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Ukrainian ballet dancer Oleksandr Shapoval is killed on the battlefield

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Ukrainian ballet dancer Oleksandr Shapoval is being remembered as a courageous romantic. Days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Shapoval volunteered to fight. In September, he was killed on the battlefield, according to the National Opera of Ukraine, where he was a principal dancer. He was 48 years old. Here's NPR's Elizabeth Blair.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Prima ballerina Christina Shishpor met Oleksandr Shapoval 22 years ago. Speaking from Kyiv, she says their first ballet together was dancing the leads in "Swan Lake."

CHRISTINA SHISHPOR: It took my heart and took my breath when I danced with him, this "Swan Lake" first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLAIR: Shishpor and Shapoval went on to dance in many different ballets together. She remembers his versatility. She says he could be tender when the part called for it or fierce.

(SOUNDBITE OF NAYDEN TODOROV AND SOFIA NATIONAL OPERA ORCHESTRA'S "DON QUIXOTE: ESPADA")

BLAIR: Soon after Russia invaded the country, Shapoval volunteered to fight. Shishpor says she wasn't at all surprised by his decision.

SHISHPOR: It was to be expected. And everyone understood that he would give his duty for our country, for our people, for our children. He was always standing on the side of justice.

BLAIR: Eventually, Shapoval's unit was sent to a region with heavy fighting, and he was killed. The National Opera of Ukraine issued a statement that said his death was received with indescribable sadness.

SHISHPOR: He was a reliable partner, reliable friend, sincere human being. And I must say that he was the soul of the team.

BLAIR: The soul of the team. Oleksandr Shapoval is survived by his wife and a 21-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.