The journey to the 2022 World Championships began with a harrowing trip from Ukraine to Poland for ice dancers Oleksandra Nazarova and Maksym Nikitin, who were forced to flee their hometown of Kharkiv, one of the most embattled cities in the country.

“We saw the tanks, heard the shooting. My house doesn’t have windows anymore,” said Nazarova. “It’s horrible, running to the shelter holding a child in your arms. I would not wish for anyone to live through that.”

Due to the number of people trying to escape, Nazarova said it took her eight days to drive 600 kilometres. “A lot of people are running, so that is why it took some time. I left earlier (than Maksym). I could not bring my skates but he brought them for me. Thank you to the people in Poland, in Toruń, the Club Axel, Sylvia Nowak and Natalia Kaliszek and Maksym Spodyriev. They welcomed us like family and we felt enormous support.”

When the duo took to the ice in Montpelier for the rhythm dance on Friday, they received a standing ovation with many in the audience waving Ukrainian flags and holding “We Stand With You” posters.

Performing in shirts the Ukrainian team wore at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, the duo’s program is set to new music that defines life in war-torn Ukraine this past month. Every element executed was rewarded with loud applause.

“All the people, all the teams — here or on Instagram — are texting us with support every day. They make us stronger. This is why we could skate today and we could show all the emotions,” Nazarova explained. “It was my dream. I wanted to perform very clean with the emotions. For us it is so important to tell the whole world what is happening right now in Ukraine. Of course, it’s a competition, but for us it’s not just a competition. For us it is something bigger, especially for Maksym.”

“It (the performance) was not just for us, it was for all Ukrainian people; for all the people who are still there who are not safe. I hope the support from all the people will help our country,” Nikitin added. “The bigger point is to tell the truth about what is happening in Ukraine, and I hope this will help people in Ukraine who are now not safe, who are in danger and have lost their homes.

“I hope we can help all people in the world to understand what really happens because we saw it. We saw what they (the Russian army) are doing, how they work, and it is disgusting. Just six days ago I was in Kharkiv and our whole families are still in Ukraine.”

Hugo Chouinard’s offer to help with their music could not have come at a better time. “At first, I did not know who he was but then I saw all the people he worked with,” said Nazarova. “He said he wanted to help, but he knew it was not a good time to change music at the end of the season, ‘so can I just make it cleaner or louder, or can I work with what you already have?’

“Then Maksym and I were talking that maybe we can change our music and our costumes and we decided to choose new music. I asked Hugo if he could work with this and help us. He was in contact with us for about three or four days, working non-stop on our music. We are very thankful for this.”

The two pieces they chose for the rhythm dance are very familiar to Ukrainians. The program opens with the haunting words of a song, “1944” with which Ukrainian singer Jamala won the 2016 Eurovision song contest (link below). “The first part is a call to the whole world, telling them and warning them,” Nazarova explained.

The second piece in the latter part of the program is a rousing national folk song — that had the audience in Montpelier tapping their feet and clapping to the beat — performed by Ukraine’s Andriy Khlyvnyuk, the lead singer of the band Boombox, who cancelled a tour of the U.S. to help defend his homeland (link below). “He is now fighting against the Russians. He made the music for us all and right now this music is helping all Ukrainians to not give up,” said Nikitin.

When asked what they will do after Worlds, Nazarova said “we have no idea. We will go back to Poland for a couple of days and then we will try to decide what we can do.”

“One month and one day ago no one could believe someone can attack a country in the 21st century (but it happened),” said Nikitin. “Right now it is such a difficult time, not just for Ukraine. It is a difficult time for the whole world. We want to say to all people who are safe (right now) to be careful because the Russian invasion can reach out and move to other countries. Help Ukraine to stop the war. Just close the sky.”

Following the rhythm dance, Nazarova and Nikitin withdrew from the competition. “We were happy to skate today for you. But due to the fact that in the morning there were three days of preparation for the World Championships, we did not have time to change the free dance. In its original form, we consider it inappropriate to dance it while people are dying and hiding in basements in our country. Merci,” Nazarova wrote in an Instagram post. Their withdrawal is understandable given who choreographed their free dance.


Jamala — “1944” (Official Music Video) Lyrics in English

Andriy Khlyvnyuk — *Ukrainian Folk Song “Oi u Luzi Chervona Kalyna” (Ой у лузі червона калина) — Remix by The Kiffness (Lyrics in English) — All proceeds from this video support the Ukrainian forces.

Pink Floyd released a video on April 7 to raise funds for the Ukrainian people. Every click counts!