After Experiencing the Ukrainian Tragedy First-Hand, Maksim Chmerkovskiy Is Now Doing Everything He Can to Help Those Left Behind

Wed Mar 16 2022

Fans of Dancing With the Stars will probably be familiar with Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Dubbed “the bad boy of ballroom,” this professional dancer has been twisting and jiving on our television screens for decades. And while it may seem as though Maksim has a perfect life, he’s experienced hardship unlike any other. Especially in recent months.

In early 2022, Maksim Chmerkovskiy found himself in a situation that would change his life forever. During a working visit to his home country, he witnessed the start of the war in Ukraine and was soon fleeing for his life. He witnessed the death and destruction of the country he grew up in, and while he’s since made it back to his wife and child in the US, the mental scars still remain. So, how did Maksim end up in the middle of a war zone, and what’s he going to do now?

Maksim Was Born and Raised in Ukraine, but He Had No Idea That He’d Later Witness His Country Become a War Zone

Maksim Chmerkovskiy caught the attention of the worldwide media recently when he started posting photos and videos of the war in Ukraine. Maksim was in Kyiv when the rockets started firing and the buildings started to crumble, but what many fans don’t realize is that his story with Ukraine began much earlier than that.

Chmerkovskiy was born in Odesa, Ukrainian SSR in January 1980 – with his younger brother and fellow professional dancer Valentin being born just six years later. They were born to Aleksandr “Sasha” Chmerkovskiy and Larisa Chmerkovskiy, and their parents encouraged them to start dancing as soon as they were able to walk. In fact, Maksim started dancing when he was just four years old.

His Family Moved From Ukraine to the United States When He Was 14, but He Never Forgot His Homeland

After 14 years in Ukraine, Maksim’s mother and father decided to immigrate to the United States in search of a new life and new opportunities – but this move wasn’t easy. None of the family knew any English and they experienced serious language barriers. Ultimately, Maksim had to teach himself English by reading the street signs in his new home of Brooklyn, New York.

Moving to the US also gave Maksim more chances to improve his dance skills. He’d been dancing since he was four years old and everyone around him knew that he was hugely talented – but it was only when he began working at a Russian restaurant as an entertainer at the age of 15 that he realized he had what it took to go pro and make even more money. So, he made the decision to start entering dance competitions.

He Then Opened a Dance Studio With His Father, Something He Never Imagined He Could Do in Ukraine

Over the next few years, Maksim entered dance competitions, won countless trophies, and honed his ability at the same time. Dancing was his passion, but he often felt like an outsider in his new home. His English was rusty, and while he tried to find a dance studio in New York for him to continue his career further, he didn’t ever feel comfortable in them.

So, when he was just 16 years old, he decided to open a dance studio in New Jersey with his father. They chose New Jersey as their location because they wanted anyone and everyone to be able to enjoy dance, not just those who could afford expensive classes in the city. He confessed that “I didn’t want to open a studio that would become just one of the studios in the area. I wanted to open my studio somewhere where there was nothing like it and where people would look at it with no preconceived notions.”

After Marrying His Wife and Welcoming a Son Into the World, Maksim Became an Official US Citizen

After years of graft in the dance world, Maksim Chmerkovskiy was offered the chance to star as an official pro dancer on Dancing With the Stars. His first season aired in 2006, and he was an instant hit with those at home. It was on this show that he also met his wife, New Zealand dancer Peta Murgatroyd.

The couple welcomed their son Shai Aleksander in 2017, and the whole family fully embraced their American dream and their life in the US. In fact, after 25 years of living in the country, Maksim became a fully-fledged American citizen in 2019. He didn’t know it at the time, but this citizenship would later save his life.

Although Maksim Had a New Life in the US, He Was Still a Huge Celebrity in Ukraine and He Traveled There to Work in Early 2022

As well as being a well-known figure in the United States, Maksim also had fans in Ukraine who were proud of his Ukrainian roots. Because of this, he was a huge celebrity across the pond, and he was often asked to work on Ukrainian dance shows as a professional dancer and sometimes even a judge. He planned to do just that in early 2022.

In February, Maksim traveled back to his homeland to film the show World of Dance. He had planned to stay in a hotel in Kyiv for a few months throughout the duration of the show, and while he was sad to be away from his wife and son, he was excited about the opportunity. However, that all changed when he learned that tensions were rising between Russia and Ukraine.

