The pro dancer fled Ukraine amid Russia's invasion.
Maksim Chmerkovskiy has a new reason to be grateful for Dancing With the Stars. The 42-year-old dancer appeared on Friday's episode of Good Morning America, and revealed how being a recognizable face saved him when he was arrested in Ukraine for breaking curfew amid Russia's invasion.
"They're like, 'Passport.' I pull out my American passport. He starts speaking English with me. I'm like, 'I speak Russian.' Then I regretted saying that. I thought maybe it was wrong," Chmerkovskiy recalled. "Then the guy next to him goes, 'Oh, that's the judge from Dancing With the Stars. That's Maks. I know him. He's from TV.' He goes, 'Get inside. Right now.'"
While Chmerkovskiy, who was a pro dancer on DWTS, and did serve as a guest judge a few times, believes that "it would've been fine" if he hadn't been dismissed, he knows being recognized for his work "absolutely" saved him from being detained.
"It's not like I was going to get shot. I was going to get probably put somewhere where I can sit until they figure out who I am and check my identity, whatever it is. It would've been fine," he said. "But I felt like things got real and all of a sudden I don't actually have all of the things needed to feel safe in this place at all. I'm not built for this at all. I'm just realizing that I'm not in a place where I should be."
Chmerkovskiy, who grew up in Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union and was in town to serve as a judge on the country's upcoming season of World of Dance, described the experience as "surreal."
"This is a country and the country's on fire. It was very difficult to process for me. We're used to fly out, do some stuff, experience some things, and always fly back. Here I am, I'm unable to fly home," he said. "That, to me, was the biggest sort of moment of understanding, 'You're in trouble.'"
"It's horrible. I realized after we took off... that all the people that didn't get in have to now sleep right there in that train station. It's not heated. It's just a giant building. It's cold. There are kids everywhere," he said. "... I'm dying inside because this is still very emotional stuff for me. There are kids everywhere. Babies everywhere. It's negative, the temperature."
When he made it back to the United States, Chmerkovskiy admitted that he was "embarrassed" that he fled on the train.
"I'm still very much in that fight or flight. I'm a big boy. I know for a fact I'm going through something mentally. I know for a fact because I get into these cry moments, I'm emotional. I can't control it," he said. "I cried on the way from the airport. I felt embarrassed. I felt embarrassed the entire ride back because I was the only man on the train amongst all women and children... I feel guilty. I feel bad. I feel ashamed. I feel upset."
ET's Kevin Frazier spoke to Chmerkovskiy at Los Angeles International Airport, just moments after the pro dancer was reunited with his wife, Peta Murgatroyd.
"I just don't want to resent peace somewhere else because of what I just saw, that's the reality," Chmerkovskiy told ET. "I don't know really what to say right this second."
As for why he documented his time in Ukraine in the first place, Chmerkovskiy told GMA, "At a time of war, I realized you do what you can."
"This was not me trying to publicize the situation, this was me trying to cry for help," he said. "I literally was just screaming out, 'This is what I just saw. I just want you to see it, wherever you are.'"
Following Chmerkovskiy's return home to his wife and their 5-year-old son, Shai, a source told ET that "Peta is so thrilled to have Maks home and back with her and their son. She has been going through it and has been worried sick and emotional."
"Peta and Maks have received a ton of outpouring support from their friends and Dancing With the Stars family," the source added. "They are both incredibly grateful for that."