Ukrainian circus troupe is on a never-ending “Alice in Wonderland” tour of Italy, caught down the real-world rabbit hole of having to create joyful performances on stage while their families at home live the war.

Like many Ukrainian artists who were abroad when Russia invaded on February 24, the acrobats and dancers of kyiv’s Circus Elysium Theater were opening a limited engagement in Italy. The tour, originally scheduled to end in mid-March, has now been extended until at least June as artists seek to continue working to send money to relatives back home.

A recent weekend, the Ukrainian circus came to Pistoia, Tuscany. There was the Mad Hatter, sporting a green top hat and a purple beard; the White Rabbit with a red nose covered in silver sequins and Alice, with a little blue dress and long curls.

But behind their colorful costumes, cheerful smiles and the fantastical story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the cast members are struggling.

“I feel guilty for the people who stay there because they’re not safe, and I’m safe and I can’t help them,” said Yuliia Palaida, who plays Alice. “I just fight with all these feelings,” she adds, her voice shaking.

Oleksandr Bandaliuk plays the Mad Hatter and dominates the show. But behind the scenes, he sits sullen between acts.

“It’s very difficult to work and dance on the Italian stage because we know that in our country now (there is) war,” he said. “We cannot go to Ukraine because in my house now (there are) Russian soldiers.”

Theaters across Italy booked the circus and their sold-out performances enabled them to pay around 50 family members to flee Ukraine by bus and join the troupe in Italy.

“We have four or five dogs, a cat and a grandmother who is 79, a babushka, who is the matriarch of all of us, the grandmother of the company,” said Italian circus producer Roberto Romaniello. .

The city of Reggio Emilia has found temporary accommodation for the extended circus family, while they work to obtain legal documents, access to medical services and apartments for a longer term stay. They have 10 shows scheduled so far in Sicily in June and are hoping for more.

“Every artist has a lot of people in Ukraine,” said Aleksandr Sakhorov, who has relatives in Kyiv and Zaporizhzhia. “We send money all this time, but if we stop, nobody gets this support because in Ukraine (there are) no more jobs now.”

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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