After fleeing Ukraine, 14-year-old boy adjusts to American life through Newton dance studio

NEWTON – One step at a time, Andrii Balkovyi is building a new life in America.

When the war in Ukraine began in February, Balkovyi’s family fled their home in Zaporizhzhia, where Russian troops seized Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

“I know I need to stay here. I can’t move back to Ukraine. I can’t,” Balkovyi said. “A lot of people are dying every day. Young boys like me and my friends.”

Like thousands of others escaping the conflict, he, his mother, and sister made the harrowing journey to Poland.

“Five days sitting in a car without toilet, without food,” said Balkovyi. “I heard a lot of rockets shooting, so that’s terrible.”

His oldest sister, Rita Riley, bought them plane tickets from Poland to Boston, the city she has called home for the past eight years.

“I couldn’t wrap my head around that this is really happening,” said Riley.

Andrii Balkovyi says dancing has helped him cope with leaving Ukraine. He has found a partner at a Newton studio, which is giving him free lessons, and is dancing competitively.

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Andrii is grateful to be safe in America, but he misses the life he left behind, spending time with friends and family, playing the piano and ballroom dancing. In a flash, the war ripped all of that away.

“I was crying a lot because I had a really good life. I have plans for my future.”

Now, the 14-year-old is trying to rearrange the pieces of his old life into a new one, starting with dancing.

“Me and my wife, we wish to help people from Ukraine suffering such a great tragedy. What do you know, three weeks later, we get a phone call there is a boy who needs help,” said Basil Basil Issaev, the owner of Balera Ballroom Dance Studio in Newton.

Issaev moved to America from Russia when he was a teenager to dance professionally. He opened a dance studio with his partner and wife about a decade ago. They’re now giving Andrii free lessons and helping him adjust to life in a new country.

“I think with everything else being changed, the fact he can still be dancing, competing is extremely important and keeps him going,” said Issaev.

There’s another dancer at the studio who has been searching for a partner for more than a year. When Andrii arrived, they were an instant match, and now they’re competing together across the country.

“I am dancing and that makes me a little more happy,” said Balkovyi.

But, so much of this new life remains uncertain. Right now, the whole family is living in Rita’s studio apartment in Boston and relying on her income, which is especially challenging because she’s a single parent.

“They cannot legally work, and I’m the one to support them,” said Riley.

Andrii, his mother, and sister are in the US on a visitor visa. They’re applying for asylum, but it’s a waiting game.

“Until then, they need help in any way possible,” said Riley.

Even with so much up in the air, Andrii keeps putting one foot in front of the other with determination and with hope.

“Where I will be in the future, it makes me happy, because in this country, I will get a good future,” said Balkovyi.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help the family.

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