The famous Ukrainian performer, who shocked the dance world in 2012 by quitting the Royal Ballet aged 21 – just two years after becoming its youngest ever principle dancer – has since worked as a freelance principle at companies including Sadler’s Wells, the Bolshoi Theatre, and Teatro San Carlo.
His YouTube video of a dance to Hozier's "Take Me to Church" went viral in 2015 and has to date received more than 25m views. He appeared in Kenneth Branagh's film of Murder on the Orient Express, as well as alongside Jennifer Lawrence in the Russian-themed spy thriller Red Sparrow. Last month he appeared in the video for “Movement” – the new single by Hozier.
However, Polunin's recent praise for Vladimir Putin – just as tension with Russia is escalating over the seizure of three Ukrainian boats and their crews – has prompted uproar in his native country.
Since October, Ukrainian State Film Agency has banned almost 800 Russian films and TV series that it claims glorify the Soviet military or security services, or portray the Soviet Union in a favourable light.
Ukrainians who continue to perform in Russia or express any sympathy for the annexation of Ukraine have come in for criticism, and over a hundred Russian performers have been blacklisted by Ukraine's Security Service since 2014 as “posing a threat to national security” for expressing public support for Putin's policy towards Ukraine, or for visiting annexed Crimea or insurgent-held areas of Donbass.
In a post on 20 November ¬– his 29th birthday – Polunin caused an immediate backlash by claiming the Russian president had been treated unfairly by the media “in some parts of the world”, and announcing: “I see light when I see him”.
“Let the mothers of our soldiers sing you an ode,” one said, referring to the conflict in the Donbass area of eastern Ukraine, which has been partially seized by Russian-backed insurgents.
Five days later, Polunin a photo of his chest emblazoned with a Putin tattoo, and thanked “Vladimir and everyone who is standing for good”.
The Ukrainian celebrity news site Tabloid observed that this was the day when Ukraine remembered the millions who starved to death in the Soviet man-made famine of the 1930s. President Putin frequently praises the record of the Soviet Union.
One social media user suggesting that Polunin should have tattooed a “swastika on his backside” while he was at it, according to the BBC.
Others expressed sympathy for the dancer: “I am a Ukrainian, but support Sergei, who is an amazing person and not afraid of public opinion,” wrote one.
Polunin then recently announced that he had become a Russian citizen, posting a photo of his new passport on 30 November.
“I am happy to become Russian and to take a stand against evil and unscrupulous people who create revolutions and wars in Ukraine, Georgia and many other countries,” he wrote.
On 1 December he posted a photo of his two passports as he made a heart symbol with his hands in the foreground, insisting that “Russia and Ukraine will always be together, no matter how hard they try”.
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