When the War Started, Maksim’s Team Suggested That He Leave the Country Immediately, but He Stayed

As news started to make the rounds that Vladimir Putin was looking to invade the country, Maksim’s team decided that the best thing for him to do was to leave the country and head home. However, he didn’t want to. He wanted to stay in Ukraine and finish the show as he had committed himself to the project.

Unfortunately, just a few days later, Vladimir Putin announced a “special military operation” of the Donbas area of Ukraine and the war began. Before too long the war intensified and rockets were fired across the country – including where Maksim was staying in Kyiv. The professional dancer started to see for himself the full effects of the war, and he was scared for his life and his homeland.

The Dancer Started Posting Photos and Videos of His Experience in the War Zone, and He Was Overcome With Emotion

Although Maksim was fully integrated into his life in the US, seeing his homeland bombed and seeing innocent victims suffer was enough to push the dancer over the edge. He knew that he needed to do something, which is why he decided to start posting videos and photos of his experience in the war zone on social media. He wanted his 1.2 million Instagram followers to see what was really happening.

In many of these videos, he looked directly at the camera and told his first-hand account of what he was seeing. He stated that “I’m in a very safe place but this is nuts and I think everybody is going through a lot of emotions and I think it’s time I expose mine in a personal manner. This is war. This is a crazy situation. It’s insane and I’m losing my final little things. This is not a cry for help. I’m a big boy. I can handle myself… but I’m starting to not be able to just sort of keep my head.”

As Maksim Made His Way to and From Bomb Shelters, He Began to Regret His Decision to Stay in Ukraine

As Maksim continued to post photos and videos of the worsening situation in Ukraine, his followers at home began to worry about his safety. He told them not to worry if he disappeared for a few hours at a time, as he was regularly having to move from his hotel room to the nearby bomb shelter. It was a scary time for all.

As shelling neared his hotel, Maksim soon realized that the situation was dire. He had hoped that the war would blow over within a few days, but if anything, it simply got worse and worse. He began to regret his decision to stay in the country when his team encouraged him to leave – but he still knew that he was one of the lucky ones. There were already so many who had lost their lives.

The Professional Dancer Eventually Made the Decision to Flee From Ukraine, but He Knew It Wouldn’t Be Easy

As Maksim watched thousands upon thousands of Ukrainian residents flee their homes in search of shelter in different areas of the country or outside of the country altogether, he continued to stay in his hotel. But after a while, he realized that the situation wasn’t getting any better – and he knew eventually that he would also need to flee.

Of course, Maksim updated his worried followers on Instagram of his plans. He noted that “I’m going to try and make my way out. I’m going to start making my way towards the border. I have options. Just a little nervous but I think it’s going to be alright. I know it’s going to be okay.” Despite his confidence, fans were still skeptical about his decision to flee.

Many Fans Wondered How He Was Able to Flee, as Other Young Ukrainian Men Were Forced to Stay

While those who were watching the Ukrainian crisis on their television screens from the comfort of their homes were sad to see that Maksim was in the middle of it all, some began to question how he was able to flee the country. After all, President Zelensky of Ukraine had prohibited healthy men aged 18-60 from leaving. They were ordered to stay and help, instead.

With his Ukrainian heritage, many assumed that Maksim would also be held under this mobilization order and thought that he would also have to stay and fight. So, they were confused when Maksim confirmed that he was definitely going to try and get out of the country in an attempt to get back to the US.

As Maksim Tried to Escape the Country, He Was Arrested for Unknown Reasons but Eventually Released

Despite the fact that Maksim’s fans still had many questions for him regarding his ability to leave the country, the professional dancer set his plan in motion to flee. He packed up his bags and attempted to check out from the hotel he was staying in, but even that came with its complications. He confessed that at one point he was arrested.

On social media, Maksim stated that “The streets are crazy. At one point I got arrested but again all good, promise. That was probably the least traumatizing moment in this whole thing as far as Ukraine is concerned, but for me, it was just a reality check.” While it’s not known what he was arrested for, he was later released and able to continue his journey out of the country.

