Ballet star finds footing in Georgia after leaving Russia over Ukraine war

TBILISI, Nov 24 (Reuters) – When Laura Fernandez’s fellow dancers at the Stanislavsky Theater in Moscow started discussing the war in Ukraine, she knew she had to go.

Fernandez, 24, a Swiss by birth and Ukrainian mother, was a soloist at Stanislavsky and a rising star of the ballet world when Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine in late February.

“It was just very difficult being in the dressing room because people started discussing (the war)…” she told Reuters.

“They said, ‘Don’t worry, it will end in a week, everything will be fine’, but I knew it wasn’t, it was already starting and then it got worse and worse.”

She also feared for her relatives in Mariupol, her mother’s hometown, the southeastern port city that was destroyed during a prolonged siege before finally falling in May, and the impact this was having on her mother’s mental health.

“I left because it was just very difficult for me morally to live there because I know what Putin did to my family in Ukraine,” she said.

“I mean our family in Mariupol, we lost everything: two, no, three apartments. My family had to leave the country without anything. They had nothing, they couldn’t take anything with them.

“And also how people (in Russia) talked about the situation – it was very difficult for me to hear: I would walk out of the room with tears in my eyes and try to hold myself.”

RUSSIAN DREAM

Fernandez joined the Zurich Dance Academy in 2010 at the age of 12 before training at the world-famous Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg in the classical Russian style, which she described as “a dream”.

She had been at the Stanislavsky since 2020, when she decided to leave Russia in March, one of several prominent dancers and choreographers, including Bolshoi prima ballerina Olga Smirnova, to leave the country because of the Ukraine war.

In May, she joined the State Ballet of Georgia (SBG) in Tbilisi, where she spoke to Reuters in an interview between rehearsals of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from The Nutcracker, which SBG is touring with next month.

In addition to dancing for SBG, she also performs at international gala events, including trips to Sydney and Los Angeles this year.

She enjoys life in Tbilisi, she said, but has not given up hope that one day she will be able to return to Moscow.

I know it’s all Putin and a lot of people are against him; They’re just scared of him, so don’t act,” she said.

“Well, I’m not against Russia, I love Russia, I love Moscow. I also have some great friends in Moscow and I’ve really enjoyed my life there. But right now I’m just not ready to go back. “

Writing by Alex Richardson

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