Ukrainian performers among stars of Australian-run Great Moscow Circus

Seven months ago, Danylo Kravchenko was living in the Ukrainian city of Kherson when it was taken over by Russian forces.

Now he is working as a circus performer in Australia and sending money to his family and the Ukrainian war effort back home.

The 25-year-old clearly remembers the day his friend knocked on his door early in the morning to tell him something bad was happening.

A week later his home became the first major city in Ukraine to be captured by the Russians.

“We go to the street and say to the Russian military that we don’t want them to stay here. We want to be free,” Kravchenko said.

“They start shooting and using grenades … bullets flew over my head.

“It was very scary. Everybody was afraid.”

After two months under Russian occupation, Kravchenko and his brother left the country.

“We don’t have a choice,” he said.

“Now in Kherson, there’s no jobs, no money, just Russian military … we decided to leave Ukraine and help our family.

“We donate to the Ukrainian military for the Ukrainian army.

“It’s not big money — it’s a little bit, but if everyone sent a little bit, it will be big.

“I hope it helps our soldiers, our heroes.”

The acrobats of Ukraine
As a sportsman and trampolinist, Kravchenko has found a second home travelling with the Great Moscow Circus — an Australian-run performance group that tours 11 months of the year.

Despite the name, the Great Moscow Circus brand has been owned by an Australian family since 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Kravchenko said performing under the banner of the Great Moscow Circus did not always sit well with him, but he stressed that the company had been a big support to him.

“Sometimes yes, for me it’s difficult. I feel no good [about it],” he said.

“But I’m very grateful. They paid for my visa, my flight ticket, for everything. Now I’m here working and I’m very grateful.

“This is my second home.”

Earlier this year circus management distanced itself from Russia and said it did not support the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

‘The Moscow Circus?’
Kravchenko is one of three Ukrainian performers in the circus and one of the stars of the trampoline act.

Fellow Ukrainian performer Gosha Mykhailenko has been with the circus for five years and loves it.

“I get energy from the crowd. When I do something cool, they’re cheering me on and I feel excited. I love performing,” he said.

“We live in like a TV show. It’s a lot of drama and a lot of fun.”

Mykhailenko left Ukraine five years ago as a young performer who was keen to see the world.

But he said a lot had changed back home since he left.

He said the war had put extra “pressure” on him as a Ukrainian performer in the Great Moscow Circus.

“It’s actually nothing about Russia, the show, it’s the name,” he said.

“When people see the Moscow circus arrive in town, they expect Russian people inside.

“We get announced as the acrobats from Ukraine … and [some of] these Russians can get really mad and scream boo and stuff. It’s a rare moment but it happens.”

“They’re asking … ‘You’re Ukrainian, so why are you working in the Moscow circus?'”