Eurovision: Volodymyr Zelensky barred from using final to make BBC address over Ukraine war support

The Ukrainian President’s request to make a a surprise video appearance during the final has been turned down by the BBC due to “strict rules”

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Volodymyr Zelensky has been barred by the BBC and other international broadcasters from using the Eurovision Song Contest to make an address to the world to continue their support for Ukraine.

The Ukrainian President requested to make a surprise video appearance during the final which is expected to be watched by a global audience of 160 million.

Last year, Ukraine won Eurovision with their song Stefania by Kalush Orchestra but the country was unable to host the event this year due to the ongoing war with Russia.

In February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, with the conflict resulting in thousands of deaths and two nations still remaining at war with each other. The UK’s defence secretary Ben Wallace recently confirmed the UK will donate long-range Storm Shadow missiles to Ukraine to give them the “best chance” to “defend themselves against Russia’s continued brutality”.

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which organises the contest, invited the UK to host on Ukraine’s behalf as Britain’s contestant Sam Ryder was the runner up last year.

Zelenksy has been barred from making Eurovision speech over ‘strict rules’. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images) Zelenksy has been barred from making Eurovision speech over ‘strict rules’. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)
Zelenksy has been barred from making Eurovision speech over ‘strict rules’. (Photo: AFP via Getty Images)

It will be the ninth time the UK has hosted the competition, and the fifth time it has done so on behalf of another country.

Event owners turned down Zelensky’s request to make a video address due to the show being “governed by strict rules” and “one of the cornerstones of the contest” being the “non-political nature of the event”.

The EBU is concerned that by giving the Ukrainian President permission it could politicise the event.

The move was disclosed when Sarah Sands of the British Council wrote in a piece for Times Red Box: “The request from Ukraine to show a video of President Zelensky at the final on Saturday was initially refused and remains under discussion.”

Zelensky has previously been blocked from other entertainment events. He requested to speak at the Oscars in March and was said to have been declined for the second consecutive year.

An EBU spokesman said: “The Eurovision Song Contest is an international entertainment show and governed by strict rules and principles which have been established since its creation. As part of these, one of the cornerstones of the contest is the non-political nature of the event.

“This principle prohibits the possibility of making political or similar statements as part of the contest. The request by Mr Zelensky to address the audience at the Eurovision Song Contest, whilst made with laudable intentions, regrettably cannot be granted as it would be against the rules of the event.”

However, the EBU highlighted that Ukrainian music, culture and creativity would feature strongly throughout the two semi-finals and the final.

The spokesman added: “No fewer than 11 Ukrainian artists, including last year’s winners Kalush Orchestra, will be performing. Additionally 37 locations around Ukraine will feature in the short film postcards that introduce each of the participating artists before they take to the stage.

“We believe that this is the best way to reflect and celebrate Ukraine’s Eurovision Song Contest win and show we are united by music during these hard times.”

Lord Ed Vaizey of Didcot, a former culture minister, told The Times that it would be “courteous” to allow Zelensky to make his statement as “the only reason the contest is being held here is because of the conflict in Ukraine”.

He added: “This is a joyful evening and a coming together of European nations and entertainers but we all know what the backdrop is and it is pathetic to hide away from it.”

A BBC insider said there is an issue with allowing Zelenksy to make a statement as it would encourage potentially problematic leaders of countries who compete in the contest including Israel and Middle Eastern nations to do the same.

They said: “Clearly there is a huge amount of sympathy for Zelensky but I can understand the principle behind it. When it was held in Russia would we have wanted Putin given the opportunity to make a nice address?

“How would they juggle that?”

Speaking in the Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Thursday (11 May), Zelensky said he had a "lot of respect" for the UK and that it is an "amazing country", but a neighbouring nation would have been a better option to host Eurovision.

He admitted that he would have preferred the contest to have been hosted in a country bordering Ukraine, such as Slovakia or Poland, so that his citizens could attend.

He told the BBC: “I have great respect for the United Kingdom and its society. It is an amazing country. From the very start my opinion has been that if we can’t host Eurovision then it should take place in one of the countries that share a border with us such as Slovakia, Poland or any other country our people can reach easily. Somewhere near by.”