MELBOURNE, Fla. – Julija Kichigina left Ukraine on Feb. 1, before the war started, to go on a U.S. tour with a ballet company.
What the 32-year-old didn’t know was that she wouldn’t able to go back home.
“It’s very difficult to understand, why? Why? What’s happening…” Kichigina said as she fought back tears. “I love my country. I love — I loved my life there. So, I’m stressed...sorry.”
It’s the stress of not knowing if her home is still standing in eastern Ukraine and fear for the new life she now faces in a foreign country where she has no family or friends. But the professional ballet dancer will be embraced by Artem and Ekaterina Yachmennikov, a couple who owns the We Dance Ballet and Ballroom Academies in Brevard County.
“She contacted me through Instagram...she asked me for the job,” Artem Yachmennikov said.
When Kichigina realized she had to stay in the U.S. she knew she had to continue working to support her parents back home.
“It’s just a heartbreaking situation and so immediately when Julija approached and she said this is where I am, I have one luggage that’s basically it, of course, we had to find a solution,” Ekaterina Vaganova-Yachmennikov said.
The couple told News 6 the solution is for Kichigina to become part of their academy as a ballet teacher. They moved from Russia to Melbourne 7 years ago, and said they understand the pain of leaving loved ones behind.
“We will try to make her life easy. It’s for sure,” Artem Yachmennikov said. “One of our family provided housing, some supplies.”
After the invasion of Ukraine began the couple has been collecting donations to help the people of Ukraine. They shared pictures with News 6 of the loads of boxes filled with supplies and said the donations from the community have already made it into Ukraine.
“We’ve just been really, really touched by the situation and what the Ukrainian people are going through,” Ekantorina Vaganova-Yachmennikov said. “We are trying to help in every way possible.”
They also set up a GoFundMe page to help Julija settle in once she arrives in Central Florida on April 11.
“I know this is the least we can do for her at the moment. She is separated from her family, and she doesn’t know how safe they’re going to be,” Ekaterina Vaganova-Yachmennikov said.
And while Kichigina adapts to her new life, she is grateful for the ray of hope she’s getting from the Central Florida community and from her new employer.
“Thank God he told me that he can give me work, and everything will be ok and he will help, and I’m so appreciated,” she said.