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St. Marys, Ont. teen has sky-high dreams after fleeing bombs in Ukraine

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A 15-year-old Ukrainian refugee hopes to realize her dream of performing in Cirque du Soleil.

Alina Shyshkivska was a gymnast in Ukraine before the Russian invasion in February of 2022 forced her family to run.

Now settled in St. Marys, Alina said aerial acrobatics have helped her forget painful memories.

Two days before the invasion, she remembers jumping and laughing at a play zone in Kyiv as her younger sister celebrated a birthday.

Two days later, her world changed.

“We woke up at 5 a.m. because we heard bombs,” she recalled.

It did not take many days before her parents decided they had to flee the capital.

The Shyshkivska family in Ukraine prior to the war. (Source: Submitted)

“I saw black clouds in the air because of bombs, and then we went to another place,” Alina said.

Unfortunately, the road they followed eventually led to an advancing Russian convoy.

“I was scared,” she said. “I didn’t know where we would go.”

Alina’s mother, Nataliia, said some nearby cars were shot at before a soldier stopped their vehicle at gunpoint. Thankfully, he let them pass.

After a long journey, they arrived in Poland, and from there, a local family sponsored them to come to St. Marys.

Alina resumed her Cirque Du Soleil training at a facility in London.

But after a year of sponsorship, her family needs help to continue Alina’s dream.

They’ve set up an online fundraiser with a goal of $6,000, and Alina is also holding a public fundraising show with friends at St. Marys DVCI on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m.

Alina Shyshkivska and her mother Nataliia of St. Marys, Ont. fled war-torn Ukraine in 202. (Sean Irvine/CTV News London)

Her proud mom is impressed by her resolve to pursue her passion.

Nataliia said watching Alina perform offers a distraction from the pain of the war back home.

Most of her family is caught behind Russian lines, while her husband’s first cousin has recently gone missing from the Ukrainian front lines.

“And we don’t know where he is right now. It’s been two months now," Nataliia said.

For Alina, that painful reality can only be eased through her training.

“When I do Circ, I enjoy it, and I don’t think about anything else,” she said.

That is, except for the gratitude she has towards Canada and those who’ve helped her family.

“I’m really grateful for everyone who helped us,” she said. 

Alina Shyshkivska is seen practicing her craft in Ukraine prior to the Russian invasion. (Source: Submitted)

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