It was a rare moment of euphoria in the midst of war: in May, a Ukrainian hip-hop band won the Eurovision Song Contest, the cultural phenomenon that helped launch Abba and Celine Dion and has been watched by around 160 million people this year.
But joy soon turned to disappointment when the contest organizers announced that Ukraine was not safe enough to host the 2023 contest, an honor that usually goes to the previous year’s winner.
On Thursday, the European Broadcasting Union, which hosts the competition, sought to tame resistance by saying in a statement that their primary concern was the “safety and security” of the participants, which included performers from across Europe, 10,000 staff and crew, and a huge legions of devoted fans expected them to travel to the event, many of them young people.
But the outcry over the refusal to allow Ukraine to host next year’s event is palpable and shows little sign of abating. Oleh Psiuk, the lead singer of Kalush Orchestra, which won this year’s competition, signed an open letter demanding that the decision be changed. And Ukraine’s culture minister Oleksandr Tkachenko expressed his anger, saying Ukraine had rightly won the contest, provided security guarantees and was denied an honor that would polish support for the country on the world stage.
“Hosting Eurovision 2023 in Ukraine is a strong signal to the whole world that it now supports Ukraine,” he said.
However, the organizers have declined to backtrack on their decision, stressing that they are adhering to their own rules, which state that the venue of the match can be moved in the event of a disaster such as war. Allowing Ukraine to host the event, they added, would go against the requirement to ensure the safety and well-being of those attending.
The projection of Ukrainian culture onto the international stage has gained additional resonance at a time when the country is under siege and President Vladimir V. Putin claimed that Ukraine and Russia are “one people”. Ukrainian politicians, artists and musicians say it is more necessary than ever to expose the country’s cultural uniqueness in international events such as the wildly popular song competition.
This week, a Ukrainian pianist was one of the winners of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Texas, one of classical music’s most prestigious competitions. And Ukraine recently selected Victoria Apanasenko, a professional model who volunteered to help children and the elderly during the war, as the contestant in the Miss Universe 2022 pageant in Costa Rica.