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In 2023, the names of two women were on everyone’s lips: Barbie, and Taylor Swift.

Both are represented at the Grammy Awards tonight.

Swift‘s music needs no introduction of course, while Barbie makes the cut thanks to the contributions to the film’s soundtrack by Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa (Ryan Gosling’s I’m Just Ken sadly didn’t make it a hat-trick, despite the Oscar nod).

After cementing herself firmly as the biggest pop star on the planet with the start of her Eras tour last year, this year’s Grammys ceremony could be a record-breaker for Swift.

Margot Robbie as Barbie. Pic: Warner Bros
Barbie gets some Grammys action thanks to Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish. Pic: Warner Bros

If the star takes home the award for best album for Midnights she will become the first artist to win the prize for a fourth time, having previously won for Fearless (2010), 1989 (2016) and Folklore (2021).

Those three awards currently tie her with Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder and Paul Simon, so a win this year would make Grammys history.

However, despite being the most-nominated songwriter ever, shortlisted for song of the year seven times over the years, Swift has never won in that category before.

Surprising, you might think, for a woman hailed as arguably the most influential songwriter of her generation. But then again, despite a record 32 Grammy wins – the most decorated artist ever – Beyonce has never won album of the year.

Jon Batiste, winner of the awards for best American roots performance for "Cry," best American roots song for "Cry," best music video for "Freedom," best score soundtrack for visual media for "Soul," and album of the year for "We Are," poses in the press room at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Las Vegas. Batiste turns 36 on Nov. 11. (AP Photo/John Locher, File)
Jon Batiste is the only male artist up for three of the night’s biggest prizes

Could Anti-Hero win Swift the prize for the first time?

The lead single from Midnights was released in October 2022 and spent six weeks at the top of the charts in the UK, remaining in the top 100 songs for a year. In the US, it topped the Billboard chart on eight weeks, leading a top 10 entirely made up of Swift songs – making her the first artist to achieve the feat – when it initially charted.

At the Grammys, Anti-Hero faces competition in the category from the likes of Eilish’s What Was I Made For? and British star Lipa’s Dance The Night, their songs from the Barbie soundtrack, as well as Flowers by Miley Cyrus. Vampire, by Olivia Rodrigo, Kill Bill by SZA, Butterfly by Jon Batiste, and A&W by Lana Del Rey.

Swift is up for six awards in total, also including best pop vocal album, best pop solo performance, best duo or group performance for Karma featuring Ice Spice, and record of the year for Anti-Hero once again.

(If you’re wondering what the difference is: record of the year deals with a specific recording of a song and recognises the artists, producers and engineers who contribute, while song of the year celebrates the composition and recognises the songwriters.)

But Swift is not the top nominee

SZA performs during the 2022 Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park on August 05, 2022 in San Francisco, California. Photo: Casey Flanigan/imageSPACE/MediaPunch /IPX
SZA leads the nominations this year. Pic: Casey Flanigan/imageSPACE/MediaPunch/IPX/AP

The honour of most-nominated artists goes to alternative pop and RnB singer SZA, who is up for nine awards.

As well as the big prizes already mentioned, these include (deep breath): best melodic rap performance; best traditional RnB performance; best progressive RnB album; best RnB performance; best RnB song; and best pop duo/ group performance.

The star, whose real name is Solana Rowe, garnered critical acclaim for her second album SOS, released at the end of 2022, and will likely win in a few of the genre categories at least.

However, with competition from the likes of pop force phenomenon Swift and Grammys favourite Eilish in the main groups, a clean sweep of nine could be unlikely.

Following closely behind SZA is Victoria Monet, with seven nods, and Eilish, Rodrigo and Cyrus all have six alongside Swift.

Who’s performing?

Billie Eilish arrives at the 29th Critics Choice Awards on Sunday, Jan. 14, 2024, at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)
Billie Eilish could break a Grammys record. Pic: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Alongside SZA, Burna Boy, Billie Eilish, Billy Joel, Dua Lipa, Olivia Rodrigo and Travis Scott are set to take to the stage.

