Children Continue Training for National, International Competitions

Greensboro, NC, May 17, 2023— It has been said that children are our hope for the future.Two remarkable and brave Ukrainian refugee families who fled the war-torn city of Kharkiv, near the Russian border, in 2022 have now settled in Greensboro, NC. While the parents continue their dance careers teaching lessons at Greensboro’s Fred Astaire Dance Studios, their children continue to fulfill their hopes for a future, vying for the top spot in dance competitions worldwide. This is their story…

The story of Matviy Skaskiv and Yelizaveta (Liza) Bondarenko is a tale of how two very determined children turned to their talent and art to sustain them through impossibly difficult days. It’s a story of how loving parents and generous benefactors made it possible for the two families to reconnect in Europe first and later in the United States, to once again pursue their passion for dance. It is not only the story of the American dream, of every person’s dream. It is also the story of Ukrainian resilience and the will and determination to never give up. 

With several years of intense practice and the support of their dance instructor and competitive dance parents, success as ballroom dancers came quickly for young dance students Matviy and Liza. The pair began dancing at an early age, inspired by their parents, who teach dance and compete professionally. Before they turned 10, Matviy and Liza won several national titles. Their dreams for a future in ballroom dancing were boundless.

But when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the things all of us do in our own everyday lives stopped abruptly for most Ukrainians: work, school, sports, activities, get-togethers with family and friends, and so much more. On that same morning, Matviy and Liza’s dreams came to a sudden halt too. Like so many other families in eastern Ukraine, the Skaskivs and the Bondarenkos woke to the sounds of missiles and artillery shells falling around them. Russian troops rolled toward Kharkiv, their native city of 1.5 million, just 30 kilometers from the Russian border. Any sense of life and a real future looked bleak. 

For more than a year, we have seen images of the destruction and devastation that a daily onslaught of fighting has brought to both rural and the densely populated cities in Ukraine: images of countless apartment buildings, schools and hospitals ablaze, crumbling or completely destroyed. What the photographs don’t show, what they can’t show, is the emotional toll the war has taken on the Ukrainian people… especially its innocent children with an entire hopeful future ahead. Yes, we can see the devastation and destruction. But we can’t begin to know the war’s ultimate emotional and human toll.

The paths for now 12-year-old Matviy and his parents, Polina and Anton Skaskiv, as well as now 11-year-old Liza with her parents, Olena and Dmitriy Bondarenko, and two of her sisters, was not a straight one. From Kharkiv, a city that is still under attack by Russian forces more than a year later, the families spent several months in Europe, specifically Poland, Germany and England. Throughout their time in Europe and their eventual trip to the United States, the children were able to continue practicing and training in dance—and even compete—because of the kindness and hospitality of many people and families along the way.

The Skaskivs, who arrived in Greensboro in July 2022, are both professional dancers and were owners of a successful dance studio in Kharkiv called Respect Dance Hall. The Bondarenkos, who arrived in Greensboro in June 2022, are also professional dancers as well as dance coaches. 

Against all odds of making it this far, both families are now sponsored by Fred Astaire Dance Studios under Uniting for Ukraine, a streamlined program implemented by the U.S. government in April 2022 to provide Ukrainian citizens who have fled Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression opportunities to come to the United States. Upon arrival to the U.S., Matviy and Liza began practicing dance again, on top of learning a new language, attending local schools beginning in the fall of 2022, all while also learning and adjusting to new surroundings, new people, new food, new customs, and an entire new way of life.

“When we found out that there was a way to help these families to come to the U.S., we didn’t wait another minute,” said Alosha Anatoliy, Fred Astaire Dance Studios Greensboro co-owner and North Carolina West Regional Franchisee. “Each and every person in Ukraine needs help. We wanted to do as much as we can to make their arrival and transition as smooth as possible. They’ve been through so much. Our Greensboro Fred Astaire family has been so supportive and welcoming. We couldn’t ask for more!” 

Today, the Skaskivs and Bondarenkos are able to live and work in the United States while Liza and Matviy continue their competitive dance training and careers. Both couples teach and coach both social and competitive dancers as well as competitive DanceSport training. 

“As a mother of two young children, I cannot imagine what these parents have been through,” said Dasha Chube, Fred Astaire Dance Studios Greensboro manager. “The stories they tell of their escape from Ukraine are heartbreaking. Watching them build a new life for their families here has been inspiring.”

In total, Matviy and Liza have danced together for six years, winning nearly every competition they enter. They represented Ukraine in the Junior Blackpool Dance Festival, the biggest and most prestigious DanceSport tournament in the world. They placed first in their age category and helped gain victory for Ukraine in the Team Match Competition. In addition, they have participated in and won several competitions in the United States in 2022. In February 2023, they won the official American DanceSport Championship and will represent the United States at the World Championship in November 2023 in the Netherlands.

“In all my years as a dance studio owner, I have never seen a more talented young couple,” said Sasha Tsyhankov, Fred Astaire Dance Studios Greensboro co-owner and North Carolina West Regional Franchisee. “Their technical skills and artistry are truly amazing. They are undoubtedly on track to be an amazing professional ballroom dance couple.”

Now in a new city, a new country, and surrounded by a new extended family, the Skaskivs and Bondarenkos have begun to create visions of a new future for their families. 

“Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you have done to help me and my family,” said Lena Bondarenko. “Thank you for helping to restore my Liza’s dream of a career in dancing. Your generosity will never be forgotten.”

“Thank you, America,” said Liza (Yelizaveta) Bondarenko. “It is my dream to be here.”

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