“The EBU fully understands the disappointment that greeted the announcement that the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) cannot be staged in Ukraine, this year’s winning country,” they said in a statement. “The decision was guided by the EBU’s responsibility to ensure the conditions are met to guarantee the safety and security of everyone working and participating in the event, the planning of which needs to begin immediately in the host country.”
The EBU first announced last Friday, June 17, that they had taken the decision to hold next year’s contest elsewhere due to Russia’s invasion of the country in February and the subsequent war, which is still ongoing.
Traditionally, the country which wins Eurovision is entitled to host the contest the following year unless they choose not to. Ukraine won this year’s contest in Turin, Italy with rap group Kalush Orchestra.
However, last Friday the EBU published a statement saying that following “objective analysis” the governing board for the Eurovision Song Contest had concluded “with deep regret” that Ukrainian broadcaster UA:PBC would be unable to fulfil the required “the security and operational guarantees” due to the war.
The same day, Ukraine’s culture minister Tkachenko Oleksandr responded with a statement on social media that said “Ukraine does not agree with the nature of such a decision” and said the EBU had “confronted” Ukraine “with the fact without discussion on other options.”
— Tkachenko Oleksandr (@otkachenkoua) June 17, 2022
The attitude was not entirely surprising following Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s statement on Instagram after the contest in May, in which he congratulated Kalush Orchestra and wrote: “Next year Ukraine will host Eurovision! […] We will do our best to one day host the participants and guests of Eurovision in Ukrainian Mariupol. Free, peaceful, rebuilt!”
His view was echoed by both Kalush Orchestra lead singer Oleh Psiuk – who said at the subsquent press conference “I’m sure that next year Ukraine will be happy to host [Eurovision] in the new, integrated and happy Ukraine” – and UA:PBC representative Oksana Skybinska. When Variety asked at the press conference which country Ukraine might nominate to host the contest on its behalf in the event it was not able to host, Skybinska replied: “It’s really too soon to talk about these details. Of course, we will do everything possible to make the Eurovision Song Contest happen in the new peaceful Ukraine.”
Eurovision is one of the most security-conscious live events in Europe, with background checks undertaken of every single person who has access to the backstage area, and, as Variety reported in May, it also takes almost a full year to organize, meaning preparations for the following year begin within months of the last competition final. Given these facts, it was unlikely Ukraine – which is still engaged in active combat with the invading Russian military – would ever be in a position to host the contest in 2023, even if some parts of the country are beginning to retain a sense of normality.
As part of their statement last Friday, the EBU revealed they were in discussions with the BBC about the U.K. hosting the contest. U.K. entry Sam Ryder finished second in this year’s competition and the U.K. have also been an ally to Ukraine throughout its recent troubles.
In response, the BBC – already in dire financial straits following the freezing of its funding model – issued their own statement which seemed to suggest they had been unaware of the EBU’s plans before the were publicized. “We have seen the announcement from the EBU,” said a BBC spokesperson. “Clearly these aren’t a set of circumstances that anyone would want. Following their decision, we will of course discuss the BBC hosting the Eurovision Song Contest.”
The spat has meant that the U.K. has now found itself stuck in the middle of a war of words between Ukraine and the EBU, with even the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson getting pulled into the fray.
Last weekend, just a day after Johnson returned from visiting Ukraine, where he met with Zelenskyy in Kyiv, Johnson told reporters: “The Ukrainians won it fair and square, even though we had a brilliant entry, and they should be given the chance to host it. It’s a year away. It’s going to be fine by the time the Eurovision Song Contest comes around and I hope they get it.”
U.K. culture minister Nadine Dorries echoed Johnson’s words, tweeting yesterday: “Spoke to [Tkachenko Oleksandr] this afternoon to discuss the Eurovision Song Contest. We remain 100% supportive of our friends in Ukraine being given the opportunity to host Eurovision next year, and demonstrate to the world the enduring richness of Ukrainian culture and creativity. We call upon the @EBU_HQ to review their decision and to ensure that Ukraine’s proposals are given full and proper consideration. They won it, they quite rightly want to host it. Slava Ukraini.”
Today however, the EBU categorically shut down any suggestion the Eurovision Song Contest could take place in Ukraine next year, pointing out that in addition to the 10,000 individuals working on or covering the event, Eurovision hosts a further 30,000 international fans over the two weeks of the contest. “Their welfare is our prime concern,” the EBU said in their latest statement. “The Rules of the Eurovision Song Contest, that all participating broadcasters agree upon, clearly state that the event can be moved in a force majeure situation such as an ongoing war.”
“Taking all of this into account the EBU, with regret, made its decision to move the event to another country and will continue discussions on finding a suitable location for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest.”
You can read the EBU’s full statement below:
“The EBU fully understands the disappointment that greeted the announcement that the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) cannot be staged in Ukraine, this year’s winning country.
The decision was guided by the EBU’s responsibility to ensure the conditions are met to guarantee the safety and security of everyone working and participating in the event, the planning of which needs to begin immediately in the host country.
At least 10,000 people are usually accredited to work on, or at, the Eurovision Song Contest including crew, staff and journalists. A further 30,000 fans are expected to travel to the event from across the world. Their welfare is our prime concern.
It is therefore critical that decisions made in relation to such a complex live television event are made by broadcasting professionals and do not become politicized.
The Rules of the Eurovision Song Contest, that all participating broadcasters agree upon, clearly state that the event can be moved in a force majeure situation such as an ongoing war.
In response to the EBU’s security questionnaire a number of risks that would impact the immediate planning for such a large event, including the “severe” risk of air raids/attacks by aircraft or attacks by drones or missiles, which can cause significant casualties, were highlighted by the Ukrainian assessment provided to us.
Additionally, the EBU sought third-party expert security advice which clearly stated that the counter measures proposed to mitigate the threats planning the event in Ukraine were insufficient for an international public event and the risk rating of a mass casualty event due to the ongoing conflict is “high”.
Alongside the security concerns, the continued conflict in Ukraine makes delegations and participants reluctant to travel to the country. We also noted the comments made by the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, that the war in Ukraine “could take years.”
With regards to the possibility of hosting the Contest in a border location close to a neighbouring country, the specifications of suggested venues, and the lack of the necessary surrounding infrastructure, do not meet the requirements of the ESC.
When drawing its conclusions, the EBU also took note that, based on our current information, no major international concert tours are visiting Ukraine throughout 2023.
All this contributes to the EBU’s overall assessment that in terms of security and operational guarantees, the necessary requirements for hosting, as set out in the Rules of the Eurovision Song Contest are not met.
Taking all of this into account the EBU, with regret, made its decision to move the event to another country and will continue discussions on finding a suitable location for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest. We are happy to engage further with our Ukrainian Member UA:PBC on all these issues.”