Plus, Joni Mitchell will make her Grammys performing debut and U2 will deliver the first-ever broadcast performance from the multibillion-dollar Sphere venue in Las Vegas, where they began a residency in September.

Who won’t be performing? Swift, apparently. While she will attend, the fact the next leg of her Eras tour kicks off in Japan on Wednesday means she’s saving her energy, according to reports.

And don’t expect to see NFL star boyfriend Travis Kelce there either – he’s busy preparing for something called the Super Bowl, apparently, but will no doubt be tuning in to “watch her win every single award that she’s nominated for”, as he said in a recent podcast interview.

The ceremony will be hosted by Trevor Noah, and stars presenting awards include Christina Aguilera, Samara Joy, Lenny Kravitz, Maluma, Lionel Richie, Mark Ronson, Meryl Streep, Taylor Tomlinson and Oprah Winfrey.

The striking thing about the big categories…

Olivia Rodrigo performs drivers license at the Grammy Awards in Las Vegas. Pic: AP/Chris Pizzello
Olivia Rodrigo is among the performers and the big nominees. Pic: AP/Chris Pizzello

You might have realised that with the exception of Batiste, all the artists nominated for song of the year are women. The category recognises songwriters so all collaborators, male and female, are also in the running – Eilish’s brother Finneas O’Connell, for example, and Mark Ronson as a co-writer of Dance The Night, while Jack Antonoff is nominated a co-writer for both Anti-Hero and A&W.

But the artists fronting the songs are predominantly female. The same is true in the record of the year group, which sees female indie trio boygenius and Victoria Monet up against Swift, Cyrus, Rodrigo, Eilish and SZA. And Batiste once again representing the men.

For album of the year, the nominees are: Guts by Rodrigo; the record by boygenius; Midnights by Swift; SOS by SZA, The Age Of Pleasure by Janelle Monae; Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, by Lana Del Rey and Endless Summer Vacation by Cyrus. And – you’ve guessed it – World Music Radio by Batiste.

So unless there’s a major upset, the ceremony looks set to be a celebration of a year in which female artists have dominated the charts and our playlists – reflected to a lesser extent in the Brits nominations here in the UK, where more than half the nominees are women.

Best new artist

Ice Spice introduces a performance by Doja Cat during the MTV Video Music Awards on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Ice Spice is among the performers up for best new artist. Pic: Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

This award is one of the big ones, previously won by Eilish, Rodrigo, Sam Smith, Adele, John Legend, Amy Winehouse and plenty of other performers who went on to become huge stars.

In the running this year are:

• Jelly Roll
• The War And Treaty
• Victoria Monet
• Noah Kahan
• Coco Jones
• Ice Spice
• Fred Again
• Gracie Abrams

Noah Kahan’s Stick Season has been a huge hit, and rapper Ice Spice is also a favourite.

Grammys fact: should The War And Treaty win, they would become the first husband and wife duo to take home the prize.

And another one: if US rapper Jelly Roll, who is 39, takes the prize, he’ll be the oldest solo artist to do so – taking the title from Sheryl Crow, who was 33 when she won in 1995.

What other records could be broken?

Jack Antonoff accepts the award for producer of the year, non-classical at the 65th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Singer, musician and producer Jack Antonoff is nominated for his work with Taylor Swift and Lana Del Rey. Pic: Chris Pizzello/AP

Well, one that definitely won’t is Beyonce’s. With 12 wins under her belt heading into the ceremony, even if Swift wins all six she’s up for her tally will stand at 18 – still a fair way to go to match Queen Bey’s 32. And SZA has won one before, so a clean sweep for her would take her to 10.

