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Ukrainian ballet dancer Oleksandr Shapoval is killed on the battlefield

Oleksandr Shapoval volunteered to fight after the Russia invasion. The National Opera of Ukraine says he was killed on the battlefield.
National Opera of Ukraine
Oleksandr Shapoval volunteered to fight after the Russia invasion. The National Opera of Ukraine says he was killed on the battlefield.

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 48 "under enemy mortar shelling," according to the statement.

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.

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.

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 11:00 PM CDT
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.
Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.