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UKRAINE

UPDATE: German authorities deny reports of seized Russian yachts

German authorities on Thursday denied reports that three yachts belonging to Russian oligarchs had been seized in the port of Hamburg as a result of Western sanctions over Ukraine.

Luxury yacht Dilbar
The luxury superyacht "Dilbar" sails off the coasts of Monaco on April 20th, 2017. Photo: VALERY HACHE / AFP

The Handelsblatt daily and other German media reported the seizure of the yachts including the “Dilbar”, the world’s biggest by tonnage and owned by the Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov.

Susanne Meinecke, a spokeswoman for Hamburg’s economy and innovation authority, said the reports were not true and told AFP: “To my knowledge, no yachts have been seized.”

However, the vessels are unlikely to leave Hamburg any time soon since all goods transported to Russia from the German port now require individual customs permits.

The “automatic release of goods to Russia” has been stopped, Hamburg economics senator Michael Westhagemann said Tuesday, meaning “no more goods are going out to Russia as of now”.

Usmanov was one of several Russian billionaires named on the European Union’s sanction list in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

According to a report by Forbes that later went viral, his 156-metre luxury yacht ‘Dilbar’ – believed to be the largest superyacht in the world by tonnage – had been confiscated by Hamburg authorities on Wednesday.

The €600m yacht is currently located in the yards of local shipbuilding firm Blohm and Voss for repairs, but has not been taken into the government’s ownership.

Usmanov is believed to have purchased the 15,917-tonne vessel from German shipbuilding firm Lürssen, who custom-built it over a period of around 52 months and sold it at a €600m price-tag in 2016.

According to the company, it is “one of the most complex and challenging yachts ever built, in terms of both dimensions and technology”. It apparently boasts the largest swimming pool ever installed on a yacht, as well as two helicopter pads, a gym, beauty salon and sauna.

After reading unconfirmed reports that the yacht had been seized by authorities, Ukrainian Interior Minister Anton Geraschenko quipped on Telegram that it should be refitted as a missile cruiser and delivered to Ukraine. 

READ ALSO: Germany begins slow move away from Russian gas after Ukraine invasion

There had allegedly been rumours about military-style defence systems located on the yacht when it was first built and sold to Usmanov.

“Dilbar has the most advanced security technologies of any superyacht in the world,” Lürssen CEO Peter Lürssen said at its launch. “But the things you read about it containing an anti-aircraft missile defence system are all nonsense.”

Though the seizure of the yacht has been denied, Usmanov, 68, is still likely to be hit by punishing Western sanctions over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

On Wednesday, the English Premier League football club Everton suspended its sponsorship agreements with several companies in which Usmanov had a stake.

The EU declaration said Usmanov “has been referred to as one of Vladimir Putin’s favourite oligarchs”.

“He is considered to be one of Russia’s businessmen-officials, who were entrusted with servicing financial flows, but their positions depend on” Putin, it said.

It comes as other European countries gear up to seize luxury properties, yachts and other multi-million-euro assets from individuals believed to be linked to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. 

As reported by The Local on Monday, France has also been busy making a survey of yachts, vehicles, real estate and other financial assets belonging to Russian oligarchs with the aim of the seizing the sanctioned property.

This could include several of the mansions and yachts dotted along the French Riviera – an area that has long been a playground for super-rich Russians. 

German weapons reach Ukraine

Following Germany’s dramatic about-turn on delivering weapons to conflict zones, a number of arms purchased by the German government were reported to have reached Ukraine on Wednesday evening.

The delivery includes 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 surface-to-air ‘stinger’ missiles. 

According to DPA, Germany plans to deliver more weapons to Ukraine shortly.

The Ministry of Economics has approved the delivery of 2,700 anti-aircraft missiles taken from the stocks of the National People’s Army – the ‘Bundeswehr’ of the GDR. 

READ ALSO: Zeitenwende: How war in Ukraine has sparked a historic shift in Germany

Meanwhile, thousands of people continue to take to the streets in cities around Germany to call for peace.

In a protest held on Munich’s Königsplatz on Wednesday evening, an estimated 45,000 people gathered to express their anger at the ongoing war. 

Speaking at the event, Bavarian state premier Markus Söder told the crowd: “Tonight we are all Ukrainians.” 

The demo followed similar events in Berlin and Cologne that saw hundreds of thousands of protesters in attendance.  

An earlier version of this article reported that the superyacht belonging to Alisher Usmanov had been seized by authorities. This has now been corrected.

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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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