I feel guilty," the dance pro confessed in a remote interview on Good Morning America March 4. "I feel bad. I feel shame. I feel upset."
The 42-year-old dance pro had shared gripping video dispatches on Instagram while stranded in his native country after Russian began its invasion Feb. 24. "This was not me trying to publicize the situation," he said on GMA. "This was me trying to cry for help. I literally, I was just screaming out, 'This is what I just saw. I just want you to see it, whoever you are.'"
On March 2, he flew back to Los Angeles to reunite with his wife and co-star Peta Murgatroyd and their 5-year-old son, Shai, as the fighting continued
The dance pro was born in Ukraine in 1980, when it was part of the U.S.S.R. He emigrated to the United States with his parents and brother and co-star Valentin Chmerkovskiy in 1994—three years after the Soviet Union fell. Last year, Chmerkovskiy returned to Ukraine to film a local version of the reality show World of Dance in the capital of Kyiv.
He remained there for six months before he flew back to Los Angeles for a surprise Valentine's Day visit to see Peta and Shai. He then returned to Ukraine to resume his work. On Feb. 23, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an order for "a special military operation" to demilitarize the country and Russian forces invaded Ukraine. Chmerkovskiy was stranded and began releasing video dispatches on Instagram.
He recorded one of his videos from an underground parking lot converted to a makeshift bomb shelter. In another clip, air raid sirens were heard.
"There's air raid alarms everywhere, literally right now, and constant," he said at the time. "This is now no drills. It's no joke. It's non-stop for about a minute, two minutes, three minutes now and it's all around Kyiv."
Back home in Los Angeles, Peta called for prayers. "Please pray that he comes home soon," she wrote on Instagram. "Please pray that he has a swift, safe exit. I have FAITH. I have HOPE and I have PRAYED so hard."
On day two of the violence, Chmerkovskiy said on his Instagram Story that he felt it was too dangerous to try to leave Ukraine, adding, "I have a passport and a way out. A lot of people here do not."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has declared martial law in his country, which bars Ukrainian male citizens aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country.
On Feb. 28, Chmerkovskiy said in another video that amid the fighting, Ukrainian forces arrested him for breaking curfew. He recalled the experience on GMA.
"They're like, 'Passport.' I pull out my American passport," he said. "[The officer] starts speaking English with me. I'm like, 'I speak Russian.' Then I regretted saying that, I thought maybe I was wrong. But then, the guy next to him goes, 'Oh, that's the judge from Dancing With the Stars. That's Maks. I know him. He's from TV.' He goes, 'Get inside, right now.'"
In an Instagram video posted at the time, Chmerkovskiy told his followers that the moment marked a "reality check" for him and that he was going to try to leave Ukraine. That day, he boarded an overly crowded train and 31 hours later, he made it safely to Warsaw, Poland, and checked into a hotel. He recalled seeing fleeing women and children bid tearful goodbyes to the men who were forced to stay behind, with some families forced to shelter in the freezing train station.
"I felt embarrassed the entire ride back," he said on GMA, "because I was the only man on the train amongst all women and children."
He said he later "realized that all the people that didn't get in have to now sleep right there, in that train station," adding, "There's kids everywhere. Babies everywhere."
Chmerkovskiy soon boarded a flight home to the United States. He landed in Los Angeles on March 2 and had an emotional reunion with Peta at LAX.
Now Chmerkovskiy, who previously battled PTSD from his experience escaping Soviet-ruled Ukraine in the '90s, he is beginning to process his personal trauma from the past week, telling GMA he still has "crying moments."
He also continues to share images of people in Ukraine, taken by others, on his Instagram. On March 3, he shared a video of people saying goodbye to their loved ones at the Kyiv train station from which he departed.
"I definitely saw a few kids crying and thought they probably got separated," he wrote. "It was insane and my heart is bleeding for the trauma all these families are going through."