If Eilish wins record of the year for What Was I Made For? she will become the only female artist to have won the prize three times – having won previously for Bad Guy and Everything I Wanted – and only the third artist in total, matching Paul Simon and Bruno Mars.

Then there’s eight-time winner Antonoff, who this year is up for five prizes in total – including record of the year as a producer on Anti-Hero (as almost all paths lead back to Swift, it seems). Should he win that one, he becomes part of the elite Grammys club for those who have won all of what are considered the four major awards – record, song, album and best new artist. Current members are Adele, Eilish and Christopher Cross, so it’s pretty exclusive.

The Grammys ceremony takes place at the Arena in Los Angeles on Sunday, with the red carpet starting at about 11pm UK time and the ceremony at 1am on Monday

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Joe Biden twice confuses Gaza with Ukraine as he approves US military aid airdrops




Joe Biden twice confuses Gaza with Ukraine as he approves US military aid airdrops

President Joe Biden twice confused Gaza with Ukraine as he announced the US would provide desperately needed aid to the war-ravaged Palestinian territory.

Mr Biden, 81, confirmed on Friday that humanitarian assistance would be airdropped into Gaza – a day after the Hamas-run health ministry said 30,000 Palestinians have died since the war began last October.

“In the coming days, we’re going to join with our friends in Jordan and others who are providing airdrops of additional food and supplies”, the president said, adding the US will “seek to open up other avenues in, including possibly a marine corridor”.

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But Mr Biden twice mistakenly referred to airdrops to help Ukraine – leaving White House officials to clarify that he was in fact talking about Gaza.

Pic: Reuters
Pic: Reuters

Mr Biden revealed the development while hosting Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in Washington – as he warned “children’s lives are on the line”.

“Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough,” he said.

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“Now, it’s nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line.

“We won’t stand by until we get more aid in there. We should be getting hundreds of trucks in, not just several.”

Mr Biden also said he hoped there would be a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas by the time of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month which is expected to start on 10 March.

He told reporters: “We’re still working real hard at it. We’re not there yet.”

He said all sides have to agree on timing but that “they’re still far apart”.

President Biden hosted Italian premier, Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Friday Pic: Reuters
President Biden hosted Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the White House on Friday. Pic: Reuters

Mr Biden’s promise of airdrops came a day after dozens of Palestinians perished during a deadly aid truck incident in Gaza City.

At least 115 Palestinians were killed and more than 750 others were injured, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, on Thursday.

Airdrops are a last resort for when things are really desperate

Airdrops are a last resort. They are inefficient, inaccurate, expensive and dangerous.

They are only chosen as an option when things are really desperate.

The White House spokesman admitted as much just after the president’s announcement: “There are no missions more complicated than humanitarian assistance airdrops,” John Kirby said.

In this case, the decision to resort to them is all the more remarkable because America is dropping aid to counter failures in a war being prosecuted with US weapons by one of its closest allies.

Israel controls the aid that gets into Gaza. To have to airdrop it is to admit a fundamental failure and a humanitarian disaster.

It’s inefficient because only small amounts of aid can be dropped at a time – palates of food parachuted from the back of planes.

It is inaccurate because you have no control over precisely where the aid will land.

It is dangerous because the aid drops could hit people as they land and because they could cause stampedes on the ground.

Usually aid is distributed with the coordination of aid officials on the ground.

It’s also dangerous for the aircrews flying over a war zone.

It is expensive because it requires significant military coordination.

In short – it is a stark illustration of just how much of a (man-made) disaster Gaza now is.

Witnesses said nearby Israeli troops opened fire as huge crowds raced to pull goods off an aid convoy.

Israel said many of the dead were trampled in a stampede linked to the chaos – and that its troops fired at some people in the crowd who they believed moved towards them in a threatening way.

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IDF: Aid convoy incident in Gaza is a tragedy

On Friday evening, the UK joined demands for an investigation into the killings, described by Foreign Secretary David Cameron as “horrific”.

