The lights dim in Budapest’s splendid Opera House. Ballerina Anna Muromtseva performs the lead role in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Just one year ago, the dancer fled Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv with thousands of refugees after the Russian invasion.
As the company’s lead dancer, Muromtseva was at the peak of her career at the National Opera of Ukraine. But war rewrote her plans. She last performed there on February 22, 2022.
Nine days later, Muromtseva fled with a friend. They took turns sharing a single train seat during a grueling 12-hour journey to western Ukraine. Her mother and grandmother left too.
“When I left Kyiv, I even did not count that I will dance any day again. I said bye-bye to my career,” she says. When she fled, she packed only one bag, leaving her important pointe shoes behind.
Muromtseva had danced the Swan Lake role, a masterpiece for the best ballerinas, for more than five years with her home company. She performed in Ukraine as well as in China and Japan.
Securing the role at the Hungarian State Opera was a dream. It meant she was back at the top after a year of merely surviving day to day.
“I’m happy to make a story on stage again,” she says. “It is a totally different production [in Budapest]. For me it feels like I really have to prove [myself].”
Tough training and a tight schedule helps her get by, Muromtseva says. But back in her rented flat, she sometimes cries.
“We call it war-life balance, not work-life balance anymore,” she reflects. She takes long walks to improve her mental strength, which is essential for the art form.
Muromtseva was a refugee in Germany last year. Someone gave her new pointe shoes and a place to practice. Then she auditioned for the Hungarian State Opera.
Her mother and grandmother returned to Kyiv. She’s happy to be in a neighboring country in case they need help. Her mother plans to see her soon in Swan Lake.
“It means a lot for me, as she and Grandfather were always my biggest support in ballet,” Muromtseva says.
The lights dim again. Muromtseva flutters high, dances en pointe, and pirouettes. The audience bursts into applause.
Muromtseva is happy with the opportunity to dance. But she would like to return home. “I am waiting for this day, that one day I can dance on Kyiv stage again,” she says.
Still, the situation is “getting a little bit easier,” she says. “Do what you love and then you have power to do what you have to do.”
Why? During troubled times, stories of perseverance and hope can help encourage us to keep going, to pray for others—and to count our blessings.