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UKRAINE

Swiss chocolate manufacturer defends decision to remain in Russia

Swiss chocolate giant Barry Callebaut defended Wednesday its decision to remain in Russia despite Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, which has prompted hundreds of foreign firms to halt their Russian operations.

A worker at Swiss chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut. Photo: GEORGES GOBET / AFP
A worker at Swiss chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut. Photo: GEORGES GOBET / AFP

In a video address to a rally outside the parliament in Bern last month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky blasted Swiss firms that continue to do business in Russia “even though our children are dying and our cities are being destroyed”.

Zelensky singled out food group Nestle, a major customer of Barry Callebaut, the world’s top manufacturer of high-quality chocolate and cocoa products.

Barry Callebaut has three factories in Russia, where it employs 500 people. The country represents less than five percent of its sales volume.

“We are here first and foremost for our employees,” chief executive Peter Boone said at a press conference to present company results.

“The war in Ukraine was started by the Russian government, not by the Russian people,” he said. Boone, who took over in September, said the group did not want to cut supplies to food companies that need Barry Callebaut’s ingredients for many products.

“Our customers bring daily food in all kinds of shape,” Boone said.

EXPLAINED: Why is Switzerland always neutral?

“Pulling away from our customers and leaving them with no ways to bring their products to consumers who didn’t ask for the war didn’t feel right,” he said.

Boone said the issue raised many questions inside and outside the group, including from his own children.

Barry Callebaut operates across its industry’s value chain, from sourcing cocoa to producing chocolates. Its customers include British consumer goods group Unilever and Mexican food giant Grupo Bimbo.

Sanctions on Russia: Is Switzerland still a neutral nation?

A slew of mostly Western firms, ranging from McDonald’s to H&M and Goldman Sachs, have stopped operating in Russia since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

But others have chosen to stay, such as French supermarket chain Auchan. Barry Callebaut, meanwhile, reported that sales revenue in the first six months of its 2021-2022 fiscal year jumped by nearly 16 percent to four billion Swiss francs (3.9 billion euros, $4.3 billion).

The group hiked prices amid soaring inflation that pushed up the costs of sugar and milk products. Sales volume of chocolate and cocoa products rose by a strong 8.7 percent to 1.16 billion tonnes.

Net profit was up 3.1 percent at 212.1 million Swiss francs, with Boone saying the results were affected by the loss of value of financial assets in Russia, a hit totalling five million Swiss francs.

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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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