The annual Eurovision Song Contest, typically a bash of kitschy pop music, is set for a second year of drama of another kind after host country Ukraine formally banned entry to Russia’s wheelchair-bound contestant.
In a brief statement, the state Security Service of Ukraine announced on Wednesday afternoon that it had “banned Russian Federation citizen Julia Samoylova for three years from entering Ukraine.”
The so-called SBU added:
“The decision has been taken based on information that she violated Ukrainian legislation.”
Ukraine authorities say she is guilty of entering – without Ukrainian permission – the Crimean Peninsula, whose 2014 Russian annexation is not internationally recognised and has been disputed by Ukraine in international courts. Ukraine has imposed similar travel-ban sanctions on scores of Russian citizens, including other performers, as well as Europeans, for “illegally” entering Crimea.
Amid media speculation in past days, Russian officials have said they would not submit another contestant, opting instead to boycott the contest if Ukraine banned Ms Samoylova.
Even with Russian contestants not present at this year’s Eurovision, the stage is set for attention to be drawn to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, once friendly neighbours that have been in a quasi-state of war since Russia occupied Crimea and fomented a far-eastern separatist war.
Though organisers aim for a politics-free environment, Ukraine’s Susana Jamaladinova, better known by her stage name Jamala, edged out a Russian contestant last year with a politically charged song.
Called ‘1944,’ it recounted Joseph Stalin’s forced deportation of hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars from the peninsula during the second world war. The song was widely interpreted as drawing parallels with Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea.
Eurovision organisers said in a statement:
“We have to respect the local laws of the host country, however we are deeply disappointed in this decision as we feel it goes against both the spirit of the Contest, and the notion of inclusivity that lies at the heart of its values.
We will continue a dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities with the aim of ensuring that all artists can perform at the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv in May.”