Lord Cameron said there must be “an urgent investigation and accountability” – amid growing international calls for a probe into the episode.

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Analysis of the deadly Gaza aid truck incident

“This must not happen again,” he said.

While he did not directly blame Israel, he linked the deaths to the lack of aid being allowed into Gaza.

“We can’t separate what happened yesterday from the inadequate aid supplies,” Lord Cameron said.

“In February, only half the number of trucks crossed into Gaza that did in January. This is simply unacceptable.

“Israel has an obligation to ensure that significantly more humanitarian aid reaches the people of Gaza.”

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French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his “strongest condemnation” for the shootings and called for “truth, justice and respect for international law” in a post on X.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the incident on the social media platform, writing: “The desperate civilians in Gaza need urgent help, including those in the north where the UN has not been able to deliver aid in more than a week.”

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Ukraine war: Why the Baltic states on NATO’s frontline with Russia are urging their allies to ‘wake up’




Ukraine war: Why the Baltic states on NATO's frontline with Russia are urging their allies to 'wake up'

The Baltic states have an urgent message for the UK and other NATO allies about the threat posed by Russia: “Wake up! It won’t stop in Ukraine.”

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are teaching more of their citizens how to fight and have even announced plans to build a defensive line, including bunkers, along hundreds of miles of border that separates their territories from their much larger neighbour.

Now, as concern grows within NATO about the potential for large-scale conflict returning to Europe, Sky News has travelled from northeast Estonia to southwest Lithuania to hear from soldiers, civilians and politicians who are preparing for a war they hope never to fight.

As former members of the Soviet Union, the Baltics have been sounding the alarm about the existential menace posed by Moscow ever since they joined the NATO alliance two decades ago.

Back then, though, no one really listened.

Instead, the UK and other allies were focused on the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan – countering insurgents and Islamist militants is a very different type of fight than a conventional war against a peer enemy like Russia.

Adding to a collective erosion in NATO’s defences, many European states, including Britain, significantly reduced stockpiles of Cold War-era weapons, such as tanks, artillery and ammunition, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, mistakenly believing they no longer needed to be ready to fight a war of survival at a moment’s notice.

Russia’s earlier invasion of Ukraine in 2014, with the capture of Crimea and seizure of swathes of the Donbas, started to change that calculation – but only very slowly.

People in Moscow wave flags bearing the face of Vladimir Putin as they show their support for Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. Pic: Reuters
People in Moscow show their support for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. Pic: Reuters

The concept of ‘deterrence by denial’

The alliance agreed to bolster its defences along the eastern flank of the Baltic states and Poland, with the deployment in 2017 of units of allied troops to all four countries – around 800 soldiers to each nation.

But this was done relatively cautiously – to minimise the risk of triggering an escalation of tensions directly between Moscow and the West as plenty of NATO states, including France and Germany, still had relatively close ties with Russia and did a lot of business.

As a result, the limited mission was not designed to prevent an invasion, but rather to provide a “tripwire” should Russian forces attack that would trigger a much larger allied response to then push them back out.

However, Vladimir Putin’s full-scale war in Ukraine on 24 February 2022 fundamentally altered that thinking too.

The allies realised once Russian troops had entered a country it would take a lot more effort to eject them, so they agreed to beef up their eastern defences even more and expanded them into four other nations.

The aim today is to prevent Russia from ever trying to invade – a concept known as “deterrence by denial”.

Throughout this evolution, the loudest voices inside NATO – urging allies to go further, faster and raising the alarm about Russia’s intentions – have been Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

They have also been amongst the strongest supporters of Ukraine and have warned that if Moscow prevails over Kyiv, it will likely try to test NATO’s defences next.

The site of a shopping centre in Kyiv that was bombed weeks after Russia's invasion in 2022. Pic: Reuters
The site of a shopping centre in Kyiv that was bombed weeks after Russia’s invasion in 2022. Pic: Reuters

A potential soft spot for any Russian attack

The city of Narva lies on Estonia’s northeastern tip – right next door to Russia.

