BUDAPEST – Swinging on trapezes, juggling rings or twirling on aerial silks, young Ukrainians with a passion for the circus who were uprooted by Russia's war are now training in Hungary.
Around 100 Ukrainian circus art students from age 5 to 20, with their adult chaperones, escaped the embattled cities of Kharkiv and Kyiv amid Russian bombings.
In neighboring Hungary, fellow circus devotees extended help and solidarity to the refugees, taking them in and allowing them to continue training in the safety of the capital, Budapest.
“I can’t stand it when I can’t train. I just want to perform in circus shows,” said Ira Maiboroda, a 16-year-old acrobat from Kharkiv who arrived in Hungary more than two weeks ago. “When I was in Kharkiv, I dreamed of being in the circus in Europe … I’m here and I’m really joyful.”
After Russia invaded Ukraine, the Capital Circus of Budapest along with a Hungarian school for acrobats arranged for the Ukrainian circus students to come to the capital where they would be provided with food and accommodation.
Gabor Kovacs, director of the Baross Imre School for Acrobats in Budapest which is part of the effort, said that in addition to having their basic needs met, it is important for the students to resume their training.
“We think that the creative work and continuation of their studies can greatly contribute to making their daily lives a little more carefree,” Kovacs said on the sidelines of a rehearsal as acrobats leaped through the air in a circular arena.
In a training facility near the Budapest circus hall, the dancers, acrobats, jugglers and contortionists stretched and warmed up.
Ann Lisitska, a 13-year-old performer from Kharkiv, said that while she was initially heartbroken when she had to leave her home and interrupt her studies, the welcome she had received by the circus community in Hungary helped ease the trauma.
“I had no idea what it would be like here. When I left I was very upset, because my home studio was left behind, some of my relatives were left behind,” she said. “I didn’t expect to be so well received and for it to be so nice.”
The performances are physically demanding and often involve potentially dangerous maneuvers as the young artists swing on silks and ropes high above the ground.
According to school director Kovacs, losing out on even a few days of training can mean a rapid decline in a circus artist’s skills.
“A week or two off work is about the same as six months off work for a professional athlete,” he said. “We have to try to create the possibility of daily practice so that these artistic children are able to work and develop continuously.”
This week, the Capital Circus of Budapest held a two-night show from which all proceeds will be used to buy circus equipment for the Ukrainian performers, Kovacs said — a token of the strong bonds within the circus community.
“The circus has always been about bringing performers and circus artists from different nations together to create a show,” he said. “In this sense, the circus has always been an art form of solidarity.”