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China

Child Prodigy Pianist Lang Lang Turns 30 With Everything But The Girl

From a difficult childhood in China to playing for President Obama and Queen Elisabeth II, pianist Lang Lang's "Journey Of A Thousand Miles" has taken him a long way indeed.

Golden fingers Lang Lang (www.langlang.com)
Golden fingers Lang Lang (www.langlang.com)
Lucas Wiegelmann

LONDON - On the morning following his evening with Britain's Royal Family, Lang Lang was hungry. So he picked up the phone in his London hotel suite and called Berlin to ask his PR agency to call the hotel and order him a club sandwich and French fries. When our interview was scheduled to start, at 1:30 p.m., a waiter brought the food to the conference table in the Mayfair room at the Langham Hotel. But Lang Lang wasn't there. By the time he walked through the door a half hour later, the fries were cold.

He apologized for being late. The night before he had given a concert for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee at Royal Albert Hall, and then afterwards he and some other musicians including Paul McCartney, Elton John and Robbie Williams were invited to Buckingham Palace with Prince William and Kate and Prince Harry. "Really very interesting conversations," even if everybody always asks him the same thing: how many hours a day does he practice, how old was he when he started to play the piano, and what's the life of a concert pianist like.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

The Dead And Disappeared: A Village Emerges From 72 Days Of Russian Occupation

Russian forces have been pushed out of the area around Kharkiv. Villages that were occupied for two months are free once more — but utterly destroyed. And thousands of people have disappeared without a trace.

Kharkiv and the surrounding villages faced weeks of constant Russian shelling.

Alfred Hackensberger

TSYKRUNY — Andriy Kluchikov uses a walking stick, but is otherwise fairly sprightly for a 94-year-old. Under his black wool hat, Kluchikov seems fearless as he surveys his hometown in northeastern Ukraine. “The missiles don't scare me,” he says with a smile. “I have slept in my own bed every night and never went down into the basement.”

As for the two-meter-wide bomb crater that has appeared in his garden, between the vegetable patch and the greenhouse with its shattered plastic roof, Kluchikov almost seems proud. “No one can intimidate me,” he says. “Not even the Russians.”

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In the early days of the war, in February, Russian artillery almost completely destroyed this village of Tsyrkuny, near Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Only a few houses, including his own, were left undamaged. Shortly afterwards, Russian troops marched into the village and occupied it for 72 days. It was not until early this week that the Ukrainian army was able to liberate Tsyrkuny and many other areas to the north of the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv.

It is the Ukrainians’ most successful counter-offensive so far. They are thought to have pushed the invading troops back almost to the Russian border. “The offensive is gaining momentum,” according to the independent American thinktank Institute for the Study of War. “It has forced Russian troops on the defensive and has successfully alleviated artillery pressure on Kharkiv City.”

In the modern city of Kharkiv, home to around 1.5 million residents, the relief has been palpable over the last few days. Restaurants and cafes have reopened. People are walking and riding bikes in the parks, and couples are strolling hand in hand, enjoying the warm spring sunshine. You can still hear the artillery, but it is now many miles away.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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