A vast, medieval castle, with large, stone walls and an Estonian flag fluttering high, stands at one edge of the city, next to a river that marks the border.

On the opposite bank is a second, similarly grand, historic castle, but it flies a Russian flag.

A crossing point, called the Friendship Bridge, connects Narva with the Russian city of Ivangorod.

It is only open to pedestrians after the Russian authorities closed their end to vehicle traffic for construction work at the start of February.

A historic castle in Estonia flies a Russian flag
A historic castle in Estonia flies a Russian flag

Arnold Vaino, a police officer with the Estonian border guard, walked us on to the bridge, stopping just short of a red post that marks the halfway point and the start of Russia.

He recalled how he felt on the day the Kremlin launched its all-out invasion of Ukraine.

“Nobody feels comfortable when you hear that war has started,” he said. “But [we don’t feel] scared, for sure. But you open your eyes more wide.”

In an indication of the complexities of the geography and history of the region, the majority of residents in Narva speak Russian and some are sympathetic to Moscow.

It makes the city a potential soft spot for any Russian attack under the guise of coming to the aide of the Russian nationals who live in Narva.

Read more:
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Mourners defy Kremlin at Navalny funeral

Any such move, though, would trigger an allied response under one of the founding principles of NATO – an attack on one is an attack on all.

There is no sense of fondness for the Russian government in most other parts of Estonia, including an island of about 9,000 people off the country’s western coast.

NATO commanders believe that Hiiumaa island could be another potential target for Moscow in any war with the West because of its strategic location in the Baltic Sea.

If Russian troops were to seize the territory, they would potentially have the ability to block access to the sea and isolate the Baltic states.

Such a prospect is one that the islanders are doing all they can to deter.

Estonian volunteers urge British civilians to learn to fight

We met a unit of citizen soldiers, faces painted army green, as they practised ambushes with rifles in the forest.

The volunteers – many of them middle-aged dads and the odd mum – are dubbed “the SAS” because they train on Saturdays and Sundays.

Estonia's weekend warriors are knowns as the 'SAS' because they train on Saturdays and Sundays
Estonia’s weekend warriors are knowns as the ‘SAS’ because they train on Saturdays and Sundays

They said British civilians should also consider getting off their sofas and learning how to fight.

“It’s wrong to think that somebody else is coming to fight your war if you are not ready to defend yourself,” said Major Tanel Kapper, who commands the Estonian Defence League forces on the island.

Estonian military chiefs have doubled the size of their territorial defence force – the people who would support the much smaller professional army in a crisis – to 20,000 personnel after what Russia did in Ukraine two years ago.

That number comprises about 10,000 Defence League volunteers and the new addition of some 10,000 former conscript soldiers who are part of the military reserve.

‘We will kill as many of you as possible’

Polishing part of a rifle back at his base, a volunteer called Taavi, a father of two, said he decided to join the Defence League on Hiiumaa island along with about 14 friends last year in part as a response to the Ukraine war.

The construction worker said he did not want conflict, but was ready for combat if Russia invades.

“I have to take the weapon and try to protect my family, my home,” he said.

Major Kapper had a warning for Moscow: “It will be a bloody mess if you come here. We will definitely kill as many of you as possible.”

As for whether he had a message to other NATO countries like the UK that maybe are not doing as much to bolster their defences, the officer said: “To wake up. It won’t stop in Ukraine. If we don’t stop them, then they will come further and further.”

Latvian volunteers train at a base near Belarus
Latvian volunteers train at a base near Belarus

Latvia bulking up its military due to Russia threat

There is a similar sense of urgency in next door Latvia, which reintroduced conscription last year after becoming the only Baltic state to halt mandatory military service in 2006.

The country plans to double the size of its armed forces – professionals and reserves – to 61,000 by 2032.

