Val Chmerkovskiy Says His Brother Maks 'Was Petrified' in Ukraine: 'He Was Grateful to Get Out'

"There are a lot of our friends and family and peers that are in Ukraine right now that are in bomb shelters," Val Chmerkovskiy told his former Dancing with the Stars partner Olivia Jade Giannulli

Val Chmerkovskiy
Photo: Michael Tullberg/Getty

Val Chmerkovskiy is sharing the reality of what his family and friends are going through in Ukraine.

During an interview with Olivia Jade, for her Conversations with Olivia Jade podcast, the Dancing with the Stars pro spoke about the experiences his family, including his brother Maks Chmerkovskiy, has endured following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Val, 36, opened up about his brother Maks, 42, being in Kyiv (the capital of Ukraine) on Feb. 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed an attack on Ukraine.

"My brother was in Kyiv when the invasion started, and we were all really nervous, obviously," he told his former DWTS partner. "He was petrified, we talked about it, and he was grateful to get out, but he is now right back at the Polish border trying to do whatever he can."

Maks Chmerkovskiy
Maks (left) and Val Chmerkovskiy. Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/Getty Images

Earlier this month, Maks arrived home at the Los Angeles International Airport, where he was photographed embracing his wife, Peta Murgatroyd, during an emotional reunion. Soon after, he expressed his desire to return to Eastern Europe to provide support.

"There was a lot of sadness still because it's good that we are safe here, the privilege of living in this country, but there are a lot of our friends and family and peers that are in Ukraine right now that are, like I said, in bomb shelters," Val continued. "And I think we are getting a little used to hearing that word, and we are kinda like, 'Okay cool.' No, no, no you don't understand what that is, that means you don't have a home, and you hide in a shelter with nothing there."

Sharing more about the heart-wrenching situation in his home country, Val explained, "It's crazy to me the courage that it takes for a fellow dancer. Yesterday we were competing at a dance competition. Today, he picked up an AK-47. He's patrolling his street… I don't know [if] that's the kind of life we wanna have in this world."

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Russia's attack on Ukraine continues after its forces launched a large-scale invasion on Feb. 24 — the first major land conflict in Europe in decades. Details of the fighting change by the day, but hundreds of civilians have already been reported dead or wounded, including children. More than a million Ukrainians have also fled, the United Nations says.

During his conversation with Olivia Jade, Val also discussed the common confusion some people had between the two countries prior to the Feb. 24 attacks. He noted how he's been asked on several occasions about his country of origin, claiming sometimes it was easier to say he's from Russia than his actual home country of Ukraine since it wasn't as well-knownand because he speaks Russian. Val also said the one "silver lining" the tragedy had created was that "now people know where Ukraine is."

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"My sadness absolutely will be with the Ukrainian people, absolutely, but it is also with the Russian people because unfortunately these actions are setting the country back and isolating that country," he shared.

Val also raved about the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who the world has admired for his courageous act in fighting for his country. Val shared that he has an "attachment" to the politician due to their similar background in the entertainment industry, confirming to Olivia Jade that Zelenskyy is also a fellow Dancing with the Stars alum.

"He was an amazing actor, artist, comedian, in particular, who got a degree … he is an educated man, but pursued the arts and was really good at it and charismatic," Val explained. "He was a celebrity in Ukraine and Russia … he was a well-respected artist, and in 2006, he actually competed in Ukranian's Dancing with The Stars and won."

While speaking to PEOPLE (the TV Show!) on his birthday last week, Val said the best gift he could receive would be contributions to help those in Ukraine. "Donate a dollar to the GoFundMe, you can contact Gov. Murphy to donate a cargo plane, go to an Amazon registry and send a sleeping bag for a soldier ... you gotta start somewhere," he said.

Following the country's conflict with Russia, Val and Maks launched Baranova27, a charitable organization for humanitarian aid named after their address in Odesa, Ukraine.

The Russian attack on Ukraine is an evolving story, with information changing quickly. Follow PEOPLE's complete coverage of the war here, including stories from citizens on the ground and ways to help.

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