KYIV – Let’s get this straight – Eurovision 2017 will not be held anywhere else but Kyiv. No broadcasters have withdrawn. All country representatives that haven’t broken Ukrainian law still plan to attend.
So say organizers in both Kyiv and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which oversees the event.
But EBU criticism of the Ukrainian government’s decision to deny entry to Russia’s handpicked contestant has proved to be a major irritant.
Organizers, government ministers and even President Petro Poroshenko have flatly rejected the criticism and pledged to stage a worthy show culminating in the final on Saturday, May 13.
EBU Director General Ingrid Deltenre, in a letter to Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, suggested several countries had vowed to withdraw from this year’s contest and threatened to ban Ukraine from future Eurovision competitions if Kyiv failed to lift its ban on Russian entry Yuliya Samoylova.
The Ukrainian government banned Samoylova on grounds she illegally travelled to Crimea, annexed three years ago by Moscow, to perform in a concert. The wheelchair-bound Samoylova was handpicked by Russia’s Channel One to compete in Kyiv.
Deltenre was later quoted as saying, in a conversation reported by two notorious Russian pranksters, that the EBU had booked a backup site for this year’s contest in Berlin. The pranksters also quoted her as saying last year’s winning Song by Jamala -- about Stalin’s mass 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatars -- should not have been permitted.
The EBU press office scotched any notion of a change in venue.
“The EBU will not comment on prank calls,” officials told the UBJ. “We are concentrating on producing a spectacular Eurovision Song Contest...in Kyiv”.
The comments clearly got under the skin of the Ukrainian government.
“It is unprecedented and unacceptable to demand such extraordinary decisions from Ukraine for the sake of Russia”, Deputy Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kyrylenko told reporters. “I think that France, Germany, Britain, and Poland would have made the same decision.”
Yuliya Samoylova was handpicked by Russia’s Channel One despite the fact she broke Ukrainian law by illegally entering Crimea to perform.
No broadcasters or entrants have suggested they are withdrawing.
Organizers focus on the task at hand. For them, they would be more than happy to accept a different Russian entry.
“Eurovision organizers haven’t banned the Russian artist”, said Ukraine’s international Eurovision PR manager Victoria Sydorenko. “She broke Ukrainian law and is not allowed to travel here. We welcome a Russian artist that respects Ukrainian laws.”
Kyiv City Council was blunt in insisting the show must go on in the city.
“The Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Kyiv at the highest level regardless of any political insinuations”, said a spokeswoman from the office of deputy mayor Oleksii Reznikov. “Jamala won the song contest last year. Kyiv won the battle of the cities and the right to hold Eurovision. Period.”
Neither Reznikov’s office nor Sydorenko would speculate on whether the row would impact tourism.
Reznikov previously told the UBJ that the city expects a $30 million return on the $24.3 million budget, while Eurovision head Pavlo Hrytsak expected around 20,000 tourists to spend $110 per day. That would bring in nearly $15 million, if each tourist stays for a week. TV crews and singers’ delegations are in addition to that.
Should Russia decide not to replace Samoylova, Ukraine stands to lose out on thousands of Russian tourists, as well as several Russian channels that would likely have booked hotel rooms.
It remains unclear whether Russian television channels will broadcast the event if Russia boycotts the event. And it is an open question whether Russia ever intended to participate in a Eurovision contest held in Ukraine. Last month, Sydorenko said that the Russian delegation had not boked hotel rooms, the only delegation not to have done so at the time.
The selection of an artist Russia knew would be branded illegal is seen as direct political interference by many in Ukraine, including Poroshenko. He said last week that the rules regarding entry to Crimea were clear and that Channel One’s selection of Samoylova was purely a “provocation”.
Ukraine has long banned artists that support Russia’s occupation of Crimea from performing in Ukraine. A government blacklist is headed by Yulia Chicherina, Grigory Leps, and Iosif Kobzon.
Culture minister Yevhen Nyshchuk also suggested that Russia’s choice of performer was clearly provocative -- but for different reasons, with the clear aim of denigrating Ukraine’s international reputation.
“I have the greatest respect for people with special needs,” he told Ukrainski Novyny news service. “We understand clearly that to some extent, and perhaps not even just to some extent, this is a provocation on the part of the Russian Federation.”
In response to questions from the UBJ, the EBU offered no comment on when it became aware of the Ukrainian law barring entry to anyone having traveled to Crimea illegally or whether the EBU had a contingency plan if Russia selected a banned artist.
It said only it would provide further updates on developments in due course.
For comments or news tips, please contact UBJ Reporter Lee Reaney at firstname.lastname@example.org.