Back in the United States, Maksim’s Wife Peta Was Asking Her Followers to Pray for Her Husband’s Safe Return

Of course, the people following Maksim’s escape weren’t just his followers on social media. His wife Peta was also watching his stories and looking at the photos he was taking from back home in the United States, where she was looking after their son. She was incredibly worried about her husband, so she also utilized social media to calm her nerves.

Peta posted photos and videos of her husband on Instagram, writing “I don’t usually ask these things from my social media network, however, today is extremely hard and the next few will be even harder. My pain is overwhelming and I’m struggling, but you sending your positive light and love to him would mean the world to me. Truly, I wish for nothing more. Please pray that he comes home soon. Please pray that he has a swift, safe exit.”

Because of His American Citizenship, Maksim Was Able to Board a Train From Ukraine to Poland

As Peta and the world prayed for Maksim and his safe passage from Ukraine back to the United States, it soon became clear why the professional dancer was allowed to leave the country while other young men were forced to stay. As he was technically a United States citizen, he was not bound by the same mandate as those who held Ukrainian citizenship.

So, after some intense planning, Maksim was able to figure out a way to get out of the country. He made his way to the train station and was able to board a train with others fleeing from Ukraine to Poland. However, doing this wasn’t easy on his conscience. He felt like a coward, especially because he was the only man on the train…

Maksim Felt Guilty Leaving Ukraine on a Train That Was Full of Women and Children, and No Other Men

Maksim knew more than anything that he wanted to get back home to his wife and son and leave the war zone behind, but he was also conscious that other people didn’t have that same privilege. That’s why he struggled with his decision to flee on the train to Poland. He felt like a coward.

He told CNN that “I felt really bad going, and the feeling sunk in even worse because when I got to the train station, I realized it was all women and children. I was too big and taking up space, so I had to put myself between trains. I literally moved out of the area where people would’ve all been.” During this time, he was battling between his head and his heart.

He Felt Like He Was Taking up Too Much Space in the Train Carriage, so He Sacrificed His Warmth to Help Others

Maksim confessed that “Internally, I justified my space [on the train] because I was outside. It wasn’t a livable situation because it was too freezing so I would pace around in that space, come in, thaw out and then go back outside, so I helped a lot with their needs and bags and that stuff. Just to understand that I’m not taking up space.”

Eventually, the train made its way to Poland and Maksim got off – and he was instantly relieved, while still feeling a little hesitant. More than anything, he wanted to be reunited with his wife and son, so he instantly made arrangements to fly back to the US. While on the plane, he breathed a sigh of relief before their emotional reunion.

Maksim’s Emotional Airport Reunion With His Wife Should Have Been a Happy One, but He Was Still Upset

After a long flight from Poland, Maksim eventually landed in Los Angeles International Airport – and his wife, Peta, was there to greet him in the arrivals hall. She immediately ran up to him and hugged him tightly after such a stressful ordeal. Their emotional reunion was caught on camera for everyone to see, and Peta even sported a Ukrainian flag bow in her hair.

While Maksim was over the moon to be reunited with his wife and back in a country where rockets weren’t firing and innocent victims were being injured, he wasn’t as happy as he should have been. Of course, he was relieved to be back in a safe country – but he was also thinking of all the people that were left behind and feeling the full brunt of the invasion.

Since Arriving Back in the United States, Maksim Has Dealt With Feelings of Shame and Embarrassment

Maksim was feeling all kinds of emotions when he set foot back on United States soil. He was relieved, excited, happy – but he was also exhausted, sad, and embarrassed. He confessed that “I cried from the airport. I felt embarrassed… the entire ride back cause I was the only man on the train amongst all women and children.”

He further explained his feelings, stating that “I feel bad. I feel ashamed. I feel upset. I’m still very much in that fight-or-flight [mode]. I’m a big boy, but I know for a fact that I’m going through something mentally… because I get into these cry moments. I’m emotional, I can’t control it.” In an effort to feel normal again, Maksim tried to get back into some kind of routine.

The Dancer and His Wife Tried to Get Back Into a Normal Routine, but Maksim Continued to Struggle

The day after being reunited with his wife and son, Maksim and Peta made their way to the beach for a walk and some fresh air. Many criticized the dancers for getting back on with their lives as though nothing had happened and as though the war wasn’t still raging on, but the couple wanted to make sure that their followers knew this wasn’t the case.

