© 2022 MTPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ukrainian ballet dancer Oleksandr Shapoval is killed on the battlefield

Oleksandr Shapoval was a principal dancer with the National Opera of Ukraine. After Russia invaded Ukraine, he volunteered to fight. He was killed on the battlefield on Monday.
The National Opera of Ukraine
Oleksandr Shapoval was a principal dancer with the National Opera of Ukraine. After Russia invaded Ukraine, he volunteered to fight. He was killed on the battlefield on Monday.

Updated September 15, 2022 at 3:56 PM ET

One of Ukraine's leading ballet artists is being remembered as a "courageous romantic" after being killed on the battlefield.

The National Opera of Ukraine announced, with "indescribable sadness," the death of Oleksandr Shapoval, one of the company's former principal dancers and a teacher at Kyiv State Choreographic College.

Shapoval died Monday at the age of 47 "under enemy mortar shelling," according to the statement.

Oleksandr Shapoval was remembered as a versatile dancer, adept at playing both heroes and villains. He was also an "Honorary Artist of Ukraine."
/ The National Opera of Ukraine
/
The National Opera of Ukraine
Oleksandr Shapoval was remembered as a versatile dancer, adept at playing both heroes and villains. He was also an "Honorary Artist of Ukraine."

"He was the soul of the ballet team," says prima ballerina Christina Shishpor who met Shapoval 22 years ago. She was a teenager when they danced the leads in Swan Lake, their first ballet together. "When I was nervous before going on the stage, he always supported me," she remembers. "He was a reliable partner, a reliable friend, a sincere human being."

Within days of Russia's invasion, Shapoval volunteered to serve in Ukraine's territorial defense, helping to protect Kyiv's Left Bank. He then learned how to launch grenades. According to The National Opera of Ukraine, his unit was recently transferred to one of "the hottest zones" in the war-torn country. Citing the media outlet Ukraina Moloda, The Kyiv Independent reports that Shapoval was killed in the battle of Majorsk in the Donetsk region.

Christina Shishpor and Oleksandr Shapoval performed in numerous ballets together for The National Opera of Ukraine.
/ The National Opera of Ukraine
/
The National Opera of Ukraine
Christina Shishpor and Oleksandr Shapoval performed in numerous ballets together for The National Opera of Ukraine.

Shishpor was not at all surprised Shapoval volunteered to fight.

"It was to be expected," she says. "Everyone understood that he would give his duty for our people, for our country, for our children. He was always standing on the side of justice. He was a patriot."

Shapoval was an "Honored Artist of Ukraine," an official award given for high achievement in the performing arts. Over the course of 28 seasons, he performed some 30 different roles. "He charmed them with his bright and beautiful, romantic and heroic dance, impeccable skill and deep conviction of every image he created on stage," the company writes.

"He was the soul of the team," says prima ballerina Christina Shishpor of her longtime dance partner Oleksandr Shapoval who died on the battlefield in Ukraine.
/ The National Opera of Ukraine
/
The National Opera of Ukraine
"He was the soul of the team," says prima ballerina Christina Shishpor of her longtime dance partner Oleksandr Shapoval who died on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Renowned Russian-American choreographer Alexei Ratmansky paid tribute to Shapoval on Facebook. Ratmansky's United Ukrainian Ballet Company is made up of some 60 Ukrainian refugee artists.

"Many of our dancers were friends with him, worked or studied with him," Ratmansky writes, "I remember Sasha so well, he danced in my first ballets in Kyiv. He died defending his land with arms in his hands. Eternal memory and gratitude to the Hero!"

Ratmansky also expressed his outrage. "Damn war, damn Russian aggression that brings death and destruction!!"

Another artist with The National Opera of Ukraine, Artem Datsyshyn, was killed in March.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: September 18, 2022 at 10:00 PM MDT
An earlier version of this story quoted the National Opera of Ukraine as saying Oleksandr Shapoval was 48 when he died. The organization now confirms that he was 47 and the story has been corrected.
Tags
Elizabeth Blair
Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.