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'I Won't Sing For Occupiers' -- A Ukrainian Singer Falls Out With Russia

Anastasia Prykhodko performs during a rehearsal of the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow in May 2009. Now she vows never to sing in Russia again.
Anastasia Prykhodko performs during a rehearsal of the Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow in May 2009. Now she vows never to sing in Russia again.

In 2009, Ukrainian singer Anastasia Prykhodko represented Russia at the Eurovision song contest with "Mamo," a love ballad that she performed in both Russian and Ukrainian.

Ahead of the competition, Prykhodko -- whose father is ethnic Russian -- spoke warmly about the "spiritual and historical affinity" between the two nations, stressing it would be "a sin" to ignore this special bond.

Five years later, as the conflict pitting Ukrainian troops against pro-Russian separatist rebels simmers in eastern Ukraine, this bond is in tatters. Prykhodko's own relationship with Russia, too, is badly frayed.

Her passionate pro-Ukrainian stance has made her the target of a mudslinging campaign in the Russian media, which have singled her out as one of the country's greatest foes.

Last month, the 27-year-old vowed never to sing in Russia again. "Why should I go there?" she told RFE/RL. "I've already said that I regard singing for the occupiers as supreme treason. I will remain true to my position. Forever."

WATCH: Anastasia Prykhodko performs "Mamo" at the Eurovision Song Contest in 2009:

No 'Russian Star'

Prykhodko, a Kyiv resident, shot to fame in Russia after winning Russia's Star Factory singing talent contest in 2007.

Up until the pro-European protests that shook the Ukrainian capital last fall, she had a strong following in Russia and was a prized guest on Russian television.

But in Ukraine's highly polarized conflict, her show of support for Ukrainian sovereignty has led to a spectacular fallout with Russia. "I first demonstrated my political stance when I sang at the Maidan on December 14," she says. "At the time, [Viktor] Yanukovych was still president and we risked losing everything. But for us, the future of our country took precedence over our own."

Anastasia Prykhodko poses with Ukrainian soldiers on the front line.
Anastasia Prykhodko poses with Ukrainian soldiers on the front line.

In recent weeks, Prykhodko has performed for Ukrainian troops and local residents in a dozen towns in the country's strife-torn east. On September 20, she unveiled a new patriotic song titled "Heroes Don't Die," appearing on stage in a dress adorned with traditional Ukrainian embroidery.

The sharp-tongued singer has also waged an active campaign against separatists on her Twitter account, where her profile picture shows her toying with a knife while posing with heavily armed Ukrainian soldiers.

To Russian critics who call her ungrateful, she answers that she owes her fame solely to her mother and to her former producer, Georgian-born Konstantin Meladze. "It's not Russia that gave me my voice, it's not Russia that gave me my talent," she says. "My mother gave me all of this. Meladze, a Georgian living in Ukraine, discovered me. The fact that I ended up at the Russian Star Factory contest was a twist of fate."

'Friend Of The Junta'

Prykhodko backs Ukraine's recent decision to block top Russian television channels, which she accuses of spreading "lies, hatred, and stupidity," from its cable networks.

On August 31, the state-controlled NTV channel broadcast a news show portraying her as a Russian-hating opportunist. The program, titled "17 Friends of the Junta" -- in reference to how the Russian media describes the new, Western-leaning Ukrainian government -- targeted Prykhodko along with several prominent Russian artists and public figures who have criticized Russia's actions in Ukraine.

The show featured Prykhodko's estranged Russian grandmother, who shed tears and described the singer as the shame of the family as cameras rolled. "I find it funny watching how Russian media are agonizing," Prykhodko says. "The very name of the program is laughable."

Russian singer Iosif Kobzon, a Soviet-era icon known for his time-tested loyalty to the Kremlin, has also had harsh words for his Ukrainian colleague. He dismissed her 2009 Eurovision performance as "disgraceful" and branded her a talentless "street girl" who "swears like a prostitute" and smears Russia at the bequest of her "master." He did not clarify who this master was.

Prykhodko, in turn, criticized what she called Kobzon's "artistic helplessness" and called for his statue in Donetsk to be pulled down. "One can't take offense at sick people," Prykhodko concludes snappily. "I hope these people will eventually recover. The important thing is to find a good doctor. Unfortunately, such a doctor will not appear in Russia any time soon."

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

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