Eurovision ‘could be hit by withdrawals’ over Ukraine-Russia row

European Broadcasting Union in warning to Kiev over its decision to bar Russian entrant

Russian singer, composer and songwriter Yulia Samoilova, who has been chosen to represent Russia in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Photograph: EPA/Russian TV Channel 1

Russian singer, composer and songwriter Yulia Samoilova, who has been chosen to represent Russia in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. Photograph: EPA/Russian TV Channel 1


Ukraine has refused to reverse its decision to ban Russia’s entrant from next month’s Eurovision Song Contest, despite the fierce criticism of organisers who threaten to exclude the embattled country from future competitions.

Ukraine barred singer Yulia Samoilova after it was revealed that she had performed without Kiev’s permission in Crimea, which Russia annexed three years ago – making her guilty under Ukrainian law of illegally crossing its border.

Russia has condemned Kiev’s decision and accused it of cruelty towards the disabled Samoilova, in what Ukraine calls Moscow’s latest attempt to discredit it in the eyes of its western allies.

The European Broadcasting Union, which runs Eurovision, has sent a letter to Ukraine’s government, asking it to lift the ban on Samoilova and complaining that it was not consulted over the matter.

“Should this ban be confirmed by your office, it would certainly have a very big negative impact on Ukraine’s international reputation as a modern, democratic European nation,” wrote Ingrid Deltenre, director general of the EBU.

“The current situation is causing anger amongst our members – European broadcasters across Europe – and we have received communication from a number of them criticising the decision and considering to withdraw from the event.”

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Ms Deltrene said Samoilova did not appear to pose a security threat to Ukraine, and so her exclusion from the May 9th-13th event was “unacceptable”.

The EBU was “increasingly frustrated, in fact angry,” Ms Deltrene said, “that this year’s competition is being used as a tool in the ongoing confrontation between the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

“Please be aware that should we not be able to find an agreeable solution to this matter, it will without doubt place the future participation of Ukraine in the Eurovision Song Contest under threat.”

The content and tone of the letter infuriated many Ukrainians, who have seen 10,000 of their compatriots die in a three-year conflict fomented and fuelled by Russia, which arms, organises and funds separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

Calls for boycott

The fighting erupted after the Kremlin annexed Crimea in March 2014, following protests that ousted Ukraine’s former Moscow-backed leader Viktor Yanukovich, who fled to Russia after his security forces gunned down dozens of protesters in Kiev.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko said people could legally cross to the Crimean peninsula via “mainland” Ukraine, but not directly from another country. “Russia knew that and took its decision [to enter Samoilova in the Eurovision] counting on causing a provocation,” he said on Tuesday.

“The Ukrainian authorities did not fall for this provocation, and they act consistently towards everyone who breaks Ukrainian law... Russia didn’t need participation in Eurovision, it needed a provocation.”

Some Russian politicians demanded a boycott of this year’s Eurovision and were furious when last year’s event was won by Jamala, a Crimean Tatar. Her song, “1944”, recalled the Soviet deportation of her people from their homeland, but also had clear resonance with the Kremlin’s current aggression towards Ukraine.

The controversy around Samoilova is just the latest Eurovision headache for Ukraine, which hopes the event will provide a showcase for Kiev and a chance to demonstrate how the country is moving towards the West and away from Russia.

Funding fears have dogged Kiev’s planning since Jamala’s victory in Sweden last May, and 21 members of Ukraine’s organising team quit in February over frustration with a new co-ordinator.

Some gay activists fear the contest could be a target for Ukrainian far-right groups, and Kiev police have already tightened security ahead of the event. Safety concerns were sharpened on March 23rd, when a prominent politician who fled Russia was shot dead outside a top hotel in the heart of Kiev.