'Crime and catastrophe': Russian stars say no to war

'Crime and catastrophe': Russian stars say no to war
A number of prominent Russians are echoing a chorus of global celebrities condemning Moscow's war on Ukraine, with some already beginning to suffer the consequences for defying the Kremlin line
4 min read
25 February, 2022
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has drawn strong international condemnation [Getty]

A number of prominent Russians are echoing a chorus of global celebrities condemning Moscow's war on Ukraine, with some already beginning to suffer the consequences for defying the Kremlin line.

When Russia annexed the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in 2014, hundreds of artists signed a petition organised by the ministry of culture to back the move.

But this time, the consensus appears more shaky: Since President Vladimir Putin launched war on Ukraine, big Russian cities have, unusually, become the scene of rare protests and police retaliating with mass arrests.

"Fear and pain. No to war," wrote Ivan Urgant, the usually smiley king of the late night TV chat shows in Russia on Instagram with an all-black picture.

Russia's most popular rapper Oxxxymiron, in an angry video message released on his social media accounts, declared he was "against this war that Russia is unleashing against Ukraine".

"I think it is a catastrophe and a crime," he said as he strode through his home city of Saint Petersburg.

Russian comedian Maxim Galkin, also known for being the husband of the Soviet and Russian pop icon Alla Pugacheva wrote on Instagram: "How is all this possible? There cannot be a just war. No to war!".

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'Black Thursday'

The concerns have spread to the media, with correspondent Elena Chernenko of the Kommersant daily - often regarded as a mouthpiece of the Russian foreign ministry - organising an anti-war petition already signed by over 100 media colleagues.

"History has seen many Black Thursdays. But today is darker than the others," Russia's top ranked chess player, the chess grandmaster Yan Nepomniachtchi, wrote on Twitter.

But such outspokenness is not without risks in today's Russia.

Urgant's show will not air as usual Friday due to scheduling changes prompted by the political situation, a spokesperson for his Channel One told the Interfax news agency.

Meanwhile Chernenko wrote on Telegram that she had been expelled from the Russian foreign ministry correspondent pool on the grounds of a "lack of professionalism". She appealed to the ministry not to sanction other colleagues who signed the petition.

The prominent Russian voices, which mostly stop short of attacking Putin personally, join the more predictable chorus of international celebrities roundly condemning the Russian leader.

"What most of us learned as kids on the playground: You don't stand by while a big kid beats up a little kid," wrote the novelist Stephen King.

US actor and director Sean Penn went a step further by travelling to Kyiv to make a documentary about the Russian invasion.

"The director came to Kyiv specifically to record all the events taking place in Ukraine and as a documentary filmmaker to tell the world the truth about Russia's invasion of our country," said a post on the presidential office's Facebook page, showing a video of him meeting President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"I stand with Ukraine," wrote on Twitter the actor Ashton Kutcher, whose wife, the actress Mila Kunis, was born in the western Ukrainian city of Chernivtsi.

Meanwhile, Russians who fail to distance themselves from Putin's attack on Ukraine are at risk of being ostracised from the Western arts world that once lionised them.

Acclaimed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, the chief of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg and known for his warm ties with the Kremlin, was Thursday suddenly dropped from concerts where he was due to lead the Vienna Philharmonic at New York's Carnegie Hall.

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Ex leaders and acting icon

And expressing sympathy for Moscow's motives also risks landing Western politicians in trouble.

Former French prime minister Francois Fillon, already in hot water for joining the board of Russian petrochemical giant Sibur, faced the wrath of his own right-wing colleagues for saying the West's refusal to take into account Russian concerns on NATO expansion had "caused a dangerous confrontation that could have been avoided".

German former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, controversially chairman of the board of directors of Russian state oil giant Rosneft, condemned the war but also suggested there had been "mistakes - on both sides" made in the relationship between Russia and the West in recent years.

Meanwhile, France is awaiting the reaction to the invasion of legendary actor Gerard Depardieu, who took Russian nationality in 2013 and is known for his friendship with Putin.

Depardieu opened an Instagram account earlier this month with a picture of himself embracing Putin and said on French television earlier this month: "Leave Vladimir alone."