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‘We fled bombs in Ukraine – now we’re performing in the circus in Dundee’

Ukrainian couple Tetiana Kundyk and Henry Ayala from Circus Extreme.
Ukrainian couple Tetiana Kundyk and Henry Ayala from Circus Extreme.

Ukrainian circus artists performing in Dundee have recalled the moment they heard bombs in the night and were forced to flee their home.

Married couple Tetiana Kundyk, 37, and Henry Ayala, 42, were at their flat on the outskirts of Kyiv when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.

The pair, along with their two-year-old son Leanardo, were woken by loud explosions at 5am.

They have been telling their story to The Courier while in the city for a run of shows.

Tetiana said: “We started panicking and packing and it was very scary. The sounds, I will never forget.

‘We didn’t know when the next explosion would happen’

“We had no idea when or where the next explosion was going to happen.”

The couple stopped only to pack essential items – documents, chargers, money and nappies – before driving 12 hours to the border with Poland.

Faced with road closures and blockages, they were forced to drive the wrong way on streets and cut through fields, before eventually completing the last 12km to the border on foot.

By that point their phones were dead and credit cards had been stopped.

Tetiana and Henry are currently performing in Dundee.

Tetiana said: “We didn’t know where we were going – we just knew we were going to Poland. It was very cold.

“There were so many children and women there, you cannot imagine.

“There were also men but they were only walking towards the border and then they were just waving and saying goodbye.

‘Heartbreak’ at families being torn apart

“It was heartbreaking to see those kids crying and women because they have to separate.

“I tried not to look, because when I looked, I just burst into tears. It’s just so sad.”

Ukrainian men were banned from leaving the country to stay and fight – but Henry, who is from Venezuala, was not forced to stay.

Once across the border, the family of three were met by Polish volunteers, who took them to a hotel in Warsaw.

Long-time circus performers Henry and Tetiana, who still have friends and family trapped in Ukraine, are now appearing with Circus Extreme in Dundee as part of the production’s world tour.

Tetiana on the tight rope.
Henry doing a bike stunt.

The company has just completed a month of sold-out shows in Cardiff, with Henry assuming the role of ‘Prince of Clowns’.

Tetiana says she has “learned how to disconnect” in order to get through the shows with a smile.

But she remains worried about her mother, who is still in Ukraine caring for Tetiana’s grandmother.

For a while she would wake up at 6am every day and call her mum just to check she is alive.

Another Circus Extreme cast member from Ukraine is Liudmyla Vrinceanu, 43.

Liudmyla Vrinceanu doesn’t know when she will see her family again.

Though she was not at home when the invasion began – because she was on tour with Continental Circus Berlin – her parents are still in the country.

Based in Kharkiv in the east of the country, she says they are under constant fire.

They are unable to leave the country due to her mother’s health issues.

Liudmyla said: “My mum is very ill so she’s in bed.

‘My parents will not leave the country’

“My parents said they will not leave the city. They will not leave the country because they were born in the country. They want to die there.”

Liudmyla says her mum and dad spend most of their time in a basement bunker with no water or electricity, and limited supplies of food.

She said: “I don’t know if I am ever going to speak to them again. Every night I’m falling asleep and I’m looking at my phone to check when my parents were last online.

“Every morning I wake up it’s the first thing I do. I open my phone, check if they were online.

“But being in the show helps, and the people around – it’s a big support from all our colleagues.

Circus Extreme performer Tony Garcia with a flamethrower.
Tetiana showing off her acrobatics.

“Also, as I see outside on the street, people from Scotland, England, Ireland, they’re helping Ukrainian people so much.”

Circus Extreme held its first show in Dundee on Wednesday, and will be performing in the city until Sunday July 3.

The cast of 30 – which includes seven Ukrainian performers in total – will then visit Aberdeen and Glasgow.

Other performers come from the likes of Brazil and Ireland.

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