She’s the disabled Russian singer who had plans to sing the touching ballad “Flame Is Burning” at the Eurovision Song Contest 2017.
But on Wednesday Yulia Samoylova had her flame firmly extinguished as Ukraine’s Security Services (SBU) finally and officially banned her from entering the country — thereby ruling her ineligible to compete at Eurovision.
“Ukraine’s Security Service has banned Russian national Yulia Samoylova from entering Ukraine for three years,” SBU spokesperson Olena Hytlianska said in a statement posted on Facebook. “The decision was taken due to information that she had violated Ukrainian law.”
Within minutes a source at Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told the Ria-Novosti news agency that Ukraine’s decision was “cynical and inhuman.”
Russian politician Frants Klintsevich said that Russia would boycott future Eurovision contests if the organisers — most likely at the European Broadcasting Union and Ukrainian state television — failed to stand up for the singer.
“If the Eurovision leadership is silent, it’s completely politicized and biased,” he said.
As Deutsche Welle previously reported, Samoylova performed in the Crimean city of Kerch in 2015 — more than a year after Russia annexed the territory.
Ukrainian law deems it illegal to enter Crimea without first obtaining appropriate documentation from Ukraine. It appears that Yulia entered Crimea through Russia and without said documentation. That, in the eyes of Ukrainian security services, rules her ineligible to enter the country for Eurovision.
Today’s decision has shocked Eurovision fans, but officials hinted that it was possible earlier in the week.
On Monday Vasyl Hrytsak — the head of the SSU — announced that the paper work for today’s ban had already been drafted. He also made it clear that he did not want her at the contest, adding that her offending actions went far beyond her performance in the disputed territory.
“The law should be one for all — she did not just visit Crimea, she also left comments on social networks, where she spoke about Ukraine, its authorities and its course for Euro-Atlantic integration,” he said. “My own position is clear: I think she should not come to Ukraine.”
Jon Ola Sand responds
Jon Ola Sand, the Head of Live Events at the EBU, is not amused. He issued a video response in which he expressed his disappointment over Ukraine’s decision.
“We have to respect the local laws of the host country,” he said. “However, we are deeply disappointed in this decision as we feel it goes against both the spirit of the contest and the notion of inclusivity that lies at the heart of its values.”
“We will continue a dialogue with the Ukrainian authorities to make sure that all artists can perform at the 62nd Eurovision Song Contest in Kyiv in May.”
Julia Samoylova at Eurovision
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 27-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.”
She was eventually diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy — a neuromuscular disorder causing muscle wastage, which has left her reliant on a wheelchair.
Her background and unique experience fits with Ukraine’s chosen theme for Eurovision 2017 “Celebrate Diversity”.
But since the announcement she would fly the Russian flag, journalists, bloggers and political commentators have all suggested that she was chosen for reasons beyond her voice and moving personal story.
Some suggested that her selection was a move to mitigate potential booing — a threat Russia has faced for several years. Others said that choosing her was a deliberate “provocation” against Ukraine. For Ukraine to ban a singer with a disability would be counter to the slogan of this year’s Eurovision and would seem both cruel and insensitive.
Indeed, many in the Twittersphere have expressed sympathy for Yulia and expressed outrage at Ukraine’s decision.
— Lucy Jayne Weaver (@LoopyJayneW) March 22, 2017
"let's celebrate diversity… oh wait, we didn't mean that sort if diversity!" https://t.co/CjpmoLCxSY
— lexi (@ariheartxo) March 22, 2017
— Eurovision Kosovo (@ESCKOSOVO) March 22, 2017
Others, while perhaps sympathetic to Julia as a participant and person, make it clear that the law is the law.
Russian officials — who have no doubt studied the various facets of this year’s participation — would have been aware of the regulations that ban performers who have sung in Crimea. And given how closely they vet each of their performers, they would also have known about Julia’s previous engagements.
Seen in this light, Russia could have been baiting Ukraine to ban Julia, with the hope of tarnishing their image on the international stage.
This was no random decision. The law has been there for a long time. Russian tv know that. Pure provocation. #eurovision
— Tobias Larsson (@TobsonHelsinki) March 22, 2017
Look the law was there before Russia decicded to send Yulia, they knew this was going to happen and they decided to send her anyway
— Evelyn ???????? (@eveboriee) March 22, 2017
At the end of the day, if she's broken Ukrainian law then that's that. She can't enter the country. Simple as that. A law is a law.
— Callum Rowe ?????????? (@CallumRowe_) March 22, 2017
But you've got to hand it to the Russian's – they did everything they could to make this happen, and pulled it off.
— Jonny Will Chambers (@jonwillchambers) March 22, 2017
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov has previously denied the suggestion that Julia’s selection was meant to provoke this year’s hosts.
According to the TASS news agency, he told reporters: “I would not use such words as provocation, because it is a TV channel’s choice. I don’t see any provocation. Almost everybody was in Crimea, there is hardly anyone who has not travelled there.”
“Undoubtedly, we would like to avoid politicising the Eurovision contest.”
It’s not yet clear whether Russia will, with the approval of the EBU, select a new contestant for the song contest or simply withdraw.
A third way — which would be highly unprecedented and which seems completely unlikely — would be to allow Julia to perform via satellite, much like Amy Winehouse at the 2008 Grammy Awards.
Update: Ukraine’s broadcaster responds
UA:PBC — the Ukrainian broadcaster — issued a statement late in the afternoon on Wednesday, well after the international media had reacted to Julia’s ban.
The statement said:
The National Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine as the Host broadcaster of the Eurovision Song Contest 2017, is and will continue to implement the decisions of the Government of Ukraine, including the decision of SBU, to prohibit the entry to Ukraine, to the citizen of the Russian Federation, Julia Samoilova. However, we announce that the preparations for the Eurovision Song Contest 2017, continue in intensive mode.