For Maksim Chmerkovskiy, finding out his wife Peta Murgatroyd was pregnant again—after an unsuccessful course of IVF and several miscarriages—was both the greatest gift and also a moment to stop and count his blessings.
"It's been documented that we've been trying to have a baby for a few years now, and it just didn't work," the former Dancing With the Stars pro told E! News' Francesca Amiker ahead of Ukraine's Day of Unity on Jan. 22, the plight of his native country having been top of mind for the past year. "And talking about stress being the dominating factor in anything that's negative with you and your health, here we are trying to get pregnant while I'm stuck in Ukraine in a war."
Yet right before Peta was about to start her second round of IVF last year, she got pregnant, news the parents of 6-year-old son Shai shared with the world just a week ago.
But delivering the news to her husband in some sort of memorably adorable way was not high on Peta's list of priorities when she first found out, according to Maks.
"It wasn't about, 'How do I make it cute and tell my husband?'" he recalled. "It was like, 'It was finally here,' but it was also very cautious, because we've done this four times before. We've been here four times before and it just wouldn't last. So we're on pins and needles, whether it's because of the past trauma of this process or because the world is just that type of place, and all of a sudden we're finding ourselves adulting in the middle of all these crises."
"Having said that," the 43-year-old added, "the world has always been like that."
If that sounds a little melancholy given the abundance of good fortune in his corner, Maks acknowledged he's been having a tough time focusing on "all the beautiful things"—including becoming an uncle on Jan. 10, when younger brother Val Chmerkovskiy welcomed his first child with wife Jenna Johnson after their own two-year fertility struggle.
"It was my birthday two days ago, my wife is pregnant, my brother just had a baby," Maks explained. "We just went through New Year's, Christmas...And yet I have a hard time posting something that represents the happiness in my family because, every day, I get to speak with someone from Ukraine who has none of that."
Ironically, he noted, the "really resilient, really sober-minded people" he's been in contact with end up comforting him. "They're trying to talk me out of the fact that I feel that way," he said.
Maks was in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv to be a judge on World of Dance—"That was my past life," he described the trip—when the Russian invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022.
For a fraught week he was a accidental war correspondent, sharing updates on social media and otherwise providing an up-close-and-personal look at what was happening on the ground before he was able to get across the border to Poland and then fly back to the United States.
With, he was quick to note, the assistance of Bethenny Frankel, who was among the first of the American celeb set to start fundraising and organizing on behalf of Ukraine. Maks pointed to her BStrong foundation as one of the honorable organizations he trusts to distribute funds where they're most needed, and he, Val and their father Sasha Chmerkovskiy have also started Baranova27—the family's street address in Odessa—to aid the Ukrainian people.
Maks said he was planning to go back to the area this month, but with another baby on the way and considering the long road it took to get there, he decided to postpone the trip.
"I would like to keep my wife, first and foremost, healthy and happy," he explained. "I was meant to be in Ukraine next week, this was a long time coming, planning and everything else. Then, just sitting down with Peta and looking in her eyes, and understanding how devastating that even the prospect [that something might happen] is to her, seeing her being 16 weeks into that cherished pregnancy that she wanted for so long. I just can't do it."
But he and Bethenny have teamed up once again to support Unify Ukraine, and for the country's Day of Unity on Sunday Maks will be in Manhattan, where an installation of 335 sunflowers—the country's national flower, one for each day of the Russian occupation—has been set up outside the Flatiron Building. In honor of the occasion, he's hoping to see a flood of sunflower pictures on Instagram with the hashtag #unifyukraine. (Click here for more information.)
Years ago, he admittedly wasn't all that concerned about world events. And now, he noted, "It's not about, 'Hey everybody, you should be doing what I'm doing.' No, to each his own. This is my personal journey."
If you want to get involved, it's about "working the platform that you have," Maks explained. "I've been beyond blessed with almost two decades of television access. And so having this access right here [to speak to the media], that's what I don't take for granted."
As far as his work on the home front, Maks shared that he has not yet explained to Shai that there's a war going on in the country where his daddy was born. Not least because he's not exactly sure what to say.
"I may look like a lot of things, but up until a few years ago all I watched was cartoons," he said. "I hate horror movies, I don't like violence. I despise violence [against] someone who can't answer back. I hate bullying. And so for me, this type of warfare is all of those things. You can call it politics, you can say there's reasons for everything—there is no reason for this."
In the meantime, he's doing what he can to keep Ukraine in as many hearts and minds as possible.
"We don't know what the future holds," Maks said, "how this is going to turn out. I can be as positive as I want, but we don't know. I'm on the side that Ukraine is going to win, it's all going to be beautiful and we're going to spend the next 10 years watching this incredible country blossom."
What he really hopes is that, sooner rather than later, his whole family can go with him. "I'm going to wait to talk my son about this until the war is over and I'm actively in Ukraine, back and forth, rebuilding," he said.
For now, though, Shai's major responsibility is to prepare to be a big brother, which—yes—he's excited about.
Though as far as Maks is concerned, Shai "already has a sibling, born a week ago."
He shared that, after his nephew was born, they took a picture of Shai holding his infant cousin and put it next to a picture of 6-year-old Maks cradling newborn Val.
"My mind blew up," he recalled happily. "Like, 'Uhhh, this is amazing.' For our Chmerkovskiy plan, it has been an incredible period of time. I really do hope it continues."