March 1, 2024

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Displaced Ukrainians flock to Eurovision, but Zelensky can’t handle ‘apolitical’ event

Displaced Ukrainians flock to Eurovision, but Zelensky can’t handle ‘apolitical’ event

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — The Eurovision Song Contest this weekend It takes place in a city full of Ukrainian flags, Ukrainian food, Ukrainian musicians and Ukrainian fans: Liverpool.

The English seaside town that gave the world the Beatles is using this pageant to offer homeless Ukrainians a taste of home — devoid of war and sparkling with sequins and glitter.

Britain hosts the attractive Continental Music Competition For the first time in 25 years after stepping in to revive it on behalf of last year’s winner, Ukraine. The organizers vowed to make the event a celebration of the Ukrainian spirit and culture.

“I want all life to be like this – the life of a whole Eurovision village, a celebration of Eurovision for a lifetime,” said Darina Borodaykevich, 29, one of more than 200,000 Ukrainians who have moved to Britain since Russia invaded its neighbor almost 15 months ago.

“All life is held together by music,” she added, echoing the slogan for this year’s Eurovision contest.

The final live show of the competition At the Liverpool Arena on Saturday it was destined to have a distinctly Ukrainian flavour. Co-hosted by Ukrainian singer Julia Sanina, it will feature performances by last year’s winner, Kalush Orchestra, and other Ukrainian artists. Images of Ukraine will precede each of the 26 shows by acts representing countries from across Europe and beyond.

Sanina said on Friday that she hopes “in these dark times we can bring some joy and some light to Ukrainian homes and families.”

Eurovision is Europe’s biggest concert, and tens of thousands of music fans have flocked to Liverpool, which won a competition between UK cities to stand in for Ukraine. The city on the River Mersey has thrown itself into the party spirit, with many pubs and venues hosting Eurovision parties.

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Businesses flutter Ukrainian flags in blue and yellow, and a Ukrainian village inside the Eurovision waterfront fan zone serves bowls of borscht and vareniki — potato-filled dumplings — along with lessons in Ukrainian art and history.

“We feel at home in Ukraine,” said Irina Shcherbok, 30, from Kiev, who came from her new home in southeast England to watch the Eurovision semi-finals on Thursday. “It’s a very nice atmosphere.”

The only thing missing is Ukraine’s leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky. Eurovision organizers say they refused his request to give a video address at Saturday’s final. The European Broadcasting Union, a group of national public broadcasters that runs Eurovision, said allowing Zelenskyy to participate would breach the “non-political nature of the event”.

The organization said that Zelenskyy’s request “to address the audience at the Eurovision Song Contest, while it was made with laudable intentions, unfortunately cannot be approved by the European Broadcasting Union administration as it would be contrary to the rules of the event”.

Zelensky’s spokesman, Sergei Nikiforov, denied that the president had asked to speak to the event, which will be watched by an estimated 160 million people.

“The Office of the President of Ukraine did not address the organizers of the Eurovision Song Contest to submit (Zelenskyy’s) performance online during the finals or at any other stage of the competition,” Nykyforov said on Facebook.

During the Russian invasion and warZelensky addressed dozens of global gatherings to promote his country’s cause. He has spoken to legislatures around the world by video – and several times in person – and appealed to audiences at the Glastonbury Music Festival, the Grammy Awards and the Berlin Film Festival..

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But he was reportedly denied permission to speak at the Oscars in March. Ukraine says FIFA, the governing body for international soccer, also denied Zelensky’s request to send a video message to the World Cup in November 2022.

Founded in 1956 to help heal a war-torn continent, Eurovision strives to separate pop from politics. Overtly political words, signs and symbols are prohibited.

But politics cannot be completely ruled out. Russia was banned from the contest after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. Belarus had been expelled the previous year due to the government’s crackdown on dissent.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK government was “disappointed” with the Eurovision organizers’ decision, although there were no plans to challenge it.

“The values ​​and freedoms that President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people are fighting for are not political, they are fundamental,” Sunak spokesman Max Blain said.

Liverpool is a city that has known its share of hardship. It survived the bombing of World War II, the decline of its bustling docks and mass unemployment before reinventing itself as a center of culture and nightlife. It is a story of resilience that strikes a chord with many Ukrainians.

“Obviously all Ukrainians would have preferred this to be hosted in Ukraine, if it was safe to do so,” said Maria Romanenko, who has taken more than 200 people on Ukrainian language walks in Liverpool in recent days.

She added, “But we are in the UK, now, for Ukraine to win, and we are happy to come to Liverpool.” “It feels so great to see all the flags and all the things that have been posted.”

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Joining one of the tours, Borodaikiewicz said she appreciated the opportunity Eurovision offered “to feel supported, to feel some special maybe. To hear so much Ukrainian – I miss it so much”.

She said, “It’s a celebration, but I can’t relax 100 percent.” “I always think of my people and my country.”

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Follow AP coverage of Eurovision at https://apnews.com/hub/eurovision-song-contest and the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine