Oleksandr Bandaliuk plays the Mad Hatter and dominates the show. But backstage, he sits glumly between acts. “It is very hard to work and dance on the Italy stage because we know in our country now (there) is war,” he said. “We can’t go to Ukraine because in my house now (there are) Russian soldiers.”

On a recent weekend, the Ukrainian circus came to Pistoia, in Tuscany. There was the Mad Hatter, sporting a green top hat and a purple beard; the White Rabbit with a red nose covered in silver glitter and Alice, with a little blue dress and long ringlets, AP reports.

But behind their colorful costumes, cheerful smiles and fantastical story line of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, troupe members are struggling.

“I feel guilty about people who are staying there because they are not safe, and I am safe and I cannot help them,” said Yuliia Palaida, who plays Alice. “I am just fighting with all these feelings,” she adds, her voice trembling.

Theaters across Italy have booked the circus, and their sold-out performances have allowed them to pay for about 50 family members to flee Ukraine by bus and join the troupe in Italy.

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