Ukraine wants to be 'visible' in Eurovision clouded by Israel

AFP , Saturday 4 May 2024

It took over 26 hours to travel from Kyiv to Malmo, a journey Ukraine's Eurovision contestants say was imperative to make their country "visible" in the song contest overshadowed by Israel's participation.

A protester holds a Palestinian flag during a demonstration against Israel s participation in the 20
A protester holds a Palestinian flag during a demonstration against Israel s participation in the 2024 Eurovision Song Contest, in front of the building of Dutch broadcaster AVROTROS in Hilversum on May 2, 2024. AFP


"It's an opportunity for us to represent our culture. To show that we've got so much more to give people," singer Jerry Heil -- the stage name for Yana Shemaieva -- told AFP in an interview.

"We just need to be visible," she said.

But this year's contest has so far been dominated by calls for Israel to be excluded over its war in Gaza, which the organisers rejected.

A week of Eurovision Song Contest festivities kicked off Saturday in the southern Swedish town of Malmo, with 37 countries participating.

The first semi-final takes place on Tuesday, the second on Thursday, and the grand final concludes the event on May 11.

Thousands of people are expected to attend pro-Palestinian rallies throughout the week in Malmo.

Direct threats have also been made against the singer representing Israel, Eden Golan, swiftly condemned by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) which oversees Eurovision.

Ukraine's Jerry Heil and rapper Aliona Savranenko, known by her artist name alyona alyona, are competing with the catchy "Teresa & Maria", a mix of rap, pop and a touch of opera, with lyrics sung in Ukrainian "about union".

"We have to remind the world how united it was" before Russia invaded Ukraine, alyona alyona said.

The world needs to "give this helping hand again, and help refugees, help with medicine, weapons," she added.

'Every song is political'

In 2022, Ukraine's Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision Song Contest, riding a tidal wave of public support three months after Russia's invasion.

That year, the EBU banned Russia from Eurovision and excluded Russian broadcasters from the organisation indefinitely.

This year Ukraine is again among the favourites.

If they win, the duo said they plan to sell their trophy and donate the proceeds to the war effort, like their predecessors who raised $900,000 in an auction on Facebook.

"We'll sell it for the nation," the artists said.

The two have already begun raising money for the reconstruction of the Velykokostromska primary school in the Dnipropetrovsk region of eastern Ukraine, which was destroyed by a Russian missile.

War-torn Ukraine was unable to host last year's event. It was instead held in Britain, which had come second in 2022.

The EBU refused to allow Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to make an address during the broadcast of last year's final, citing the "non-political" nature of the event.

This year, the organisers told Golan to rewrite some lyrics to her song and change the title because the original version was deemed to be making references to Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel.

But Jerry Heil and alyona alyona said it was impossible to avoid politics.

"Politics is everywhere."

"Culture is a part of politics, so every song is political," said 32-year-old alyona alyona, Ukraine's biggest rap star.

"We are here to speak," added 28-year-old Heil.

"You can exist together, and no one's stepping on anyone's side, that's the reality we want to live in," she said.

"We truly believe we can create it."

"Only music can connect divided people," she said.

"Only music can heal."

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