Ukraine has attacked a Chinese opera singer who performed a Russian song at a ruined theater in the Donbas city of Mariupol, while demanding an explanation from Beijing. Following the controversy, another Chinese singer mistakenly received death threats.
On Thursday, Denis Pushilin, head of Russia’s Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said he had hosted several Chinese bloggers and media figures, including opera star Wang Fan. He also shared a clip of Wang singing a Russian folk song called Katyusha, widely considered one of the symbols of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany during World War II. She was shown standing in the ruins of the Mariupol Regional Academic Drama Theater, which was badly damaged in March 2022 when Russian troops were besieging the city.
The video sparked outrage in kyiv, with Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko saying Wang was singing in a place where “The Russian army killed 600 innocent people” and calling the show “total moral degradation”.
The spokesperson also said the arrival of Chinese bloggers in the city – which Ukraine still claims as its own – was a consequence. “illegal.” Nikolenko stressed that kyiv “respects the territorial integrity of China” and expects Beijing to explain the purpose of Chinese citizens’ stay in Mariupol, as well as how they entered the city.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not yet commented on the matter.
Meanwhile, the controversy has spread to another Chinese singer, Ying Fang, who has apparently been confused with Wang. The soprano said she received “life-threatening messages and comments about an event that has absolutely nothing to do with me.”
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IMG Artists, Ying’s management company, condemned what it calls a “torrent of vile, violent and horribly racist messages” adding that when their authors were informed of their error, they responded with “Even more vicious and hateful comments based solely on the fact that Ying shares his ethnicity” with the intended target.
The Mariupol theater was badly damaged at the start of the Ukrainian conflict, with Moscow and kyiv accusing each other over who was to blame. Ukraine claimed the theater, which housed large numbers of civilians, was targeted by a Russian airstrike. Moscow denied the allegation, saying the building was destroyed by the Ukrainian neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.
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