Russia’s choice for Eurovision puts Ukraine on the back foot

Disabled singer Yulia Samoilova could be banned from Kiev event due to Crimea performance

Yulia Samoilova performed in Crimea after its 2014 annexation by Russia – an apparent breach of Ukrainian law that could see her banned from entering the country. Photograph: YouTube

Yulia Samoilova performed in Crimea after its 2014 annexation by Russia – an apparent breach of Ukrainian law that could see her banned from entering the country. Photograph: YouTube

 

Ukraine’s political, military and economic struggle with Russia is poised to enter – or return to – a very different arena: Eurovision.

Russia has named Yulia Samoilova as its entrant in this year’s contest, which Kiev will host from May 9th-13th. Ms Samoilova is a former finalist in a Russian television talent show, she is confined to a wheelchair due to a rare muscle-wasting disease, and she performed in Crimea after its 2014 annexation by Russia – an apparent breach of Ukrainian law that could see her banned from entering the country.

Many Ukrainians denounced the selection of Ms Samoilova as the Kremlin’s latest attempt to discredit their nation, amid a grinding “hybrid” conflict that has seen Moscow depict Kiev’s pro-western leaders as a fascist, Russian-hating “junta”.

If Kiev lets Ms Samoilova in, it will undermine its own law and anger hardliners who brook no compromise with Moscow due to its key role in fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed 10,000 people; if Kiev excludes her, Russia is likely to accuse it of treating their disabled singer cruelly and politicising Eurovision.

“In response to numerous questions from journalists about Yulia Samoilova, I want to emphasise: the SBU will study this question and take an informed decision on her entry to the territory of Ukraine,” said Elena Gitlyanskaya, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s security service, which is know as the SBU.

“I emphasise that our position will be based exclusively on the norms of Ukrainian law and the interests of national security,” she added.

Ukrainian foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin said: “I think the law should be the same for everyone. Russia has been causing provocations for many years.”

Occupied territory

Ukraine sees Crimea as occupied territory since Russia annexed it in March 2014, and regards anyone who visits the Black Sea peninsula without crossing its land border with the rest of Ukraine as illegally entering the country; almost all Russians who travel to Crimea arrive by plane or ferry.

“We don’t see anything provocative in this,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said of the selection of Ms Samoilova (27).

“Everyone’s been to Crimea, there is probably hardly anyone who hasn’t been to Crimea. It’s an international contest, and the country organising it should probably follow the rules by which the contest is run.”

Some Russian politicians demanded a boycott of this year’s Eurovision and they 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 Ms 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.

Fears over funding have dogged Kiev’s planning since Jamala’s victory in Sweden last May and, last month, 21 members of the organising team at Ukraine’s public broadcaster quit in frustration at relations with a new co-ordinator. Some gay activists also fear the contest could be a target for Ukrainian far-right groups.