Russia-Ukraine crisis doesn’t split backstage unity

Onstage she is Jenny Arata, half of a breathtakingly dangerous variety act known as the Skating Aratas.

Each night in “V — The Ultimate Variety Show,” her husband, Vittorio, grabs her by the heels and spins her, on roller skates, in eye-blurring circles just a few feet from the front row.

Offstage, it’s been harder to keep her head in the game. “It’s quite a challenge to perform sometimes,” she says.

Arata is a Ukrainian who grew up in Kiev. On the Facebook page carrying her non-Americanized name of Evgeniya Arata, she changed her profile picture to the logo “I Pray for Ukraine.”

And she does. “I pray for Ukraine every single day it’s going to change,” she says.

As performers, “we have to smile and entertain when inside we feel deeply in pain or nervous or stress. It’s hard,” she says. “You leave everything behind you and go and perform and smile.”

Arata is sitting backstage with three Russian friends who perform in the “V” show with her. Iouri Safronov is half of a veteran hand-balancing duo. He has been in the United States for 25 years. By contast, the aerialist couple he recently recruited for “V” — Julia Makeeva and Alexey Turchenko — have been here only four months.

All of them are gathered to assert they are friends who can’t believe the Russian incursion into the Crimea region and the referendum that was planned this weekend, forcing a vote to make the region part of Russia.

They all speak Russian to one another backstage. “We all have all mixed families,” Arata says. “My mom she was born in Russia, my dad was Ukrainian. ... It’s like one family. There is never separation. It’s all together; we’re all one.”

Arata posts links such as “Three Steps to Rescue Ukraine” on Facebook and speaks of the corruption that enriched ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. “The mayor of London (Boris Johnson), he’s driving bicycle to his job. The mayor of Kiev (the departed Volodymyr Makeyenko), he has like 10 castles and driving with four cars around him with security. Where’s Ukraine and where’s Great Britain, economically? Everything’s stolen.”

Safronov shows me a photo on his phone of him holding a puppetlike statue of Vladimir Putin. “I like him,” he says, and thinks he is a strong president.

But, during a language barrier-induced stall in the conversation, he is the one who raises an arm and proclaims “Peace!” to a mutual affirmation.

The politics are complicated, he says, but the Russian and Ukrainian people are as entwined as the residents of Nevada and California.

The Las Vegas entertainment community has grown with those from former Soviet bloc countries since Cirque du Soleil came to town, with 20 Russians among the original “Mystere” cast of 75. “Every show has Russian and Ukrainian people, so we’re always together and we’re always talking. It’s one family,” Arata says.

“We have the same opinions. We don’t accept any war or anything aggressive. Everything has to be diplomatic. We have to sit down, talk, and decide,” she adds. “If people want to become Russian, let them become Russian. No violence, that is the worst. It’s not worth it.”

Now it’s time for the quartet to get ready for the show, get their heads back in the game.

“Hopefully it will be over,” Arata says with a sigh, forcing a smile.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.