“I want to go back home,” he said.
Since broadcasting from that Kyiv balcony, Chmerkovskiy has updated his followers with near-daily dispatches. For several days, he was stuck in the capital as Russian military forces closed in and attacked the city. As he was heading into a bomb shelter on Thursday, Chmerkovskiy posted a four-minute-long video. The update wasn’t much; he said he was safe, still in Kyiv and optimistic. “I do know that, at the very least, I have a chance. I have a passport, and I have a way out.”
On Friday, he was still stuck in the capital. Chmerkovskiy reported that people were telling him it was too dangerous to try to head west to safety. By Sunday, he reported to his followers that he was tired and stressed.
Then, late Monday, he told them he had made it onto a train headed for Poland’s capital.
“We’re heading to Warsaw (hopefully). Train to Lviv was not an option,” Chmerkovskiy wrote in an Instagram Story. “The situation at the train station is insane. AT first it feels manageable, but it gets A LOT worse when it comes time to actually board the train. Long story but all I can say now is that I’m a big man with nothing but a backpack it’s TRAUMATIZING.”
The train was packed. Chmerkovskiy wrote that he had squeezed into a cabin meant for three people but then housing four adults and seven children. The car, designed for up to 30 people, was holding more than four times that number.
“People everywhere. It’s sweaty and claustrophobic,” he wrote in the note.
Chmerkovskiy said that, at one point in his journey, he’d watched a young boy say goodbye to his father.
“What finally broke me is when I was watching an eight-ish year old boy, hysterically crying and not wanting to let go of his father. Verbatim: ‘if you stay I want to stay too because if they kill you I won’t be able to help.’”
On Tuesday, Chmerkovskiy popped back on Instagram to tell everyone that, after a 23-hour train ride and 36 hours without sleep, he’d escaped to Warsaw. Chmerkovskiy said he’d witnessed a lot on his journey — including Russian attacks on civilians — but he said it wasn’t the time to get into that.
“I won’t be able to express myself. I’m already tearing up and choking,” the champion dancer said. “ … I’m scared, I’m confused. I’m terrified. And I’ve just lived through some [stuff] that I’m going to need a lot of therapy for.”
Chmerkovskiy called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “maniac” and thanked everyone who’d helped him flee, saying he was “overwhelmed with gratitude.”
On Thursday, at the start of his effort to leave Ukraine, Chmerkovskiy wrote an Instagram caption that accompanied one of the videos he recorded on the Kyiv balcony. He wrote that, after decades of living in America, he had just been getting over some of the “old [post-traumatic stress disorder]” feelings he experienced growing up in Ukraine. With Russia’s invasion, those were coming back.
“I literally only just forgot about those ‘always on the edge’ feelings and actually started worrying about things like bbq grills,” he wrote. “I’m crying as I’m typing this because all man deserves to worry about [is] ‘bbq grills’ and not … war.”
Before Chmerkovskiy made it out of Ukraine, his wife, Peta Murgatroyd, who was also a longtime professional on “Dancing With the Stars,” kept vigil on her own Instagram. In recent days, she posted a video of a lavender candle in front of a family photo, one of several she rotated during the five days her husband was trapped. On one of her husband’s posts, she left a comment promising he would once again only have to worry about cooking things on the grill.
“I love you. You will be home soon I promise,” she told him. “Think about how many bbq’s we are [going] to have.”