“War [in Ukraine] is already happening, so it’s not a question: is Russia going to be aggressive? It already is aggressive,” said Krisjanis Karins, the Latvian foreign minister.

“The point of the draft is to beef up capable and equipped and trained reservists,” he told Sky News in an interview on the sidelines of a major security conference in Munich in February.

“It’s not replacing the professional army, it’s augmenting the professional army.”

Asked whether it would make a difference if the UK instated conscription, Mr Karins, a former prime minister, said: “I think it would make a difference if any European country and of course the larger countries, it would make a bigger difference.”

Sky News was invited to visit a training base in southeast Latvia, close to its border with Belarus, a close Russian ally, where a mix of conscripts and other recruits were going through a three-week basic training course with the National Guard.

Latvian volunteers would offer support to the regular military during a time of war
Latvian volunteers would offer support to the regular military during a time of war

‘Every man needs to at least try military life’

The National Guard is a branch of the armed forces that is made up of volunteers. At a time of war, they would offer support to the professional military.

“Bam! Bam! Bam!” the recruits shouted, rifles raised, mimicking the sound of gunshots, as they practised a response to an ambush on a muddy shooting range surrounded by forest.

Eduard, 18, was one of seven conscripts among the group of about 20 on the range. All seven were voluntary conscripts, rather than being ordered to serve.

“I think that every man in the world needs to at least try military life,” said Eduard.

A Latvian general explained how conscription is about much more than simply generating fresh boots on the ground – it is also about growing a sense of national service and a desire for each citizen to do their bit to help protect the country.

“Everyone has the right to serve – an obligation to serve – the nation,” said Major General Andis Dilans, the chief of the joint staff of the National Armed Forces, Latvia’s second most senior commander.

“This is really the cornerstone of democracy,” he said in an interview in the capital Riga.

“Therefore, we looked at this not just as a war-fighting force of the conscription, but looking at the connection between the public and the military in case of crisis, in case of war.”

Civilians have been practising since Russia's invasion
A Lithuanian military training exercise in a forest

How Lithuania borders a potential flashpoint

The final leg of our journey took us to the southwestern edge of Lithuania, which borders a heavily fortified Russian exclave called Kaliningrad.

The Russian territory also shares a border with Poland, another NATO state.

It means the only way for vehicles, such as lorries loaded with goods, coaches carrying passengers, or ordinary cars to travel between the exclave and mainland Russia is by transiting through Lithuania and into Belarus.

The crossing was calm when we visited, with a long queue of lorries on the Russian side, waiting to be allowed into Lithuania.

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A border guard said the number of vehicles – about 300 per day in total, moving in and out – had roughly halved since 2022 because Western sanctions had limited the types of goods that are permitted to be transited through Lithuania.

Communication between the guards on either side of a long wire, fence, topped in sections with barbed wire and bristling with cameras, had also been all but severed.

In the past, officials, who might have been stationed at the crossing point for two or three decades, would often speak with their Russian counterparts but that has stopped completely.

A mobile phone line still exists that can be called in an emergency, but the guard said that the Russian side does not tend to pick up.

The Kaliningrad. border
The Kaliningrad border

Another potential flashpoint is a nearby strip of land, about 60 miles long, that connects Kaliningrad with Belarus and is bordered by Lithuania and Poland.

It is called the Suwalki Gap.

The concern among NATO commanders is that if Russia were to capture the corridor, it would provide another way to cut off access to the Baltic states.

Gitanas Nauseda, Lithuania’s president, summed up the response to the threat next door.

“All Baltic countries, Poland and other countries of the eastern flank of the NATO do a lot in order to utilise all the possibilities of [the] collective defence system, called NATO,” he said in an interview.

“But we also do a lot individually by increasing our defence spending, by closely cooperating with our neighbours and my country is especially active in this field.”

It is why a growing number of citizens in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are volunteering to serve.

