KYIV – Ukraine is basking in the warm afterglow of good publicity from its successful hosting of Eurovision, a musical contest that drew 200 million European TV viewers to see the nation in a new light.
A reporter from Britain’s The Guardian newspaper called Kyiv “sparkling and radiant,” writing that “the city, and its people, look newborn.”
France’s Le Monde labelled Kyiv “a welcoming and majestic city” noting that the city “has done everything possible to live up to the event.”
Dutch Eurovision entry, OG3NE belt it out in the final battle of Europe’s songbirds (UNIAN/Vladimir Gontar)
Such newspaper reviews, coupled with massive television audiences, and favorable social media posts from European visitors add up to publicity that no national promotion budget can buy.
“They were amazed to see the country with European values, beautiful and strong”, says Victoria Sydorenko, Eurovision’s international PR manager. “I know they felt this hospitality and hope they will come back to discover Ukraine again and again.”
In a one-two Euro punch, President Petro Poroshenko topped Eurovision by traveling Wednesday to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. There he signed documents allowing Ukrainians to travel visa-free to the 26 nations of Europe’s Schengen zone. Visa-free travel is to start June 11.
Turning Ukrainians’ European dream into a reality, Wizz Air and Ryanair are launching a 6-month expansion program that has the two discount airlines flying from Kyiv and Lviv to a total of 31 European cities.
The annual European songfest may be remembered for chipping away European and North American resistance to traveling to Ukraine.
Hana Leakey traveled here from England to watch her second Eurovision contest.
“I half-expected everything in Ukraine to be as shimmering and ostentatious as Verka Serduchka – glitter, flowers, sunshine,” she said, referring to a Ukraine contestant of a decade ago. “To be honest, I don’t think I was that far off.”
Zach Jeffries, from Saskatoon, Canada, stressed how much easier it was to navigate Kyiv as an English-speaking visitor, compared to his first visit in 2013.
“Kyiv definitely seemed cleaner, and it was easier to get around as someone who doesn’t speak Ukrainian,” he said. “There was more English signage, and other small things that make a difference for the comfort of visitors. The city embraced the event and worked to ensure everyone had a good time.”
Organizers were relieved that no terror incidents took place in the capital during the two weeks of Eurovision. On Saturday night, President Poroshenko cancelled his appearance at the Eurovision finale after four civilians were killed hours earlier in an artillery attack in Avdiivka. This frontline city is a 10-hour, 730 km drive southeast of Kyiv.
Normally, European coverage of Ukraine would have focused that weekend on the artillery attack. During Eurovision, Europe discovered that there is more to Ukraine than the military stalemate in its southeast corner.
“The idea is to create a feeling of a European Ukraine,” says Pavlo Hrytsak, Eurovision’s head organizer.
Oleh Reznikov, Kyiv’s deputy mayor, agrees: “We hope our visitors see Kyiv residents are the same European citizens as in the rest of Europe.
Reznikov’s office estimated that about 20,000 foreign visitors visited Kyiv during Eurovision. The majority apparently came from the UK, Germany, Israel, and Belarus.
Ukraine’s Espreso.tv estimated 60,000 foreign visitors.
By contrast, last year’s Eurovision in Stockholm attracted 14,000 foreign visitors and 28,000 Swedish tourists from outside the capital.
In Kyiv, Khreschatyk’s Eurovillage attracted over 500,000 people from May 7 to 14, says City Hall, which had a birds eye view of the main of four fan zones in Kyiv.
In contrast, Stockholm’s Eurovillage attracted over 1.5 million visits.
This year, 64,000 tickets were sold to the three Eurovision shows and six dress rehearsals. This is slightly down from last year, when 79,000 tickets were sold to 10 Eurovision shows. For Kyiv, which endured months of pre-show controversy and bad press, ticket sales and revenue beat expectations.
“That work we saw of the last week with three TV shows was absolutely on top of what a Eurovision song contest should be,” says Jon Ola Sand, a Norwegian television executive who has been executive supervisor of the Eurovision Song Contest since 2010. “I have only good feedback from delegations – and that’s very rare.”
Stockholm city officials say that their Eurovision generated $39.4 million in extra spending in the city. Kyiv’s hotel, restaurant, and bar prices are among the lowest in Europe. Still, organizers anticipate Eurovision sparked an extra $15 million in spending in April and May.
But the real payback may be in the invisible realm of changing attitudes.
Overall, about 200 million Europeans -- almost half of the EU's 507 million people -- are believed to have turned in to the Eurovision final broadcast from Kyiv.
Numbers held up despite Russia’s boycott of the contest after Ukraine barred their contestant, Yuliya Samoilova, because she had violated Ukrainian law by performing in Crimea after Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula. Samoilova retaliated by traveling to Crimea and performing at May 9 Victory Day celebrations in Sevastopol, a city dominated by a Russian Navy base.
Although Russian TV did not broadcast Eurovision, some Russians watched it on the internet.
Elsewhere, the contest proved to be a big draw.
Britain saw its best Eurovision ratings since 2013, with an average audience of 6.7 million on BBC One. In Norway, where 1.4 million people – a 78 percent rating – watch the event in Kyiv. Of Norwegians aged 12-19, 90 percent of the nation’s teenager viewers watched the broadcast from Ukraine.
In Australia, 1.6 million people, or 7 percent of the population watched the final. Australia joined the contest in 2015 and has had a finalist each year since.
With such publicity, Ukraine hopes that visa-free travel and discount airline access will make tourism a two-way street.
“We are elaborating an absolutely coordinated program to attract a large number of low cost airlines to Ukraine,” Poroshenko told 1+1 News last week. “That would allow the purchase of a roundtrip ticket for several dozen euros.”
Already, event organizers are strategizing for Kyiv’s next mega-event.
One year from now, on May 26, 2018, Kyiv’s Olympiyskiy Stadium will be the scene of European club football’s premier event: the UEFA Champions League final match.
As for the Eurovision final, about 200 million of the EU’s population of 507 million people are expected to tune in that Saturday night to watch the game broadcast from Kyiv.
For comments or news tips, please contact UBJ Reporter Lee Reaney at email@example.com.
Slider: British Eurovision fans warm up May 13 at central Kyiv’s Eurovision Village fan zone. (UNIAN/Alksandr Sinitsa)
Posted May 20, 2017