Queen sang to tens of thousands of Ukrainians in a charity concert meant to raise money and AIDS awareness in this ex-Soviet republic.
Cheering fans packed the central square Friday in Ukraine’s second-largest city, to listen to the legendary British rock band, whose lead vocalist Freddie Mercury died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991.
The open-air concert was also timed to the release of Queen’s new album, “Cosmos Rocks,” and launch the band’s tour that includes Russia, Britain, France and Germany.
“We’ve been asked to come here and we are very happy to do what we can to raise the awareness of AIDS and also to kick off a new tour,” Paul Rodgers, the band’s new frontman, told The Associated Press in an interview. “Awareness is the first step towards defeating the problem.”
“Queen lost its singer many years ago, so we know that this can affect anybody,” said drummer Roger Taylor.
Ukraine couldn’t not need that message more. Government officials say nearly 77,000 people have been registered as HIV-positive since the first reported case in 1987. But some experts believe the epidemic here is far greater, with as many as a half-million people — 1 percent of Ukraine’s population — infected.
Organizers chose Kharkiv, an industrial city in the east of the country, for its huge student population. The youth are a key risk group for contracting the virus. Volunteers distributed condoms and information leaflets in the city in the run-up to the concert.
But the show wasn’t’ just a treat for the young. Ecstatic middle-aged Ukrainians also turned up to listen to the songs of their youth, a testament to the unwavering popularity of aging Western rock bands in the former Soviet Union.
Deep Purple gave a concert in the Kremlin earlier this year. Paul McCartney sang in Moscow in 2003 and performed in Kiev in June. Many Soviets learned English on those songs and their records were hard to find.
This is Queen’s second tour after they teamed up with Rodgers, who used to be the leading vocalist for the English popular rock bands Free and Bad Company. It is their first show in Ukraine.
The band has actively campaigned against the spread of HIV/AIDS. Along with their efforts, the concert was organized by Yelena Franchuk, a leading anti-AIDS activist here and the wife of Viktor Pinchuk, one of Ukraine’s richest men.
While the show was free for most participants, organizers raised money by selling tickets to the VIP zone. They declined to say how much money has been raised, but said it will be donated to a city orphanage for HIV-positive children.