Maksim Chmerkovskiy says he feels 'guilty' for fleeing Ukraine

·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment
·4-min read

Maksim Chmerkovskiy feels "guilty" and "embarrassed" that he fled Ukraine.

The Dancing With the Stars pro — a United States citizen who was born in Ukraine and immigrated to the U.S. in 1994 — gave his first TV interview after his safe return home to Los Angeles on Wednesday. Chmerkovskiy, who was in his birthland shooting the reality competition World of Dance Ukraine when Russia invaded, spoke of the guilt he felt leaving the country as "the only man on the train" to Poland. He also detailed his arrest in Kyiv just prior to fleeing.

"I'm still very much in that fight or flight," he said on Friday's Good Morning America. "I'm a big boy. I know for a fact that I'm going through something mentally... I get into these cry moments. I'm emotional. I can't control it. I cried on the way from the airport. I felt embarrassed."

The ballroom dancer continued, "I felt embarrassed the entire ride back because I was the only man on the train amongst all women and children." Reports state that Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 were told they cannot flee under martial law. More than 1.2 million people have fled the country so far, according the United Nations.

Chmerkovskiy said the train ride to the Polish border, which was extremely overcrowded (135 in a train car with a capacity of 30) and took 23 hours, was "horrible."

"I realized that after we took off that all the people that didn't get in, have to now sleep right there in the train station," he said. "It's not heated. It's just a giant building. It's cold. There are kids everywhere. Kids everywhere.... Babies everywhere. It's negative temperature."

Asked if he felt guilt over being able to leave, "Yeah. I feel guilty. I feel bad. I feel ashamed. I feel upset."

Chmerkovskiy documented on social media being in Ukraine as the war began. Just prior to fleeing, he said he had been arrested but didn't elaborate. He now reveals it was for breaking curfew in Kyiv.

"They're like: 'Passport.' I pull out my American passport," he recalled. "He starts speaking English with me. I was like: 'I speak Russian.' Then I regretted saying that. I thought maybe that was wrong."

Ultimately, he was recognized and they let him go.

"The guy next to him goes, 'Oh, that's the judge from Dancing With the Stars. That's Maks... He's from TV,'" he remembered. "He said, 'Get inside right now.'"

Chmerkovskiy agreed that being a recognizable face saved him in that moment.

"Absolutely," he said. "It's not like I was going to get shot. I was going to probably get put somewhere where I sit until the figure out who I am and check my identity. I would have been fine. But I felt like things got real. All of a sudden I don't have actually all of the things needed to feel safe in place at all. I'm not built for this at all. I realize I'm not in the place where I should be."

Chmerkovskiy hasn't lived in Ukraine since he was teen, but has visited and always made it in an out.

This time, however, "Here I am: I'm unable to fly home. That to me was the biggest moment of understanding: You are in trouble."

GMA's T.J. Holmes also revealed that Chmerkovskiy was in the U.S. — where he lives with dancer wife Peta Murgatroyd and 5-year-old son Shai — days before the Russian invasion. He went back to Ukraine to resume production on the dance show not realizing the growing tensions between Russian and Ukraine would escalate to war.

"He said: For the folks of Ukraine, they stay in this heightened place of tension with Russia" all the time," Holmes explained. "'Until we hear a siren, or an explosion, we just think it's the norm.' That's why he actually went back.. He didn't think it was going to happen."

Chmerkovskiy had an emotional reunion with wife Murgatroyd when he touched down at LAX airport on Wednesday.

He also spoke to reporters there about choosing to document the invasion with his phone on social media versus the directive he was given which was to get an assault rifle, learn how to use it via YouTube videos, and go to war.