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UKRAINE

Germany’s Scholz under fire after Zelensky’s fierce appeal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday called on Germany to help destroy a new "Wall" Russia was erecting in Europe, as he appealed directly to Chancellor Olaf Scholz to bolster his tentative response to the invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks via a video link in the Bundestag and receives a standing ovation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks via a video link in the Bundestag and receives a standing ovation. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

In a speech combining an appeal for fresh aid for his besieged country with criticism of Berlin’s long accommodating stance toward Moscow, Zelensky
recalled Germany’s own triumph over its Cold War division.

“It’s not a Berlin Wall — it is a Wall in central Europe between freedom and bondage and this Wall is growing bigger with every bomb” dropped on Ukraine, Zelensky told MPs, echoing an appeal to history deployed before the

Appearing on a screen in his now trademark khaki T-shirt with dark circles under his eyes, Zelensky was welcomed by MPs in the Bundestag lower house with a standing ovation.

In a grave tone, he directly addressed Scholz, who faced fresh attacks from the conservative opposition for a halting stance in the crisis.

“Dear Mr Scholz, tear down this Wall,” he implored, evoking US President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 appeal to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.

“Give Germany the leadership role that you in Germany deserve.”

‘Undignified moment’

However Zelensky coupled his flattery with a strong rebuke of Berlin’s years-long reluctance to stand up to Moscow and sever its strong energy and business ties with Russia.

“We turned to you,” he said. “We told you that Nord Stream (gas pipelines) was a kind of preparation for the war.”

“And the answer we got was purely economic – it is economy, economy, economy but that was the mortar for the new Wall.”

Commentators said Zelensky’s speech was clearly harsher than seen in other countries. And the reaction from German parliament also differed. Although there was a standing ovation to Zelensky’s 15 minute speech, German politicians quickly got back to everyday business.

Christian Democrat Norbert Röttgen, who is calling for a total Russian energy embargo, led a chorus of conservative criticism of the government after
Zelensky’s speech, saying Scholz should have addressed parliament immediately afterwards.

He called the awkwardness “the most undignified moment in the Bundestag… that I have ever experienced!”

His party colleague, Roderich Kiesewetter, called it “baffling” that parliament continued with plans to debate a national vaccine mandate Thursday
rather than on Germany’s Ukraine policy in the wake of Zelensky’s appeal.

“I would have wished for more respect with regard to the suffering of the Ukrainian people due to Putin’s war of extermination!” he wrote on Twitter.   

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th prompted an overhaul of key planks of Germany’s energy, economic and security policy – some of them dating back to the end of World War II.

It has put the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project on ice, joined allies in imposing punishing sanctions on Ukraine and pledged a massive increase in defence spending while dropping a ban on arms exports to conflict zones in order to aid Ukraine.

Germany has also said it aims to be nearly free of Russian oil imports by the end of this year although it still remains heavily dependent on Russian gas.

However the government led by Olaf Scholz has resisted an outright halt to Russian energy imports, warning it would cause winter shortages and drive inflation, creating potential instability in Europe’s top economy.

OPINION: Germany has been forced to learn the lessons from its post-war pacifism 

‘Stop this war’

Zelensky stressed that the future of the continent was at stake in the current war and argued that governments across the West were failing to meet the moment.

“Every year politicians repeat ‘never again’,” the Ukrainian leader said, referring to annual Holocaust commemorations.

Ukrainian President Zelensky appeals to Germany via video link.

Ukrainian President Zelensky appeals to Germany via video link. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

“And now, we see that these words simply mean nothing. A people is being destroyed in Europe,” he said, noting that 108 children had been killed in his country since the start of the Russian offensive.

“Help us stop this war.”

At a Thursday evening press conference, Chancellor Scholz was asked to respond to Zelensky’s words.

“I would like to say that Mr Zelensky’s speech today moved me very much, it was something very special,” Scholz said.

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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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