It was a rare moment of euphoria amid war: In May a Ukrainian hip-hop band won the Eurovision Song Contest, the cultural phenomenon that helped launch Abba and Celine Dion and was watched this year by about 160 million people.
But joy quickly turned to disappointment when the contest’s organizers announced that Ukraine was not secure enough to host the 2023 competition, an honor that usually goes to the previous year’s winner.
On Thursday, the European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the contest, tried to tame the backlash, saying in a statement their primary concern was “safety and security” of the participants, which include performers from across Europe, 10,000 staff and crew members, and a huge legion of devoted fans expected to travel to the event, many of them young people.
But outrage at the refusal to allow Ukraine to host next year’s event has been palpable and shows little sign of abating. Oleh Psiuk, the lead singer of Kalush Orchestra, which won this year’s contest, signed an open letter demanding that the decision be changed. And Ukraine’s culture minister, Oleksandr Tkachenko, expressed anger, saying that Ukraine had rightfully won the contest, had offered safety assurances and was being denied an honor that would burnish support for the country on the global stage.
“Hosting Eurovision 2023 in Ukraine is a strong signal to the whole world that it supports Ukraine now,” he said.
The organizers, however, have refused to back down from their decision, stressing that they are abiding by their own rules, which state that the location of the contest can be moved in the event of a catastrophe like a war. Allowing Ukraine to host the event, they added, would breach the requirement that the security and welfare of those in attendance be guaranteed.
The projection of Ukrainian culture on the international stage has taken on added resonance at a time when the country is under siege and President Vladimir V. Putin has claimed that Ukraine and Russia “are one people.” Ukrainian politicians, artists and musicians say it is more imperative than ever to expose the country’s cultural uniqueness in international events like the wildly popular song competition.
This week, a Ukrainian pianist was among the winners of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Texas, one of classical music’s most prestigious contests. And Ukraine recently selected Victoria Apanasenko, a professional model who has been volunteering to help children and older people during the war, as the country’s entrant in the 2022 Miss Universe pageant in Costa Rica.