Ukraine has lashed out at a Chinese opera singer who performed a Russian song in a ruined theater in the Donbass city of Mariupol, while demanding an explanation from Beijing. The controversy has resulted in a different Chinese singer mistakenly receiving death threats.
On Thursday, Denis Pushilin, the head of Russia’s Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said he had welcomed 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, which is widely regarded as one of the symbols of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. She was shown standing in the ruins of Mariupol’s Academic Regional Drama Theater, which was badly damaged in March 2022 when Russian troops were besieging the city.
The video sparked outrage in Kiev, with Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko saying that Wang sang in a place where “the Russian army killed 600 innocent people,” and branding the show a “complete moral degradation.”
The spokesman also said the arrival of Chinese bloggers in the city – which Ukraine still claims as its own – was “illegal.” Nikolenko stressed that Kiev “respects China’s territorial integrity” and expects Beijing to explain the purpose of the Chinese citizens’ stay in Mariupol, as well as how they entered the city.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry has yet to comment on the matter.
Meanwhile, the controversy has spilled over to another Chinese singer, Ying Fang, who was apparently mistaken for Wang. The soprano said she had been receiving “life-threatening messages and comments about an event that completely has nothing to do with me.”
IMG Artists, Ying’s management company, condemned what it called a “torrent of despicable, violent, and hideously racist messages,” adding that when their authors were informed of their error, they responded with “even more vicious, hateful words based solely on the fact that Ying shares her ethnicity” with the intended target.
The Mariupol theater was severely damaged early in the Ukraine conflict, with Moscow and Kiev trading accusations over who was to blame. Ukraine claimed the theater, which was sheltering a large number of civilians, was targeted by a Russian airstrike. Moscow has denied the allegation, claiming the building was blown up by Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.