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UKRAINE

Swiss population supports expanding sanctions on Russia

A majority of Swiss have backed greater non-military intervention in Russia, saying they would support doing so even if it led to higher energy prices.

A protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in the Swiss city of Bern. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP
A protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine in the Swiss city of Bern. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Most Swiss want their country to freeze more Russian assets over the war in Ukraine, according to a new poll published Monday, as Switzerland’s second-largest bank swore off new business in Russia.

A full 57 percent of Swiss people surveyed last week backed freezing assets belonging to high-ranking Russians and Kremlin allies, said the survey by the Link institute.

In the poll of more than 1,200 people, 56 percent of those questioned favoured cutting ties between Switzerland’s famous banks and their Russian counterparts.

And the same percentage backed tighter Swiss sanctions against Russia, even if it hit energy provision and led to significantly higher energy prices.

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

The poll was conducted between March 17 and 21. Switzerland is not in the EU and has a long-standing tradition of neutrality on matters of war.

It has nevertheless been aligning itself with the waves of EU sanctions imposed following Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Switzerland has frozen the equivalent of 5.75 billion Swiss francs ($6.2 billion) in Russian assets since the invasion began, a senior economy ministry official said last week.

But Kyiv has been pressing Switzerland, a favoured destination for wealthy Russians and their assets, to do more.

“The Russian elite has enormous amounts of money in Swiss banks,” Alexander Rodyansky, a close advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told Swiss tabloid Blick Sunday.

“For us, it is vital that the Swiss support the global pressure on Russia.” Switzerland has told the country’s banks to declare all holdings and accounts of people and entities on the sanctions list, but Rodyansky has insisted that this is not enough.

“Switzerland must, like other countries, actively search for assets,” he said, stressing that many in the Russian elite “continue to act in the shadows”.

“They hide their funds,” he said, urging Switzerland to “act more firmly”.

Credit Suisse meanwhile said Monday it would reduce its exposure in Russia, which it said earlier this month stood at over $900 million at the end of last year. It vowed not to take on any fresh business in the country.

Switzerland’s second largest bank also told AFP in an email that some of its Russia-based staff were being relocated out of the country. And it added: “we are helping our clients to unwind their Russia exposure.”

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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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