WHEN members of Kyiv City Ballet take to the stage at the Theatre Royal next Tuesday, it will be their first performance on UK soil since Russia invaded their country.

It is something every member of the exiled ballet troupe is looking forward to, admits the company's associate director Katya Kozlova.

The ballet company will be coming at the personal invitation of Theatre Royal chief executive Tom Bird, and will also receive a Civic welcome at the Mansion House.

"We are so honoured, and very excited," Katya said, speaking by Zoom from the company's temporary base in Paris. "At the moment, it is one of the only things we are all talking about!"

York Press: Ivan Kozlov, left, and Katya KozlovaIvan Kozlov, left, and Katya Kozlova

When the ballet company flew to Paris on February 23 for a performance, none of the members dreamed for a moment that they wouldn't be able to go home again.

Then they woke up to find that their country had been bombed by Russia.

"Nobody could believe it," said Katya's husband Ivan Koslov, the ballet company's general director.

Remarkably, they went on to perform in Paris that evening - though Ivan remembers little about the performance.

"We were lost in a fog," he said.

When the full extent of the Russian invasion became apparent, some male members of the troupe opted to return to Ukraine.

York Press: Klara Beck

Others, however, decided that they could best serve their country by continuing to perform in Europe, raising awareness and also raising money from concerts for relief efforts back in Ukraine.

"They are looking for fighters, not dancers," Ivan said. "We are dancers. But we are helping in the way that we can."

Next Tuesday's gala performance in York will open with a ballet class and question-and-answer. After a short interval, the company will then perform excerpts from its repertoire.

York Press: Ukraine’s Kyiv City Ballet will give a special gala performance at York Theatre Royal next month to raise funds for UNICEF's Ukraine appeal

As with other concerts the company performs, proceeds will go towards helping Ukraine - in this case to UNICEF's Ukraine appeal. "It will help kids and families that really need it," Katya said.

Wherever they go, the ballet company has been met with huge generosity, Ivan said. The Mayor of Paris has provided them a base in which to live and rehearse; and audiences have given them a warm welcome. "And not just audiences, but people everywhere," Ivan said.

Still, it has been tough. "It is very hard sometimes to keep your mind on working," Ivan said.

Company members try to help each-other keep morale up. "And sometimes we get good news, like when a family member posts something," Ivan said.

Still, they all dream of the day when the war ends and they can return home to Kyiv.

"I want to go home," Ivan said. "I was born there, lived there, grew up there..."

Tickets for the Kyiv City Ballet's gala performance at York Theatre Royal on Tuesday June 14 cost £13-£41. They are available in person, online at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or by phoning 01904 623568.