Russia’s Yulia Samoilova becomes second singer in wheelchair to compete at Eurovision

With Eurovision 2017 taking place in geopolitical rival Ukraine, fears were high that Russia might withdraw from the party owing to anti-Russian sentiment.

But on Sunday evening, Russia’s Channel 1 put Eurovision fans at ease by finally and officially confirming that they will compete, sending the wheelchair-bound singer Yulia Samoilova to the contest. Her song is the uplifting “Flame is Burning”.

Yulia Samoilova — Flame is Burning

Yulia came to public attention in 2013 with her stirring performance of “Molitva” on Faktor A — the Russian version of X Factor.

According to her web site the 28-year-old singer was born completely healthy and “developed as a normal child.” But following an inoculation she slowly lost the function of her legs, with doctors suggesting that she might die within three years.

“My parents took me to all kinds of sorcerers and healers — both world-famous and unknown,” she writes. “They were charlatans” and her health continued to deteriorate.

But when her mother intervened and stopped all treatment Yulia began to recover and through music she found a therapeutic and emotional outlet. Her interest had always been there. “I used to say all of the sounds and imitate adults,” she writes. “For example, my grandfather sneezed, and I tried to copy his tone.”

Yulia Samoilova covers “Molitva”

The selection of Yulia, whose moving personal story will inspire millions, fits nicely with the Eurovision 2017 theme #CelebrateDiversity.

It may also be seen as a reaction to the anti-Russian sentiment present in Ukraine and elsewhere.

Owing to geopolitical sensitivities, Russian acts have faced extreme hostility at Eurovision in recent years, with the teenage Tolmachevy Sisters and Polina Gagarina facing loud and overt booing in 2014 and 2015.

But the selection of Yulia could mitigate against the risk of booing during the live shows. Booing an artist who has overcome so much and represents perseverance to so many would leave the audience looking even more crass and insensitive than booing normally does.

Regardless of Russia’s motives and how you feel about them, sending Yulia remains a beautiful statement on inclusion and we fully support it. The vast majority of viewers will not have the context for her selection and will simply see a woman enjoying her moment in the spotlight.

Why is ‘wheelchair’ in the headline?

As far as we know, Yulia will be the second Eurovision artist to perform in a wheelchair.

In 2015 Poland’s Monika Kuczynska won scores of fans with her ballad “In The Name Of Love” — a song about perseverance and making the most out of life.

Her live performance at Eurovision featured footage of her working the runway and performing prior to a car accident that left her in a wheelchair, deliberately showcasing the contrast of her past and present.

But what unified both scenes was a love of music and immense talent, proving that Monika’s disability may have dramatically altered her life, but at her core she was the same strong woman. She finished 23rd with 10 points.

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