August 15, 2022

Anastasiia Savych should be performing this week in the new Flip Circus at Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey.

Instead, the 20-year-old dancer is holed up in Warsaw after fleeing Kyiv, worrying about how to help the family members she left behind as the Russian assault closes in on her hometown.

Savych is one of 16 members of Kyiv’s Bingo troupe of acrobats and dancers hired by the Texas-based Vazquez Circus to perform in its two traveling shows this spring.

”They are first class performers,” said Roman Vazquez, 50, whose parents started the company he now runs.

The troupe signed about six years ago and performed both the opening act and the grand finale.

“They’ve become very, very important in our shows,” he said.

Vazquez tried to secure visas for the performers so that they could start the season in February, but between reduced operations because of COVID-19 and the embassy’s move to Lviv in western Ukraine before Russia invaded on Feb. 24, visas were impossible to obtain.

Savych had a ticket for a train to Lviv for that day, with plans to continue to Poland. She awoke to a call from a friend: The invasion had started.

Anastasia Savych fears she won’t see her parents and family members again after boarding a train to Poland.
A view of an empty parking lot of the Garden State Plaza Mall in Paramus, New Jersey.
Anastasiia Savych and several Ukrainian dancers were scheduled to perform in a circus show at Garden State Plaza in Paramus, New Jersey.
Christopher Sadowski

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said in an email sent from Warsaw. “But then I came to the window, and I saw a drone and heard an explosion.”

That evening, her parents took her to the train station. “The hardest thing was saying goodbye to my family at the train station, because I don’t know if I can see them again or not,” Savych wrote.

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She heard her first air raid sirens in Lviv. “I don’t know how to convey to you the fear that grips you at this moment,” she said. “But the worst thing was that I am alone in another city and don’t know where I have to go and where the shelter was.”

She learned while searching for the shelter that free trains were leaving for Poland, so she grabbed her luggage and ran, joining a huge crowd at the station.

Handbalencers Iryna Nazimova and Veronika Habelok are part of Ukraine’s troupe of acrobats and dancers.
Handbalencers Iryna Nazimova and Veronika Habelok are part of Ukraine’s troupe of acrobats and dancers.
A map shows where Russian forces attacked and captured so far in Ukraine.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked scores of Ukrainians to flee to neighboring countries.
NY Post Illustration

After boarding, she realized the men in the crowd were all kissing their wives and leaving the train, staying behind to defend the country.

She arrived in Poland 12 hours later, including a six-hour wait at the border. The trip was hard for everyone, she said, because it was cold and the train was packed with children. “The kids cried all the time because they was scared, hungry and they didn’t understand where their fathers were,” she said. “But no one complained, because everyone understood the level of this tragedy.”

At the border, they were met by volunteers who had warm clothes, first aid and food ready. Savych is one of more than 2.5 million Ukrainians who have fled the war in just a little over two weeks, more than 1 million of whom have escaped to Poland.

She was brought by a volunteer to Warsaw, where she had booked an apartment.

Safe for now, Savych is still trying to get a visa to come to the US, and trying to figure out how to help her family from afar.

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Vazquez, 50, said he is also trying to help his performers, even though he had to hire others to take their spaces in the circus.

If they are able to secure visas, “we will fly them in and give them the job anyway,” he said.

So far, six performers made it to the US, including two women acrobats who arrived on Thursday and joined up with Flip Circus in New Jersey.

But one acrobat still in Ukraine keeps coming to Vazquez’s mind, a young man named Igor Shyian who he got to know during last year’s tour.

Performer Igor Shyian (fourth one from left), stayed behind in Ukraine to help defend the country from Russia’s invasion.
Performer Igor Shyian (fourth one from left), stayed behind in Ukraine to help defend the country from Russia’s invasion.
Civilians make camouflage nets in preparation of Russia’s invasion in Lviv, Ukraine on March 8, 2022.
Civilians make camouflage nets in preparation of Russia’s invasion in Lviv, Ukraine on March 8, 2022.
Kyodo News/Sipa USA

Now 24, Shyian is the same age as Vazquez’s son.

“I was thinking how awful it must be him,” he said. “Knowing this guy, I’m assuming that he didn’t want to leave.

“It touches me to think that he’s probably in the trenches defending his land.”