Ukraine bans Russian Eurovision hopeful who performed in Crimea

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Russia’s Eurovision hopeful – who has become a source of controversy in host country Ukraine for a 2015 performance in Russian-annexed Crimea – was on Wednesday banned from Ukraine for three years, a move that will likely further degrade relations.

Ukraine’s Security Service said the singer, Julia Samoylova, had violated Ukrainian law. Ukraine considers Crimea to be occupied Ukrainian territory and requires permission to enter the peninsula.

The looming ban of Russia’s nominee for the international song contest has been an additional source of animosity between the neighbouring former Soviet states, whose relations have fallen to an all-time low in recent years.

Eurovision, whose rules state it does not permit “political gestures,” said last week after Ukraine hinted at the ban that the contest would abide by Ukraine’s laws.

Samoylova, 27, suffers from a rare muscular disorder and has used a wheelchair since childhood. She has won acclaim in Russia, including with a performance at the 2014 Winter Paralympics in the Russian city of Sochi.

Samoylova has described a would-be performance at Eurovision as her life-long dream and planned to sing the English-language ballad “Flame Is Burning,” partially about finding courage within oneself.

Although not a favourite to win at the May event, Samoylova’s participation would have been a symbol of overcoming a severe handicap, Anton Samsonov, who heads Russia’s branch of the Eurovision fan organization OGAE, told dpa.

He described the controversy surrounding Samoylova’s participation as a test of Ukraine’s ethical values.

The head of the Ukrainian branch of the OGAE, Pavlo Hrosul, said that by trying to send a singer who has performed in Crimea, “Russia is certainly ensuring new tension with Ukraine, this time in a cultural area.”

“Samoylova is beautiful and nice, and her story touches each of us, but Eurovision at this moment is not for her,” Hrosul told dpa.

Eurovision diplomacy was already fraught after last year, when Ukrainian singer Jamala won with her song “1944,” about Soviet-era repressions of the Crimean Tatar people. The song was broadly seen in Moscow as a swipe at Russia.

The latest development adds a new wrinkle to Ukraine’s Eurovision moment, after a year in which budget problems associated with hosting the event led to the resignation of key organizers.

Relations between Russia and Ukraine have plummeted since early 2014, when Ukraine ousted its pro-Russian president and Russia reacted by annexing Crimea – the site of a Russian naval base on the Black Sea – and supporting a rebellion in Ukraine’s east.

About 10,000 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to estimates by the United Nations.