But their ability to deter Russia may depend on whether the citizens of other allies follow suit.

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Alexei Navalny’s funeral lifts spirits as many feared hope died with Russian opposition leader




Alexei Navalny's funeral lifts spirits as many feared hope died with Russian opposition leader

It is hard to grasp that Alexei Navalny is gone.

Navalny was a colossus of a man, whose energy, irreverence and astonishing determination touched a chord with so many in Russia who opposed Vladimir Putin‘s rule and who dreamed their country might be different.

His death felt personal to them.

Ukraine-Russia war latest updates

That is why so many thousands came to honour him in Moscow at the funeral that his mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, fought so hard to have.

They queued along the pavements on both sides of the church in long, orderly lines.

People crowded on to the stairways of neighbouring shops to try and get a glimpse as the coffin went into the church.

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They knew they were unlikely to get in themselves, but they wanted to be there for the ceremony before walking the 30 minutes on to the Borisovskoye cemetery in the hope they would also have their chance to say goodbye.

Pic: Reuters
People gather near the Borisovskoye cemetery during the funeral of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
Crowds gather near the Borisovskoye cemetery during Navalny’s funeral. Pic: Reuters

Flowers laid in memory of Alexei Navalny in Moscow
Flowers laid in memory of Alexei Navalny in Moscow

Along the way they chanted: “Alexei” and “Navalny”, but also “No to war” and “Russia will be free”.

These last were chants of old, from the days – not so long ago but they seem like a lifetime – when there were rallies in Russia.

But not “We will not forgive”, “We thank the parents for their son” or “Navalny our hero!”.

Those were unique to this moment, to its pain and emotion.

No one wanted this rally to descend into police chaos. They were careful to preserve the solemnity of the occasion and, for their part, the police did the same.

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Russian police check IDs of Navalny mourners

“It is very difficult to stay wise and not be overwhelmed with anger,” said 70-year-old Tatyana.

“It is very sad because I think I won’t see the end of this tragedy with my country, my beloved country or the tragedy of this war.

“I came here to look at people and not to feel alone.”

When Navalny died, many people said to us they felt that hope had died with him.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, the mother of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attends a funeral service and a farewell ceremony for her son at the Soothe My Sorrows church in Moscow, Russia, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
Alexei Navalny’s mother Lyudmila Navalnaya attends the funeral service for her son. Pic: Reuters/Stringer

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Unseen Navalny interview unearthed

But this turnout seemed to lift spirits.

“I feel despair and crushing sadness,” said Barbara.

“But at the same time, you feel inspired by seeing thousands of people gathering here today, despite everything they might face by doing so – and that gives you hope more than anything else.”

May it provide solace, too, to all of his supporters in exile who could not be there.

May it prove some comfort to his wife, Yulia, and their two children, who for their own safety could not attend their own father’s funeral.

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Navalny widow: ‘Putin cannot be negotiated with’

On social media, Yulia paid tribute to her husband, even as her mother sat with Lyudmila in the cemetery and watched as the mourners passed by.

“I don’t know how to live without you”, Yulia wrote, “but I will try to make you happy for me up there and proud of me.

“I don’t know if I can handle it but I will try.”

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia attend a hearing at the Lublinsky district court in Moscow, Russia, April 23, 2015. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
Navalny and his wife Yulia attend a hearing in Moscow in 2015. Pic: Reuters

His daughter, Dasha, also wrote to her father: “You gave your life for me, for Mum, for Zakhar, for Russia. And I promise that I will live my life the way you taught me, so you’re proud of me and most importantly, with the same smile on my face.”

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Alexei Navalny kept smiling, right until the end.

In his last-ever public appearance, the day before his death, via video-link from the penal colony in Russia’s Far North, he was grinning and joking with the judge and prosecutors.

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His humour was so infectious that they were laughing too.

To face the most terrifying hardships with good humour, surely that is the very essence of courage.

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