Eurovision says Russian contestant can compete via satellite link
Eurovision said on Thursday that a Russian singer who was barred from entering Ukraine can compete in this year's contest in Kiev via satellite, in a bid to ease a political flap clouding the competition.
Ukraine's security service on Wednesday imposed a three-year entry ban on Russia's participant Yuliya Samoilova for illegally entering Moscow-annexed Crimea to perform in a 2015 gala concert.
The Geneva-based European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organises the hugely popular Eurovision Song Contest, had criticized Kiev's decision to exclude Samoilova and voiced hope it would be overturned.
In an interview with AFP, Eurovision chief Jon Ola Sand said the decision to ban an entrant was unprecedented in the contest's six-decade history and the satellite compromise was offered to ensure "that all artists can participate".
"This would be the first time that we do this solution, and hopefully the only time we need to do this," he said.
'Politics free' broadcast
In an earlier statement, the EBU said it had told Russia's state-controlled Channel One, which selected Samoilova, that she could perform in the semifinal live via satellite.
"Should the Russian entry qualify for the Grand Final the same solution would apply," the EBU said.
Sand said he understood the "challenging situation between Ukraine and Russia" but underscored that Eurovision "needed to keep the broadcast free of politics."
"I think that we have managed very well over the 60 years of Eurovision Song Contest, in different periods in Europe," he told AFP.
"We see the Eurovision Song Contest as the only cultural event in Europe that really can bridge nations on a friendly battlefield."
The Ukrainian military has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the country's east since April 2014 in a conflict that has killed more than 10,000 people.
Before the Eurovision satellite compromise was proposed, Moscow said it hoped Kiev would reconsider its decision.
"The decision from our point of view is absolutely unfair, it's unfortunate. And we hope all the same that it will be reconsidered," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, quoted by Interfax news agency, said the decision is "on the conscience of the organizers" in Ukraine.
Samoilova said late on Wednesday she remained buoyant and hoped for a change of heart from Kiev.
"Overall I'm not upset," Samoilova told Channel One, adding: "I will keep going. I somehow think that everything will change."
Samoilova added that she could not understand why Ukrainian authorities saw "some kind of threat in a little girl like me."
The singer has been in a wheelchair since a bad reaction to a vaccine in childhood, according to the biography on her website.
The popular tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda on Thursday headlined its front page "Eurohate", saying the ban was "spitting in the face of defenceless 27-year-old Yuliya Samoilova in a wheelchair."
The contest in Kiev comprises two semifinals on May 9th and 11th, followed by the final on May 13th.