Wheelchair-bound Russian singer Yulia Samoylova laughs off Ukrainian threat of Eurovision ban

Sofia Lotto Persio
Yulia Samoilova

Russia picked 27-year-old Yulia Samoilova to represent the nation at the 2017 Eurovision song contest taking place in Ukraine, performing a song titled Flame is Burning.

The singer, who has been using a wheelchair since she was a child due to spinal muscular atrophy, may be refused entry to the country for having performed in Crimea in 2015, after the controversial Russian annexation of the Black Sea peninsula.

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Following Russia's announcement of her participation last week, the Ukrainian secret service SBU said it would be investigating whether she entered Crimea illegally.

Should she have entered Crimea by land from Ukraine, she could be banned from entering the country for several years, as direct travel to Ukraine via Russia has been prohibited since the annexation.

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Samoilova confirmed her Crimean performance, but laughed off the Ukrainian investigation as "ridiculous". "It's all laughable, and I don't understand why they made such a big fuss of it," she said in an interview to a Russian TV channel on 18 March.

The singer, who had also performed for Russia during the 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi, dismissed allegations that her entry was a PR move. "Opinions differ," she said, quoted by Russian news agency Tass, adding that she aims "to show that any person is capable of anything... and that if you have a dream, you can always achieve it."

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Relations between Ukraine and Russa have been fraught since pro-Russia Ukrainian separatists took up arms, after the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.

During the conflict, Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea, which was given to Ukraine in 1954 but where Moscow retained a major naval base. Russia defends the legality of the peninsula annexation as the result of a referendum among the Crimean population, who are made up by around 58% of ethnically Russian people and a minority of Ukrainians and Tartars. A total of 97% of voters chose to join Russia at the ballots, but the US, which backed Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, disputed the validity of the vote.

While the Eurovision contest aims to be apolitical, countries' traditional alliances and disagreements play in the competition's background.

Ukraine won the duty and privilege to host this year's competition after last year's victory of its singer Jamala, who sang about the 1944 Stalinist forced deportations of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia.

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