Longtime Dancing With the Stars pro Maksim Chmerkovskiy says he’s emigrated and made it into Poland after a 24-hour effort to leave Ukraine.
Following several updates about the current conditions in Ukraine since Russia officially invaded on Feb. 24, the dancer and choreographer initially posted to his Instagram story on Monday indicating he would attempt to leave the country.
“The streets are crazy. At one point I got arrested but again all good, promise,” he said. “That was probably the least traumatizing moment in this whole thing as far as Ukraine is concerned, but for me, it was just a reality check.”
Chmerkovskiy did not specify what had prompted his arrest but did indicate that he might “disappear for a while” as he tried to make his way to Poland. “I’m going to try and make my way out. I’m going to start making my way towards the border. I have options. Just a little nervous but I think it’s going to be alright. I know it’s going to be okay,” he wrote.
Several hours later, he shared another update, indicating that he had now made his way onto a train taking him and, to his estimates, around 130 other people into the neighboring nation of Poland.
“I made it on the train. We’re heading to Warsaw (hopefully). Train to Lviv was not an option. The situation at the train station is insane,” he wrote. “A[t] 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.”
He went on to describe the situation as “traumatizing” and said that the train cars — which he later counted at five in a video update to his story after his train had stopped to change wheels around 30 minutes, he estimated, from the Polish border — were “sweaty and claustrophobic.”
“I’m in a cabin with 4 adults and 7 kids (ages 2-11) which usually is only occupied by [a] maximum of 3 people,” he wrote. “There’s usually up to 30 people in this particular wagon. We were told we have to fit 135. Walkways are packed. People everywhere.”
“What finally broke me is when I was watching an 8ish-year-old boy, hysterically crying and not wanting to let go of his father,” he continued in his story. “Verbatim ‘if you stay I want to stay too because if they kill you I won’t be able to help.’”
By early Tuesday morning Eastern time, Chmerkovskiy shared to his story that he had made it to Poland safely after “31 hours of no sleep” and a 90-minute train ride.
Chmerkovskiy appeared for 17 seasons on the ABC reality dancing competition, winning season 18 with ice dancer Meryl Davis, with his last appearance teaming him with Vanessa Lachey on 2017’s season 25. That year, he married fellow DWTS pro Peta Murgatroyd. The two have one son.
Murgatroyd, a native of New Zealand, was not in Ukraine at the time of Russia’s invasion. In a Feb. 25 Instagram post, she said that she was overwhelmed and struggling and asked for prayers for both her husband and Ukraine.
In a video before he started making his way to the Ukraine-Poland border, on Feb. 24, Chmerkovskiy explained that he hadn’t then left yet because “everybody was hoping that the finality of this situation would be averted, that there wasn’t going to be these kind of aggressive measures [from Russia].”