With her husband safely at home again, Peta wrote on Instagram that she and her husband will continue their “efforts to provide assistance to the Ukrainian refugees moving forward. We have big plans in store and our sole focus is on this war.” She also maintained that she was glad to see that the world had “united against” the “evil” of Vladimir Putin.

Maksim Has Maintained That He Has ”Survivor’s Remorse” and So Intends to Travel Back to Poland to Help Refugees

After Maksim Chmerkovskiy returned home and had a few days to process the fact that he was no longer living in an active war zone, he was interviewed by Anderson Cooper for CNN. It was during this interview that he confessed to having “survivor’s remorse.” He also expanded on a plan that he was putting in place.

He stated that “I spent the last couple of days with survivor’s remorse, and I’m currently working on an opportunity to go back. Probably some time next week I’m going to go back to Poland and join efforts on the ground. Sort of want to justify my safe out that way.” Of course, Maksim didn’t have to go back, but he wanted to after seeing the destruction for himself.

Most Fans Are Impressed With Maksim’s Decision to Head Back to Europe and Help Out Those Left Behind

When Maksim confirmed that he would be heading back on a plane and helping out those who were still in Ukraine and those who had fled the country, most fans were amazed by his selflessness. They couldn’t believe that, even though he had returned home to a life that was far removed from the war, he still wanted to help.

For the professional dancer, though, it was a no-brainer. He had witnessed first-hand how brutal the war was, and he could see no end to it while he was there. He had been fortunate enough to leave and return to a privileged life, but he knew that there were others who weren’t quite as fortunate as him – so he needed to help. However, not everyone was impressed with his decision.

However, Others Have Criticized the Professional Dancer for Leaving Ukraine When Others Had to Stay Behind

While many were quick to congratulate Maksim for acting on his survivor’s guilt and doing more than simply throw money at a bad situation, there were others who criticized his actions. For starters, many critics thought that Maksim should have stayed in his home country to fight alongside his fellow Ukrainian nationals – even though he is a U.S citizen.

Alongside this, he was also called out for the way that he shared his story and his ordeal after he returned home to the US. Maksim was interviewed by major news corporations, and while some congratulated him for bringing attention to a terrible travesty, there were others who believed he was using these platforms to share his own story – rather than the stories of those still in Ukraine.

Sources Close to Maksim Have Denounced the Idea That He Dodged His Ukrainian Duty to Stay and Fight

As this criticism made its way to Maksim and his team, sources close to the dancer were quick to put out these fires. They maintained that Maksim was heading back to Europe out of the goodness of his heart and because of the guilt he felt for being in a privileged position, and they denounced the idea that he dodged his Ukrainian duty to stay in the country and fight.

This source stated that “Maks is not a Ukrainian citizen, he’s an American citizen. It was not an option for him to just ‘stay and fight.’ The narrative of evading any duty to Ukraine is simply not accurate.” If Maksim was still a Ukrainian citizen, his story would have been very different – as he would have had a duty to stay in the country under the military mandate.

It’s Not Known When or How Maksim Is Going to Help Ukraine, but Sources Suggest He Has Big Plans

At the time of writing, Maksim Chmerkovskiy has not yet made his way back to Poland – but it seems as though this is still very much on the cards. The professional dancer is still using his social media pages to bring attention to the war in his home country, and he still plans to help those who have suffered during the tragedy.

Not only is Maksim currently raising as much money as he possibly can for Ukrainian aid, but it’s been suggested that he’ll also be part of the ground team that will eventually use this money for good. This could be providing Ukrainian refugees with food or shelter, or it could be directly providing the Ukrainian government with financial help.

Until Maksim Is Able to Physically Go to Poland, He Will Continue to Raise Awareness for Those in Ukraine

For the time being, Maksim is using this time to reconnect with his family and truly appreciate the little moments he thought he’d never have again. He’s spending time with his wife and his son and making arrangements to head back to Poland and help those who have lost so much.

Until he is able to physically put boots on the ground, he’s continuing to post photos and videos of the war on his social media accounts. He wants people to know that his home country is crumbling and that people are unnecessarily losing their lives. Ultimately, he’s praying for the war to come to an end.