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“Dancing with the Stars” pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy is sharing what it was like being in Ukraine when the war broke out and what he’s doing to help his homeland.
Chmerkovskiy, who was born in Ukraine but is also a U.S. citizen, was in Ukraine earlier this year when Russia launched its invasion. The dancer was working as a judge on the Ukrainian version of “Dancing with the Stars” at the time.
When the war first broke out in February, Chmerkovskiy documented his experience of being in Kyiv. He kept his fans and the world updated on his perspective, frequently going on Instagram Live to document what he was witnessing.
“When this whole thing happened. I wasn’t, you know, trying to portray something or, you know, I had an agenda to social media gather or whatever it is,” Chmerkovskiy explained to Fox News Digital. “I was just little bit like, you know, there’s no other way for me to say just to say … I’m terrified. You know, I’m … I want to go home, you know, this is insane. What are we doing?”
He added that while most people have been in violent situations before, no one can imagine what living through a war is like because “nobody is used to a wartime” and that it might be “hard to kind of fathom it a little bit because it doesn’t make any sense for a regular person.”
The “Dancing with the Stars” alum also documented his travels out of war-torn Ukraine to Poland via train.
He decided to leave after he was arrested on suspicion of being a Russian spy because he was unable to provide law enforcement with his proper documentation. He recalled being in fear for his life and feeling “like no one was safe.”
“Somebody grabbed me by the hand, and they suddenly — they pulled me into the building. And I was sort of under arrest because I wasn’t able to present documentation right away,” he said. “I realized that it wasn’t without a purpose. It was like they told me that last night, right underneath the hotel where I was, they found they located like a Russian spy cell … And so that’s why, the next morning, everything was so heightened.”
Chmerkovskiy says he is often asked why he chose to flee rather than stay and defend his country.
“That’s not my country. Very clear about that. In the United States for the better part of almost 13 years. And I’m proud of it,” he said. “It was very difficult for me to feel like I’m turning my back on Ukraine.”
He and his brother Val Chmerkovskiy were born in Ukraine but left in 1994 as teenagers after living through the country’s struggles after the fall of the Soviet Union. He said the latest experience brought back a lot of traumatic memories for him and his parents.
Once reunited with his wife and son in Los Angeles, Chmerkovskiy started the charitable organization Baranova 27, named after the street he grew up on prior to his family’s decision to leave Ukraine. The organization has been gathering and distributing clothing, medical supplies and hygienic equipment for those in need.
Chmerkovskiy recently announced his decision to partner with Cryptorealism artist Davood Roostaei in an effort to auction one of Roostaei’s paintings inspired by the war in Eastern Europe to raise money for Ukrainian refugees.
“We found out that there was this gentleman, this artist who, because of what he has gone through himself in Iran and through revolution and being imprisoned for his artistic views and all of that, he is now reaching out and saying, ‘Look, this is what I want to do to help out Ukraine because I understand,” Chmerkovskiy explained.
Chmerkovskiy explained to Fox News Digital he had no prior knowledge about Roostaei before partnering with him.
Roostaei said his experience living in a war zone inspired him on numerous occasions to use his art to support certain charities, noting his specific goal for this piece.
“I like to use my work when I can to make a real impact — both through encouraging viewers to think and engage deeply with a particular topic, to consider alternative perspectives and to look beyond what’s readily perceptible,” Roostaei explained. “With this piece I hope to spread a message of peace and help others understand what the Ukrainian people are going through, and with the donation of the proceeds of the sale of this painting to Maksim’s charity, be able to send a more immediate assistance as well.”
The artist called Chmerkovskiy “a kind-hearted, genuine person,” saying it was “an honor to work with him.” He said Chmerkovskiy “being from Ukraine” allowed him to have a deeper “understanding as to what the needs of the Ukrainian people are” and the best methods to help them.
Chmerkovskiy also discussed his IVF journey with his wife Peta Murgatroyd, revealing she has had a number of miscarriages, making this year even more traumatic for the couple. He noted their son Shai has been their “anchor” during these tough times.
Switching gears, he discussed the upcoming season of “Dancing with the Stars” premiering on Disney+ later this month.
“I do have to pay respect to the place that made me and gave me the platform, so I’ll always be a supporter,” he said. “I wish them, you know, an amazing season. I think Disney+ is a great partner. And, you know, I hope I hope I hope this season is everything that this new production wants it to be.”
“Dancing with the Stars” is set to premiere on Disney+ Sept. 19.