Maksim Chmerkovskiy may finally be returning to the United States, but his experience in Ukraine will no doubt have a lasting impact.
We’ve been following Maks and his social media updates since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He’s shared a lot of images and accounts from other friends and citizens around the country, as well as his own perspective on getting grounded in Kyiv, where he had been judging a dance competition prior to the attack.
On Tuesday, the Dancing with the Stars pro finally arrived in Poland after a long and grueling trip to the border. Hours after confirming his location, he shared nearly half-hour video to Instagram reflecting on all he’d been through, with the caption, “I’m in Warsaw. I’m in hotel. I’m not ok.”
The 42-year-old admitted:
“I’m scared, I’m confused, I’m terrified and I just lived through some s**t that I’m going to need a lot of therapy for. But I know this — it’s us little guys against the big guy. I don’t care how big [Vladimir Putin] is. I don’t care how mean he is. When we’re together, I can see what can happen. We can have a little guy finally win and it will be a joint effort and after that, we can figure out how to make sure that there’s never again one f**king person, one man, who can do whatever he’s doing.”
Revealing more about the unbelievable 23-hour train journey out of Ukraine, the dancer said it was something “like out of a movie.”
“I had f**king claustrophobia at one point. It is insane. … I was constantly stretching to make sure I don’t get stiff. And I stood because I felt wrong leaving. I felt wrong being on that train. I still feel guilty being on that train.”
CNN reported that men age 18 to 60 had been banned from leaving the country “in order to ensure the defense of the state,” which could be part of Maks’ guilt — but also that he “took up space” that could have been given to another refugee.
“When the train car got packed and packed and it kept getting more and more packed, I was like, hold on. I’m thinking to myself there’s no air. There’s no way that we can travel… there’s no way we can do it this way.”
He described moving to the back of the car and standing to “make sure that I don’t take up space” that could have gone to “another mother with two kids,” for example. During his many hours standing, he contemplated his guilt and “came up with this analogy” of adoption for his relationship to his home country. (The television personality’s family immigrated to the US from Ukraine when he was a teen.)
“In ’94, I was put up for adoption and I got adopted by a beautiful, young, vibrant, exciting, forward-thinking country and I fell in love and I left Ukraine in ’94 [as] a sad, sad person because I felt like I was getting unrooted. … I was in this new country. But I turned around and said, ‘You know what? This is what I’m going to do.’ The 14-year-old Maks, with his family and all the love and support that he had, did stuff and here we are.”
Over the last year (in which he’s been working on Ukraine’s version of Dancing with the Stars), the father of one had “reconnected” with his Ukrainian roots, like a “boy that got adopted and went to find his birth parents.”
With that in mind, he shared:
“I’m having a very f**king hard time leaving right now. I’m having a horrible time. I’m having very mixed emotions. I have my friends there, my friends in [the] frontline. … I can’t hear from some of the people. I can’t get in touch with them. I don’t know if they’re dead.”
Peta Murgatroyd’s husband remarked that he’s “not happy” with the current situation, but pledged that “this isn’t over.” He said he needed “to figure out how to stay productive” for the Ukrainian cause now that he’s left the country.
He told his followers:
“I love you all tremendously. I love that people are paying attention. I love the fact that it f**king yolks you a little bit inside. I love the fact that you get angry because you’re like, ‘This is wrong.’ You get angry because something is wrong and you maybe even want to do something about it. And when everybody does something about it, then it becomes everybody against one person and that’s what needs to happen right now.”
On the very last leg of his journey — right before getting on a plane from Poland back to the States — Maks posted one last video message, updating on some more of his friends’ experiences on the ground in Ukraine and condemning Russia and his Russian colleagues who have remained silent on the conflict.
You can check it out below:
We’re glad to know that Maks is returning to the relative safety of the United States and will be reuniting with his family. But we can’t imagine the mixed emotions and trauma that came with leaving Ukraine.
We have to commend him for being so open and sharing so much of that process with the world, and we can only hope that there will soon be a resolution to this conflict.
[Image via Maksim Chmerkovskiy/Instagram]