Accessibility links

Breaking News

Opera Star Under Fire For Backing Ukraine Separatists

Anna Netrebko with separatist Oleg Tsaryov in St. Petersburg.
Anna Netrebko with separatist Oleg Tsaryov in St. Petersburg.

Anna Netrebko, the world-famous Russian opera soprano, is under fire for extending support to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The singer posed for journalists alongside leading separatist figure Oleg Tsaryov at a joint press conference in St. Petersburg last weekend, during which she announced she was donating 1 million rubles ($18, 650) to the Donetsk Opera Theater.

Tsaryov is on a list of individuals sanctioned by the European Union for their role in the eastern Ukrainian crisis.

Netrebko, who has Ukrainian roots and holds dual Russian-Austrian citizenship, has since insisted her donation was "about art," not politics.

"The donation was handed to an official to ensure that it would reach its intended destination, the opera house in Donetsk," she said in a statement. "I want to make clear, however, that this donation is not a political act."

But her words have failed to convince critics.

Pictures of Netrebko and Tsarnyov holding up the flag of Novorossia, the self-proclaimed territory claimed by the separatists, are making the rounds on social media.

A special hashtag, #BoycottAnnaNetrebko, has been created to pan the singer for handing over cash to armed insurgents.

The fallout has spread to Austrian Airlines, which has hired Netrebko to advertise the company.

Her public appearance with Tsarnyov has sparked uneasy parallels between the Austrian carrier and the crash of a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine in July, killing all 298 people on board. Although the investigation is still underway, Ukraine has accused separatist fighters of shooting down the plane.

Austrian Airlines has been quick to play down its ties with Netrebko, who had already come in for some criticism after backing new anti-gay laws in Russia.

"Anna Netrebko used to be an advertising partner of Austrian Airlines, the advertising contract with Ms Netrebko expired at the end of November," a spokesman told RFE/RL. "We clearly distance ourselves from any extreme political position and the use of armed violence."

Although Netrebko's official website states that she is the "new face" of Austrian Airlines, the carrier stressed that her contract would not be renewed.

The airline's promo video featuring Netrebko has been removed from YouTube.

According to the United Nations, the conflict in eastern Ukraine has killed almost 4,000 people since April, many of them civilians.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.