Rishi Sunak slams Eurovision for not letting Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy speak at Saturday's final in Liverpool

12 May 2023, 14:40 | Updated: 12 May 2023, 16:00

Rishi Sunak has said it is 'disappointing' that Volodymyr Zelenskyy will not be allowed to speak at Eurovision
Rishi Sunak has said it is 'disappointing' that Volodymyr Zelenskyy will not be allowed to speak at Eurovision. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

Volodymyr Zelenskyy should be allowed to speak at the Eurovision final in Liverpool on Saturday, Rishi Sunak has said.

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The Ukrainian president asked the European Broadcasting Unit, which produces the contest, to give a speech about his country's struggles against the Russian invasion.

The EBU said on Friday that it had turned down Mr Zelenskyy's request because he thought it could politicise the event.

Read more: 'Zelenskyy must be assassinated': Putin ally’s threat as blasts heard in Kyiv after 'attempt on Russian leader's life'

Read more: Volodymyr Zelenskyy 'snubbed by Oscars again', despite plea for Ukrainian president to get speaking spot

Bosses said Mr Zelensky had "laudable intentions" but "regrettably" his request was against the rules. Mr Zelenskyy was also not allowed to speak at the Oscars, with some reports claiming it was because the awards wanted to remain apolitical.

But Mr Sunak said that the Ukrainian fight against Russia was "fundamental", not political.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will not speak at Eurovision
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will not speak at Eurovision. Picture: Getty

On Friday, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister believes it would be fitting for President Zelensky to address the event and we're disappointed by the decision from the European Broadcasting Union.

"The values and freedoms that President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine are fighting for are not political, they're fundamental, and Eurovision themselves recognised that last year when they rightly suspended Russia's participation from the competition."

Meanwhile former PM Boris Johnson said "it would have been right to hear from" Mr Zelensky during the final.

Writing on Twitter, he added: "There is only one reason the contest is not in Ukraine and that is because of Putin's illegal war."

The EBU said in its statement that 11 Ukrainian artists, including last year's winners Kalush Orchestra, are performing and 37 locations from around Ukraine are being shown.

Former PM Boris Johnson also said Zelenskyy should be able to speak
Former PM Boris Johnson also said Zelenskyy should be able to speak. Picture: Getty

It comes after Mr Zelenskyy said earlier this week that he would have preferred Eurovision to take place in a neighbouring country.

He said: "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 it should take place in one of the countries that share a border with us, such as Slovakia, Poland or any other country which our people can reach easily. Something nearby."

The full line-up of the grand final was revealed following the second knockout round on Thursday night.

After 16 countries competed, the 10 remaining spots went to Poland, Australia, Cyprus, Albania, Estonia, Belgium, Austria, Lithuania, Armenia and Slovenia.

Final Eurovision qualifiers announced as Zelensky blocked from addressing final

The 10 countries that qualified from Tuesday's semi-final were Croatia, Moldova, Switzerland, Finland, Czechia, Israel, Portugal, Sweden, Serbia and Norway.

They will join the so-called "big five" nations - the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain - who each get a free pass because of their financial contributions to the event, along with last year's winners Ukraine.

It comes as Mr Zelenskyy thanked the UK for hosting Eurovision on behalf of Ukraine, as well as for the donation of Storm Shadow long-range precision missiles in a conversation with Rishi Sunak on Friday.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister spoke to Ukrainian President Zelensky this afternoon.

"President Zelensky thanked the Prime Minister for the UK's donation of Storm Shadow long-range precision missiles. The Prime Minister said he was pleased to deliver on the commitment he made in February to provide Ukraine with the long-range capabilities they need to defend themselves."

They added: "The Prime Minister asked President Zelensky to pass on his thanks to the Ukrainian First Lady for attending last week's Coronation celebrations in London.

"President Zelensky thanked the Prime Minister for Liverpool's role in hosting tomorrow's Eurovision Song Contest on behalf of Ukraine. The Prime Minister said he was proud the UK could do this for the Ukrainian people and looked forward to the day that the contest could be held on Ukrainian soil once again."

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