Zhan Mishel Panchuk and Hanna Chudinova perform | Credit: Courtesy

The recent loss of Ukrainian ballet dancer Zhan Mishel Panchuk, a dancer with State Street Ballet from 2021 to 2022, has left a hole in the local ballet community, and especially in the heart of the woman he leaves behind, Hanna Chudinova.

“When I would see him in class or onstage, I could see that he was really feeling what he was doing,” said Chudinova, not only characterizing Panchuk’s dancing but his philosophy in life. The couple fell in love at age 21, while both were performing with Kyiv Ballet. “Nobody in my life had treated me the way he did,” said Chudinova.

Zhan Mishel Panchuk and Hanna Chudinova at their wedding | Credit: Courtesy

Through endurance and dedication to his craft, Panchuk earned an “extraordinary ability” visa through which the couple was able to move to the U.S. shortly after their marriage in 2019. They found jobs with ballet companies, and eventually Panchuk was hired by State Street Ballet, where he came to make lasting friendships and win the hearts of audiences. Following his departure from State Street Ballet, he told Chudinova that he missed the community he had found there. “He understood that you can have everything, but if you don’t have family, it isn’t worth it.”

As the Russo-Ukrainian war escalated in February 2022, Panchuk was vehement that he wanted to return to his country to fight, but his family urged against it. Keeping frequent contact with friends and family was not enough to quell his nerves in the midst of those severe circumstances. He used his platform to raise awareness of the geopolitical situation, urging people to actively spread awareness themselves. According to Chudinova, he also garnered massive support from those at State Street Ballet, a testament to the love and community that surrounded him.

Ventura County Ballet hired the couple to star in its 24th annual Nutcracker production for December 2022, but when a series of insoluble ER visits eventually resulted in his cancer diagnosis in November, he encouraged Chudinova to dance without him. She persevered through all five shows, dancing beautifully while remaining “kind and supportive to all the professional and younger pre-professional dancers in the cast,” says Cheryl Sills of the Ventura County Ballet board of directors. Despite a good prognosis, Zhan Mishel Panchuk died a week before Christmas at the age of 25.

“Zhan was just the brightest person,” said Chudinova. “He always saw the best in people, even the worst people. He just wasn’t like everybody else.”

In light of this tragedy and Hanna Chudinova’s isolation from her family and country, Ventura County Ballet has put together a GoFundMe to support Chudinova in the rebuilding of her life.

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