RICHMOND, Va. — Back when 2022 started, Kristina Kadashevych surely could not have envisioned ending the year in Richmond, performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy (and two other roles) in Richmond Ballet's annual holiday extravaganza, "The Nutcracker."
But then, the Ukrainian ballerina never could have imagined the year would turn out the way it has.
Kadashevych arrived for our interview in a second-floor studio at Richmond Ballet dressed in a leotard, leggings and soft, puffy booties to keep her feet toasty. She started off, apologizing in advance for her English. "My English is not perfect," she said — but it was really good — and then she told her story.
Last February, on the day before she was supposed to fly to Paris to join the Kyiv City Ballet for a tour as a guest principal dancer, Russian troops invaded Ukraine. Instead of boarding a plane for Paris, Kadashevych, her 2-year-old son and her parents had to flee their home in Kharkiv, in the eastern part of Ukraine; crowd onto a train; and evacuate to the presumed safer western reaches of the country.
"It was dangerous," she said, "and we were scared."
What did they take with them?
"Just kid stuff," she said with a smile, "and kid. That's all."
More soberingly, she recalled, how difficult it was to leave home, not knowing when they would be able to return.
"You don't know where you're going. You have nothing. It's a strange feeling."
They eventually took refuge at the home of another ballet dancer, and Kadashevych, 33, made the difficult decision to leave her family and go ahead and join the ballet company in Paris.
"I needed to work because I have no practice," she said. "I was just sitting and losing my profession."
I recalled what artistic director Stoner Winslett told me recently, explaining why Richmond Ballet dancers went to great lengths to keep dancing through the pandemic.
"Dancers are like Olympic athletes; if you lie around your apartment and don't train, you lose your skill," she said.
Kadashevych has been dancing since she was 9 and professionally for the past 15 years. She never considered another line of work, saying dance brought her interesting experiences, extensive travel and unmatched joy. "Ballet gives you everything."
She left her family, thinking she would return soon. A month or two. It didn't work out that way as the war raged on.
"Everything is so — how to explain — you cannot plan anything."
Kadashevych and the Kyiv City Ballet went on a tour — France, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom and later the United States — and were warmly greeted everywhere they went.
"In Europe, our performances were like a charity to help Ukraine," she said. "Often, a lot of refugees from Ukraine came to those performances, so we felt we were doing important things and helping our country the way we can.
"Here in the U.S., we also have found huge support all over. Here, I also feel that everybody cares about me a lot, and I appreciate that."
In between the tours, she went home to Ukraine for a month over the summer to visit her son, who will turn 4 in March. Lev is his name. "It means lion," she said.
"It was a very happy time," she said. "I remember the moment when I come. It was early morning, and my son was sleeping, and I just lay next to him and waited until he woke up, and he could not believe it. 'Really, Mommy, really?!' He was so happy."
So, how did Richmond happen?
She shares a common acquaintance with Igor Antonov, another native Ukrainian who was a longtime dancer with Richmond Ballet and now is an artistic associate with the company and director of Richmond Ballet II. He texted Kadashevych and asked if she'd like to join Richmond Ballet on a temporary basis. Her answer: yes.
"It was unexpected and very interesting for me," said Kadashevych, who came to Richmond while the rest of the Kyiv company returned to Europe.
Kadashevych is temporarily replacing a Richmond Ballet dancer on maternity leave. Winslett said "bringing a ballerina here who is unable to currently dance in her home country would be another way that our organization could further" the ballet's mission "to awaken, uplift and unite human spirits through the power of dance."
Kadashevych will remain with the company through February and also will perform in "Firebird with Serenade," Feb. 17-19.
For "The Nutcracker" at the Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center, Kadashevych danced the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Snow Queen and Mrs. Silberhaus, though not all in the same performances. Kadashevych said she has danced in several versions of "Nutcracker," but never one quite like Richmond's — "It's absolutely different, so it's a new 'Nutcracker' for me," she said — and never three roles in one production.
"For me, it's unusual … but it's interesting to try everything because all roles are interesting and beautiful, and I really want to dance them all," she said. "It's a challenge, but it's a good challenge."
And as for being in Richmond, she said, "I love it. I really love it. The city and the company, as well, because they have really nice dancers, as professionals and as humans. So, I enjoy being here."
The future? She does not know. She hopes to return to Ukraine soon, perhaps after Christmas, for a short visit. Beyond that, she's not certain of much of anything, including if the situation will be better at home sooner rather than later.
"We all hope that it will," she said, "but I'm not sure."