Ukrainian circus performers find new opportunity teaching in Timmins

Anastasiia Parkhomenko and Andrii Balykhin left their home in Ukraine after the start of the Russian invasion in February. They recently moved to Timmins, Ont., where they're teaching aerial skills and acrobatics.  (Submitted by Andrii Balykhin - image credit)
Anastasiia Parkhomenko and Andrii Balykhin left their home in Ukraine after the start of the Russian invasion in February. They recently moved to Timmins, Ont., where they're teaching aerial skills and acrobatics. (Submitted by Andrii Balykhin - image credit)

When Andrii Balykhin and Anastasiia Parkhomenko began their journey to Canada after fleeing Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion, they had one wish: To continue to work in their field.

The pair toured the world as circus performers before starting their own circus school for children in Kyiv in 2020. Now, they're sharing their skills with Canadian children in northern Ontario, as the newest instructors at Timmins Fitness Alternatives, a business that specializes in niche athletics like aerial skills and stunts.

"We love circus and we love kids, and we really want to continue it," Parkhomenko said.

Balykhin and Parkhomenko both spent more than half a decade training in acrobatics and aerial arts, touring countries including China, France and Austria.

"It was a really wonderful, interesting time. We had the opportunity to meet the whole world and get a cool experience," said Balykhin

Submitted by Andrii Balykhin
Submitted by Andrii Balykhin

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit early in 2020, the pair pivoted and opened their own school in Kyiv, where they taught acrobatics and aerial gymnastics. Balykhin said he still clearly remembers the last day they taught classes.

"We spent it on Feb. 23, without even suspecting that tomorrow morning, Russian rockets would fly into our country.

"On the morning of Feb. 24, our life was divided into before and after," Balykhin said about the start of the Russian invasion.

WATCH | Andrii Balykhin-Anastasiia Parkhomenko exhibit the graceful acrobatics they've brought to Timmins:

Parkhomenko went to Poland, and then the pair found work in Germany. While they were glad to be employed, Parkhomenko said that for most of the last year, it was as if their lives were "on pause."

"You just live this day and know nothing about what you will do tomorrow," added Balykhin.

'An aha moment' 

When their contract ended, they decided to attempt going to Canada. A Facebook post about looking for a short-term host for their arrival in Canada was seen by Alex Gagnon, the owner of Timmins Fitness Alternatives.

"It was almost like an aha moment," said Gagnon, who had been on the lookout for new instructors to recruit.

Gagnon said he knew they would have impressive skills, and he was happy to learn they also had experience teaching.

"You can be a performer, you can be a master of an art, but teaching children, teaching adults is very different," he said.

Submitted by Andrii Balykhin
Submitted by Andrii Balykhin

Balykhin and Parkhomenko arrived in Timmins last month. They say they enjoy working with children in Timmins, and hope to open the students up to the possibilities in the world of acrobatics.

"We can show what kids can do," said Parkhomenko. "They look at me and think, 'Wow, I want [to do] the same.'"