The Ukrainian circus comes to the city and stays in Italy in the middle of the war

PISTOIA – A Ukrainian circus troupe conducts an endless “Alice in Wonderland” tour of Italy, trapped down the real-life rabbit hole of creating joyous performances on stage while their families endure the war at home.

Like many Ukrainian artists who were abroad when Russia invaded on February 24, the acrobats and dancers at the Elysium Theater Circus in Kyiv opened a limited engagement in Italy. The tour, originally due to end in mid-March, has now been extended until at least June as the artists try to keep working to send money to relatives back home.

Recently the Ukrainian circus came to Pistoia in Tuscany. There was the Mad Hatter in a green top hat and a purple beard; the white rabbit with a red nose covered in silver glitter and Alice with a little blue dress and long curls.

But behind their colorful costumes, bright smiles and fantastical story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the members of the troupe fight.


“I feel guilty about the people who stay there because they’re not safe, and I’m safe and I can’t help them,” said Yuliia Palaida, who plays Alice. “I’m just struggling with all these feelings,” she adds, her voice shaking.

Oleksandr Bandaliuk plays the mad hatter and dominates the show. But behind the stage he sits depressed between the files.

“It’s very difficult to work and dance on the Italian stage because we know that our country is at war now,” he said. “We cannot go to Ukraine because there are Russian soldiers in my house now.”

Theaters across Italy have booked the circus, and their sold-out performances have enabled them to pay for about 50 family members who escape Ukraine by bus and join the troupe in Italy.

“We have four or five dogs, a cat and a 79-year-old grandmother, a babushka, who is the matriarch of all of us, the grandmother of the company,” said Italian circus producer Roberto Romaniello.


The city of Reggio Emilia found temporary housing for the extended circus family while they worked to obtain legal documents, access to medical care and long-term housing. They have 10 shows planned in Sicily in June so far and are hoping for more.

“Every artist has many people in Ukraine,” said Aleksandr Sakhorov, who has relatives in Kyiv and Zaporizhia. “We send money all the time, but if we stop nobody will get this support because there are no jobs in Ukraine now.”


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Joel McCord

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