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The White Lotus drops actor Milos Bikovic over Ukraine backlash

The White Lotus has dropped actor Milos Bikovic, after Ukraine's Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused him of supporting the Russian invasion.

The Serbia-born star, 36, is understood to have been cast as a Russian yoga-loving, life enhancement mentor at the hotel in which the third series is set.

His casting was initially announced by HBO on 12 January.

HBO, which makes the hit series, confirmed it had decided to part ways with the actor and would be re-casting the role, in a story first published by Deadline.

The move follows a social media post shared by Ukraine's foreign ministry on 24 January which directly tagged the TV network and asked: "HBO, is it all right for you to work with a person who supports genocide & violates international law?"

The post contained a short video, with clips of statements apparently made by Bikovic about Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, along with clips from past seasons of The White Lotus.

While there is no public evidence of Bikovic supporting the invasion of Ukraine, he has not publicly condemned it.

Bikovic has worked in Russia for the past decade and is one of the country's most popular actors.

He received an award from Vladimir Putin in 2018 and became a Russian citizen in 2021.

In 2019, he revealed that he had been banned from Ukraine for national security reasons.

Responding to his removal from the show, Bikovic said it was the result of "a targeted campaign", warning that it sets "a disturbing precedent shadowing the essence of artistic freedom".

He wrote on Instagram: "I was honoured to be chosen to be a part of White Lotus, a TV series that I hold in high regard and with colleagues whom I deeply respect.

However, my participation is not possible due to reasons beyond the realm of art and I will not bow to any narrative that seeks to compromise my integrity.

"I would like to thank everyone who stood by me. I wish my colleagues great success in creating the next season."

Alluding to the claims made against him, he called each conflict in the world "heartbreaking," saying he wished "for all of them to stop".

He also drew parallels with his childhood in war-torn Serbia, writing: "At the age of 11, I endured days and nights in shelters while my homeland and my hometown were bombed," adding, "I could never wish such devastation on anyone".

Series three of The White Lotus, the first two series of which were shown on Sky Atlantic, is due to start filming in Thailand later this month and is due to air in 2025.