A week ago, former Dancing With the Stars professional dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy fled Eastern Europe. Next week, he plans to head back. The 42-year-old Ukrainian-American, who serves as a judge on Ukraine's World of Dance series, tells CNN that he's been dealing with survivor's guilt since escaping Ukraine via Poland and returning to his wife, dancer Peta Murgatroyd, and their 5-year-old son in the US. "It wasn't really a decision to leave, it was more like I got told that I have to go," he told Anderson Cooper, describing repeated phone calls from military personnel. For months, "the feeling was that something is looming," Chmerkovskiy said. But "when everything happened, it happened suddenly," he added.
"I was literally driving to film and at 5am, someone was bombarding my phone saying, 'You have to go now.'" Chmerkovskiy, who was born in Soviet-era Ukraine before moving to the US with his family in the 1990s, became stuck in his native country for five days, during which he shared videos of his experience on social media, before finally boarding a train to Poland on Feb. 28, per People. "I felt really bad going, and the feeling sunk in even worse because when I got to the train station, I realized it was all women and children," Chmerkovskiy told Cooper. On Friday, he told Good Morning America that he was the only man on the train, which left others behind to wait in the cold.
"I feel bad. I feel ashamed. I feel upset," he said. "I'm a big boy, but I know for a fact that I'm going through something mentally ... because I get into these cry moments," he went on. "I'm emotional, I can't control it." He also said he plans to return to Poland "probably sometime next week" to "join efforts on the ground." On Sunday, he wrote on Instagram that he'd begun working with CORE Response, the nonprofit founded by Sean Penn, which is on the ground in Poland, to "do whatever I can to help victims of the war." A day later, he shared a graphic photo of four bodies lying dead, apparently on a Kyiv street. "The entire family is murdered trying to flee to safety," he wrote. "Dad, mom, two kids." (Read more Ukraine stories.)