Young ballerinas from Kharkiv are now among millions displaced by Ukraine's war At Christmas, they performed The Nutcracker. As Easter approaches, they and their mom are among millions who've been scattered by violence, separated from their old lives, facing an uncertain future.

Young ballerinas from Kharkiv are now among millions displaced by Ukraine's war

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Now to Ukraine, where the mayor of the second-largest city of Kharkiv says Russian bombardment has increased significantly. It sits less than 30 miles from the border with Russia. Kharkiv is also the home city of 11-year-old Maria Kltsova, and her story is just one example of how fast Russia's assault on Ukraine has shattered lives. Last Christmas, Kltsova danced "The Nutcracker" in Kharkiv. Now, with Easter approaching, her home city is under siege, and Maria is displaced with her mom and sister. NPR's Brian Mann has their story.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: I'm walking in a beautiful park in the center of Lviv, and in front of me, I see a woman, a mother, pulling a pink plastic suitcase with her two daughters.

NADIA KLTSOVA: My name is Nadia.

KATERYNA KLTSOVA: They are ballerines (ph), and I'm a teacher of Kharkiv ballet school.

MANN: The mother's name is Kateryna Kltsova. Her daughters are Maria, age 11, and Nadia, age 7. And they've just fled one of the cities in eastern Ukraine partially encircled by Russian troops.

K KLTSOVA: It's a very beautiful city, but now it's broken. Day after day, more and more. It's very pain for me, you know?

MANN: More than 10 million Ukrainians, roughly 1 in 4 people in the country, have been displaced already by this war, most of them women and children. Kateryna pulls out her phone and shows me photographs of her daughters just a few months ago, dancing a lavish production of "The Nutcracker."

It's beautiful.

K KLTSOVA: (Non-English language spoken).

MANN: Kateryna then shows me a video of her daughters and other children in white dresses, learning the steps of the ballet. They look lovely and fragile.


MANN: After watching herself on the video, 11-year-old Maria grins at me and goes, in her puffy white coat and tennis shoes, to give a little performance right here in the park. She stretches forward gracefully, one leg rising behind.

K KLTSOVA: (Non-English language spoken).

MANN: Kateryna gives her daughter an instruction, and Maria stands straighter, smiling and turning her head. I ask Maria about these last few days fleeing Kharkiv. She sort of slumps and looks away.

MARIA KLTSOVA: Yes, I worry.

MANN: Yeah?

MARIA: This is, for me, (non-English language spoken).

MANN: She says this has been a nightmare, especially because her father stayed behind in Kharkiv as part of the Territorial Defense Force.

MARIA: Yes, worry. I worry, yes, so much.

MANN: Kateryna, Maria's mom, tells me, like a lot of Ukrainians, she never believed Russia would actually invade. She used to live in Moscow. She loved it there and has a lot of friends in Russia. Now she feels betrayed. Kateryna decided it was time to flee when she saw images of dead bodies scattered in the suburbs around Kyiv.

K KLTSOVA: All my dreams about my childrens (ph) because they are small ballerines - they are broken.

MANN: So now, in a few days, Kateryna and her daughters leave for France, where they'll stay a while with relatives. After that, she's not sure. She's not sure how long her welcome will last and says money is already tight.

K KLTSOVA: I don't know. I don't have work now. I don't know what I will do after.

MANN: Kateryna tells me she thinks people in Kharkiv, including her husband, will keep fighting. I ask if she believes she and her daughters will ever be able to go home again.

K KLTSOVA: Yes, of course I believe I can - I believe. I want to go home, and I believe we will win.

MANN: For now, this city, Lviv, in western Ukraine, is safe and it's packed with families like the Kltsovas - women and children mostly who've been scattered by violence, separated from their loved ones and their old lives. After we talk, they set off again - a mother and her two little ballerinas pulling that pink suitcase through the park.

Brian Mann, NPR News, Lviv.

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