Is Russia Provoking Ukraine With Eurovision Choice of Yulia Samoylova?

There had been fears the Russia might give the Eurovision Song Contest a miss this year because it takes place in Ukraine. Instead they have risked escalating tensions between the two countries...

Fears that Russia might boycott the Eurovision Song Contest, which takes place in Ukraine this year, have been torpedoed. The political tension between the two countries over Russia’s annexation of Crimea remains unabated however – and there had been speculation that it might lead to Russia refusing to send an entrant to its neighbouring country.

Those fears notwithstanding, they have now chosen their contestant, apparently signalling a decision to proceed as normal where Eurovision is concerned. Yulia Samoylova is a 27 year-old wheelchair user, and she will sing the song ‘Flame Is Burning’. She is not a major star in Russia, having finished third in Faktor A – the Russian version of The X-Factor.

The decision to proceed may not, however, be as simple as it looks. Samoylova has performed in Crimea since the territory was annexed – which is against the law in Ukraine. In the context, her selection may be seen as a deliberate provocation by Russia.

Her selection certainly means that the Ukranian authorities will face a dilemma: if she is allowed to compete, should she be arrested for breaking Ukranian law or let come and go in spite of her apparent support for Russian separatists in Ukraine? Or might it be better simply to bar her from entering Ukraine?

There is a further dilemma too. How will the optics seem, if the Ukranian authorities do decide to ban an artist who performs in a wheelchair? And what kind of criticism might that spur from equal rights for the disabled campaigners? There are certainly those who will see the wily hand of Vladimir Putin behind the move.

There can be little doubt that there is a diplomatic battle being fought out between the two countries, within the Eurovision contest. Last year’s winning Ukranian song, ‘1944’ was inspired by the deportation of Crimean Tatars by Stalin during World War II – and Russia was not best pleased by being beaten into third place by the song.

Russia has been dogged by controversy in a competition that they seem to take rather seriously. In 2014, the Russian contestants, Tomalchevy Sisters, singing 'Shine’, were booed repeatedly by the audience in Copenhagen, in protest against the anti-gay stance of the Moscow authorities. Further back in 2008, the song selected by Georgia was entitled ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’. The obvious reference to the Russian Prime Minister in the title spooked the Eurovision organisers into seeking a change of entry. Georgia refused and withdrew from that year’s competition.

Ireland, meanwhile, will be watching the fate of the Russian entry with some interest. Yulia Samoylova will be competing at the semi-final stage, on May 11, with Ireland – who will be represented by Brendan Murray, a member of the boyband Hometown, singing ‘Dying To Try’. Ireland’s chances of reaching the final would certainly be improved by the absence of Russia, who have generally been heavily supported in the voting.

Perhaps Enda Kenny should give his meeting with Donald Trump a miss and fly straight to Kiev to intervene – to keep the Russians out.


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