Circus Cortex are thrilling crowds across the land after recently embarking on a UK tour, but behind the smiles of the performers lies real and emotional heartache.
The mainly-Ukrainian acts could be forgiven for having their minds on other more pressing matters, but for a few hours each evening, they put their professional hats on and delight crowds with their daring routines, acrobatic performances and juggling prowess.
They are currently in Bakewell, Derbyshire – on a tour which runs to late August – which seems light years away from the conflict raging in Ukraine, where they dazzle in the spotlight despite being racked with fear and guilt for their families back home, reports the Daily Mirror.
Tetiana Lotiuk is a 22-year-old dancer, from Zhytomyr, west of Kyiv, but was caught in Kharkiv when the war with Russia broke out, where she was looking after the circus choreographer’s dog and covering her classes.
She embarked on a perilous train journey, eventually arriving in Hungary after leaving her family behind.
She then made it to the UK, where she is currently staying with the circus’ Russian-born director Irina Archer, in Doncaster.
She told the Mirror: “I felt very guilty for leaving, like I was betraying my family. But my mum doesn’t want to leave the country.
“You go on stage with a big smile on your face… but your heart is in Ukraine.
“Working helps me for a few hours. It helps that people who come to the circus know we are from Ukraine and they can see we are a talented, strong and hard-working nation.”
It was just days after she arrived in Kharkiv when Vladimir Putin’s men invaded her country and she recalled some of the horrors: “The second day was very bad. There were explosions and shelling. By the fourth day, I was so exhausted. I thought, ‘if a bomb drops on our building, I don’t want to die with 20 people near me’. It was difficult.
“By the sixth day, we were having explosions every half hour. It’s hard to believe this is happening in 21st-century Europe.”
By day 10, she realised she had to get away.
To stay up to date with all the latest news, make sure you sign up to one of our newsletters here.
Ksenia Isaieva, 25, is a fellow dancer and she had to leave Kherson without her 32-year-old aerial artiste boyfriend Sergii Malynivskyi, as he needed special commission from the Ministry of Culture to head to the circus, which he eventually got.
Ksenia told the Mirror: “We slept in corridors or on the bathroom floor for two weeks, too scared to go into the bedroom.
“My boyfriend went to buy food between air raid sirens, but I lost weight because you don’t feel hungry.”
Unicyclists Viktor Gorodelskyy, 38, and wife Yulia, 40, fled Mykolaiv after “hiding in the cellar” for three weeks with six-year-old son Valdi, with a “sofa against the windows in case they smashed”.
One performer missing is clown Lviv-based, clown Nikolay Bilenkiy, who stayed behind to battle the Russians.
Director Irina said of the 30-year-old: “The clown on our poster is not here because he’s fighting.”