Barred by Kiev, Russian singer gets another shot at Eurovision

Lisbon (AFP) –


Blocked from taking part in the Eurovision Song Contest in Ukraine last year due to a row between Moscow and Kiev, Russian singer Yuliya Samoilova says participating in Lisbon this week will be a "dream come true".

Ukraine banned Samoilova, 28, who has been in a wheelchair since childhood due to a neuromuscular disorder, from entering the country to take part in the contest in Kiev because she had violated Ukrainian law by performing in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads since the annexation of the peninsula and subsequent fighting in eastern Ukraine, which Moscow is accused of stoking.

The affair tainted last year's Eurovision, an annual singing pageant which introduced the world to Abba's upbeat pop that is taken especially seriously in eastern Europe, with Russia deciding not to take part in the event or even broadcast it.

For this year's contest Russia once again picked Samoilova -- who performed at the opening ceremony to the 2014 Sochi Winter Paralympics -- to represent the country.

"I'm where I wanted to be. Participating in this contest is a dream come true," the singer told AFP in an interview in Lisbon ahead of the Eurovision finale on Saturday in the Portuguese capital whose theme this year is "All Aboard".

"Of course I was very upset when I learned that I could not participate, but when I found out I could take part the following year, I thought that life goes on," added Samoilova, who wore her long blonde hair under a cap.

- 'I won't break' -

Alexandre Kouchnir, a Russian music producer, said the way Samoilova was selected this year to represent Russia "was not clear".

"Was there any competition? It was not within the music industry that the decision was made," he told AFP in Moscow.

Samoilova, who is from the northern industrial town of Ukhta, has the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has "a great deal of sympathy for her," his spokesman said Tuesday.

"You know the unfair situation she faced last year which is why we are very happy that she will be able to show her talent to the whole world this time," he added.

While Samoilova is finally having her moment in the Eurovision spotlight, the rules require her to perform a different song, a ballad called "I won't break".

The title "refers to what happened last year and it denotes a certain sarcasm," said the president of Russia's main Eurovision fan club, Anton Samsonov.

Israeli composer Arie Burshtein, who co-wrote both songs, said he was "heartbroken" that he could not go to Kiev last year and this weighed on him when he penned the new tune for Samoilova.

"This year's song is kind of tied to last year, but it's not a direct reference, I would not say we wrote a revenge song," he told AFP.

- 'Just a coincidence' -

Samoilova said the title "is just a coincidence".

"It is not just a song about me alone," the singer said, adding her message is for anyone who feels "sad or depressed".

"When you feel confident and you are convinced that everything is going to be okay, then you can bear everything else," said Samoilova.

On the stage in Lisbon her wheelchair will be hidden by lighting effects that will give the impression she is sitting on top of a blue mountain from which will emerge plants, a cascade of water and finally flames.

"The main idea is that life is able to make its way everywhere," the director of her performance, Alexei Goloubev, told Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Samoilova is not a favourite to win this year's contest. She will take part in the second semi final of the event on Thursday where she will compete for one of the 26 spots in Saturday's finale.